Acura TL — Fun to drive luxury

By Al Vinikour

Generally a mid-model run will receive freshened looks and some mechanical and technical tweaks. In other words it’s different but you probably have to be a car nut to see the subtle differences.

Apparently Acura didn’t get the memo because their newly-refined 2012 TL — while bearing a familial resemblance to the 2009 model, (which experienced a complete from-the-wheel-up redesign) — is like saying Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger  really were twins in their movie of the same name.

The 2012 TL sports Acura’s signature (and polarizing) “grinning grille” but that’s the starting point for this vehicle. TL has a new front bumper, updated headlights, turn signals and a new fog light design. It also features a shorter front-end overhang, LED taillights, a new rear bumper that incorporates a significantly repositioned license plate opening, smaller rear reflectors and my favorite, beautifully-designed chrome exhaust tips. In a side-by-side comparison with the 2011 TL there isn’t any comparison. Good-bye to the old and a big hello to the new.

TL has always been the sportier of Acura’s big-two (RL being the refined, rear-wheel drive big brother). For 2012, TL has a unique division of spoils. Base (if you can call it that) is a TL FWD with a 3.5L VTEC four-valves per cylinder SOHC V-6 that puts out an impressive 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. It’s mated to a six-speed automatic transmission with Sequential SportShift, paddle shifters and Grade Logical Control. It sits on 17” cast-aluminum wheels while 18” wheels are available.

City/highway/combined fuel economy for the 3.5 is 20/29/23 mpg.

As much fun to drive as the “base” TL is, driving enthusiasts are going to go Lady Ga Ga over the TL SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive). It comes with a 3.7L V-6 but this .2L increase brings you 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. It, too, is bolted to a six-speed automatic transmission but the SH-AWD also offers a six-speed manual transmission with sport shifter and Hill Start Assist. The SH-AWD sits on 18” cast-aluminum wheels with the availability of 19” wheels. Estimated fuel economy for the automatic is 18/26/21 and 17/25/20 for the manual.

I made the “mistake” of driving the SH-AWD first and became instantly spoiled. The vehicle absolutely defies you to push it to its limits. It’s quick, nimble and road-hugging. The base TL is also a nice ride but I can almost guarantee if a prospective purchaser drives them in the order I did, the SH-AWD will win out every time (price not being the sole criterion).

The interior is like a high-performance living room. There’s a distinct separation of driver and passenger. The driver enjoys all the luxuries and perks of being the Left-Seater (as they say in the airline business) while the passenger is sitting in a luxurious setting of his or her own. Instrumentation is not only gorgeous and stylistic but is definitely user-friendly, with a four-pod cluster of information in an easy-to-read layout.

I particularly liked the steps Acura has gone to that ensure driver comfort. Things like a three-spoke, leather-wrapped steering wheel with a host of redundant controls, upgraded seat materials that provide comfort as well as safety and security, a center-stack that’s intuitive, accessible and darn-right “pretty” and a host of other amenities including for 2012 (finally) a straight-gate shifter.

The TL has always been an audiophile’s dream and for 2012 it definitely doesn’t disappoint. The Technology Package contains TL’s renowned Acura/ELS Surround premium audio system that includes a 440-watt Digital Sound Processor amplifier, a 10-speaker surround sound array and a 15 GB hard disk drive media storage that holds up to 3,500 songs from CDs for later playback. There’s a host of other technologies available with this system – none of which I understand but you stereo heads will know and gush at it all.

There’s a life-preserving ton of standard safety equipment in the 2012 Acura TL and a lot of available technologies (as well as packages). Things like my favorite – Blind Spot Information System, Keyless Access System, a Navigation System with 60 gigabyte hard disk, voice recognition and rearview camera, 8” full VGA high-resolution color display, heated and ventilated front seats all function flawlessly.

Acura has a very good warranty on its product: 4-year/50,000 mile limited vehicle warranty, 6-year/70,000 mile limited warranty on powertrain, 5-year/Unlimited mile limited warranty on Outer Body Rust-Through and 4-year/50,000 mile limited warranty on Acura Total Luxury Care.

The TL has an MSRP of $35,605 and can go up to $41,535 when equipped with available packages. The SH-AWD has an MSRP of $39,155 that can go up to $45,085 with available packages. The SH-AWD 6MT with Technology Package has an MSRP of $42,885. Considering the segment that TL is in, with all that’s standard and available, it’s priced right. 


Base price: $35,605/$39,335

Engines:  3.5L V-6/3.7L V-6

Horsepower: 280 @ 6,200 rpm/305 @ 6,300 

Torque: 254 pound-feet @ 5,000 rpm/273 pound-feet @ 5,000
Drive: FWD/SH-AWD 

Transmission:  6-speed automatic/6-speed manaul

Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase:109.3 inches

Length: 194.0 inches

Curb weight: 4,924 pounds

Turning circle: 38.4 feet

Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons

EPA rating: 20 city/29 highway/23 combined (TL)/18/26/21 TL SH-AWD/17/25/20 w/MT 

Also consider: Audi A6; Lexus ES350, Infiniti G37

The Good

• Extreme road-handling and excellent performance
• Great-looking profile
• Extremely quiet on the highway

The Bad

• You're kidding, right?

The Ugly

• Acura’s signature grille