Acura TL Type S — performance at a (relatively speaking) bargain price

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

The Acura TL is one of our favorite vehicles with its combination of style, performance, impeccable fit and finish and remarkable bang for the hard-earned buck.

More bang has been added this year, the fourth of its current iteration. The Type S edition has been reinstated after a three-year hiatus, which means extra horsepower and a stiffer suspension setup. It means more driver enthusiast enjoyment in a vehicle already chock full of smile-inducing highway pleasure.

The Type S gets a 286-horsepower version of the flagship RL’s 3.5-liter V-6, and it’s about as much horsepower and torque as a front-wheel driven car can stand. That’s 28 more horses than in the standard 3.2-liter TL.

Acura has not eliminated torque steer, particularly in the six-speed manual version, but it has made it non-existent except for extreme throttle-to-the-floor launches by using a limited-slip differential that helps divide the large gobs of torque evenly between the front wheels. Those extreme launches aren’t recommended for two particular reasons: it actually slows you down just when you want all the get and go you can get; and it burns off too much precious and expensive rubber. That and the extra adrenalin it creates raises havoc with your innards.

We tested the manual six-speed and it’s as good as it gets in a do-it-yourself transmission. But for a daily driver we would probably opt for the five-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The automatic is really for us traffic-bound big city dwellers.

The manual for open country back woods drivers is a slick-shifting devise with short and extremely accurate throws. Did we say slick? Yup! The hardest part of the 6-speed is learning the correct modulation between clutch and accelerator on start up. This difficulty, particularly with sedate starts, is created by a lack of torque at low rpm forcing you to give it more gas than you might think necessary.

It’s the front-wheel drive architecture that separates the new rear-driven twin-turbo BMW 335i and the Lexus IS 350 from the TL, giving the Lexus and the Bimmer an edge in overall handling and performance. But it’s a slim edge and once charging through the rolling twists and turns of backroad America, it’s difficult to say the BMW is even slightly better than the Acura. The TL, front wheel drive and all, is so precise in its handling characteristics and its road-sticking abilities that differences are at most minimal. That being said, we wish Acura would endow the TL Type S with an all-wheel drive system. Maybe that will come with the next iteration.

For now, the TL Type S will complete a 0-to-60 run in 5.7 seconds and a quarter mile in 14 seconds at 100 miles per hour. For comparison, the new BMW 335i has been measured at 5 seconds and 13.5 seconds at 104.5, and the Lexus does 4.9 seconds and 13.5 seconds at 103 in the quarter.

The TL Type S has enough attributes beyond just performance such as interior amenities and passenger room to make it a winner.

And it has great looks. Even in its fourth year it hasn’t lost its luster in our eyes when compared to the new stuff. We fell in love with the wedge-shaped look the first time we saw it in 2003.

The TL has a distinctive character line running through the door handles from behind the front wheel to the back corner giving it a hunkered down look that is gorgeous from any angle. The new Type S gets a few exterior enhancements including a front fascia with a deeper airdam, black chrome trim, quad exhaust tips and a deck-lid spoiler. The slightly revised interior layout is trimmed in aluminum and fake carbon fiber and the pedals are finished in aluminum.

The interior is spacious and beautiful. Fit and finish on this car is what you would expect from a sedan with a nearly 40 grand pricetag. The controls are pleasing to the touch. The dashboard gauges are delightfully lighted with a sparkling blue. A myriad of same-looking buttons can be confusing the first couple of times behind the wheel, but they are logically arranged and easily learned.

The well-bolstered front seats feel good. The driver’s seat comes with eight-way power and power lumbar with two-position memory. Rear-seat passengers are also treated to excellent seats and adequate leg and hip room. One downside, the back seat does not fold forward, a handy feature when hauling long objects. There is a center pass-through, however.

The Acura navigation with real-time traffic information, standard equipment in the Type S, is the best in the business and it’s made even more useable in the TL with a large eight-inch screen. If we were going to invest in a navigation system, it would be in an Acura/Honda product or perhaps in a Toyota/Lexus product.

The coup de grace of the interior package is the sound system. The TL was the first production car in 2004 to install an eight-speaker DVD-based audio system as standard equipment. The DVD system — designed by multi-Grammy winning music producer Elliott Scheiner — utilizes six distinct channels, compared to two on the typical premium sound system, to deliver sound resolution 500 times greater than CD. By the way, the new system does not make your vast CD collection obsolete. Standard CDs can be played very effectively. In addition, Acura offers XM satellite radio as standard equipment.

Acura was also the first car to offer a Bluetooth hands-free phone system as standard equipment. It allows hands-free calls to be made and received using TL’s voice recognition and audio interfaces.

The showroom process is easy with the new TL. Buy the Acura and you buy everything offered as standard equipment. The Type S comes with everything in the Acura inventory for $38,325 with either the manual or automatic transmission. This undercuts a comparably equipped BMW 335i or Lexus IS 350 model by $5,000 to $7,000.

Good stuff in the Type S includes the DVD-based audio system, navigation with backup camera, performance tires, a full compliment of airbags as well as a driver head restraint whiplash protection system, leather upholstery and two-memory heated front seats.

If you want the TL experience, but don't want to spring for the Type S, the very-well appointed and performance-oriented TL can be purchased for $33,625 without navigation and $36,125 with navigation. The manual transmission is not available in the standard TL.

For our money it would be the Type S. It offers not only exciting performance, but an incredible array of cutting-edge equipment for a price that undercuts the competition in a very competitive segment.


Base price: $38,325; as driven, $38,325
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 286 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 256 pound-feet @ 5,000 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed manual
Drive: front wheel
Seating: 2/3
Turning circle: 39.7 feet
Wheelbase: 107.9 inches
Length: 189.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,674 pounds
Luggage capacity: 12.5 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 17.1 gallons
EPA mileage: 29 highway, 20 city
0-60: 5.7 seconds (Road & Track)
Also consider: Infiniti G35, BMW 335i, Lexus IS 350

The Good:
• Wonderful V-6 matched to slick-shifting 6-speed manual
• Loaded with standard features for competitive price
• Excellent interior room

The Bad:
• Acura needs an all-wheel drive model to catch up to BMW and Lexus

The Ugly:
• The sports sedan segment is loaded with cutting-edge products