2009 Acura TL Review

A blend of sport, luxury, technology, performance and decent fuel economy

2009 Acura TL Review
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The completely-redesigned next generation Acura TL just went on sale and buyers are getting what they've asked for. What's that you ask? According to Acura reps at the launch event held this summer, this means more power, better handling and super all-wheel drive. Actually, it's SH-AWD!

FAST FACTS

1. AWD finally puts Acura’s TL on the lists of those who generally shop for German RWD or AWD vehicles.

2. TL SH-AWD gets 305 hp and 276 ft-lbs from a 3.7L V6.

Now in its fourth iteration, the 2009 Acura TL sports sedan offers a reasonably priced, well-equipped base model. The all-wheel-drive TL SH-AWD model is powered by a slightly larger 3.7L V-6 and carries a larger price tag. Both versions can be outfitted with the optional technology package.

Motivation for the base model comes from a 3.5-litre V-6 that's essentially the same one used in the previous generation TL Type-S, albeit with 280 hp and 254 ft-lbs of torque. Powerful and efficient (EPA fuel economy estimates are 18/26 mpg city/highway), the 3.5 meets Tier 2 Bin 5 emissions standards thanks to drive-by-wire throttle, computer-controlled fuel injection and VTEC technology on the intake valves.

The TL SH-AWD gets a bigger, more powerful 3.7-litre V-6 (from the MDX SUV) that boasts 305 hp and 275 ft-lbs of torque with VTEC on both the intake and exhaust valves, along with a special high-flow dual exhaust system. Fuel economy ratings are EPA estimated 17/25/20 mpg (city/highway/combined).

FIRST TIME ACURA’S AWARD WINNING AWD SYSTEM OFFERED ON THE TL

Besides more displacement, the up-line version also benefits from the aforementioned “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive” technology that basically controls the amount of torque the differentials are apportioning to any of the four wheels at any given moment. It can send up to 90 percent to the fronts, or up to 70 percent to the rear wheels in real-time to help the TL turn-in quickly and precisely. It's the first time this award-winning technology has been used on the TL.

The TL’s only available transmission is a five-speed automatic with sequential shift mode and paddle shifters that permit full manual-like operation and/or temporary control over the gearbox (i.e. engine braking).

According to Acura reps, a manual transmission will follow on 2010 models (hopefully alongside a six-speed automatic) sometime next year. They're also being moot about the possibility of any future Type-S variants though, but that could easily change in a year or two.

Like the TSX released earlier this year, the dynamic “keen edge” design details give the TL a striking presence that's decisively more mature-looking than previous generations. It's also somewhat reminiscent of the Acura Advanced Sedan Concept from a couple years ago. In fact, both vehicles came from the same California design studio. The resulting bold, powerful-looking body was also inspired by architectural marvels like the world famous Guggenheim museum and the Procter & Gamble building in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Standard exterior features of the new TL include projector-style HID front headlights flanking the prominent grille, underbody aerodynamics, dual-outlet exhaust, a power tilt-sliding sunroof, heated side mirrors with reverse gear tilt-down function and integrated turn signals. Speed-sensing, variable intermittent windshield wipers and 17-inch cast aluminum wheels with Bridgestone tires are also standard.

OPTIONAL FEATURES INCLUDE 8-INCH TOUCHSCREEN

Unique to the TL SH-AWD model are front-brake cooling ducts incorporated into the lower front fascia, chrome-trimmed door handles, quad exhaust finishers, Michelin-shod 18s, a rear trunk lid spoiler with integrated rear view camera and obligatory badging. The spoiler-cam option is also part of the technology package for base models.

That tech pack, by the way, comes with oodles of fun stuff, including a 10-speaker Acura/ELS Surround premium stereo capable of handling AM/FM/CD/DVD-Audio/XM satellite radio and Bluetooth audio. It also adds a 12.7 GB hard drive and powerful amplifier. Touchscreen controls via an eight-inch color display and a voice-recognizing Acura navigation system with rearview camera help find the way; while a filtered solar-sensing, dual-zone adaptive climate control system, keyless entry and pushbutton ignition round out the extra conveniences.

Both vehicles get a multitude of passive safety features like an Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) front body structure, front and rear crumple zones, plenty of air bags and more. Complemented by a host of active technologies like improved four-wheel ABS brakes with electronic brake distribution and assist, vehicle stability assist and traction control, the TL should meet or exceed its crash worthiness requirements.

GREAT HANDLING AND EXCEPTIONAL GRIP

Body and chassis rigidity are up over the 2008 TL. In combination with a perfectly-tuned double wishbone front and multi-link suspension setup, the TL SH-AWD rewards drivers with confidence and, um, super handling. Understeer, which is inherent in virtually all FWD and AWD vehicles, is completely tuned out on both models. Torque steer is also absent.

From a performance standpoint, while the base TL feels like it has comparable acceleration to the SH-AWD model, the all-wheel drive system in the latter seems to offer more cornering grip and better overall traction for a wider variety of road conditions.

In sport mode, the transmission holds gears for longer and although the upshifts are not lightning fast, they happen quick enough. A throttle blip accompanies each paddle-downshift to help maintain stability.

As for steering, the new electric rack-and-pinion power steering with variable-assist provides a good on-center feel and tracks dead straight on the highway. Compared to the outgoing hydraulic system, it's more tactile and requires less effort at slow speeds too.

This TL is noticeably larger than its predecessor, yet it's remarkably well-balanced. The large body size also correlates to an abundance of interior space and plenty of head and legroom in the back. The cabin is very quiet (almost too quiet) when in motion.

A host of driver-relevant technologies come standard in the TL’s sporty interior. Tech-savvy buyers won't be disappointed with stuff like iPod integration, but those used to more bespoke choices might get annoyed at a lack of interior treatments and trim options. SH-AWD versions do get unique sport seating with extra bolstering and contrasting-stitching on the steering wheel, seats, e-brake and shifter, but only metallic dash and door trim material is available.

PLUS
Finally, AWD
No torque steer or understeer
Fun to drive with Sport mode, paddle shifters
MINUS
Only five-speed (not a six-speed) auto. tranny offered
Added power negated by added weight
Limited interior trim options

THE VERDICT

A nice blend of sport, luxury, technology, performance and decent fuel economy will keep the new TL on many shoppers lists. Add to that a long list of standard safety features and it’s a well-rounded package.

While the entry-level luxury sedan segment is rather crowded these days the updates to the TL, as well as the addition of AWD, help make it a real option in a segment dominated by RWD or AWD Germans.

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