2013 Acura TL Review

Bird beak aside, the TL is a pleasure in many ways

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2013 Acura TL Review
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It certainly raises eyebrows when even the company behind a car admits it might have gone too far with a design language. That's exactly what happened this year when Acura brand executives said the buck-tooth bird beak, or whatever you want to call it, might be too much for some buyers.

FAST FACTS

1. With a 280 hp 3.5L V6 in the standard car, SH-AWD models gain a larger 3.7 engine with 305 hp.

2. Starting at $35,905, the AWD model begins at $39,455.

3. Only SH-AWD models are available with a six-speed manual.

4. Fuel economy is just 18/26 mpg (city/highway) for the SH-AWD model or 17/25 for our 6-speed tester.

A hefty, angular, silver chunk sets the front end off and looks more at home in a cartoon than a car grille. With many criticizing the styling when it was first introduced in 2009, Acura's redesign has helped, leaving the car looking longer and more in line with mid-level luxury.

That longer body gives way to a rear end equally as revised, and better looking. A creased trunk lid, small spoiler and wraparound tail lights make sure no one will confuse it with a Honda Accord.

Regardless of how you feel about the TL's new suit and tie, picking the pricier SH-AWD model puts you in line for a real driving treat.

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POWERFUL, REV-HAPPY V6

The TL comes with two engine options, the first being a 3.5-liter V6 that Acura upgraded last year to come with a six-speed automatic transmission for improved fuel mileage.

A better choice, however, is the more powerful 3.7-liter. Venturing toward larger displacement also puts you in the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) model, which would be a shame to miss — especially with the six-speed manual.

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Acura’s SH-AWD actively adjusts how much torque reaches each wheel in real time. The result? In the dry, even unskilled drivers will carve corners with finesse, while in slippery conditions everyone will feel confident.

A smooth engine and transmission combo can be hard to come by, but it's something Honda has in spades and nothing's changed here. Squeeze the gas and a pleasant, linear power surge forces you to sit snugly in the driver's seat.

Things get even better when downshifts come into play. The automatic unit rev-matches downshifts this year, but it's unusually easy to achieve the same result while rowing your own gears. Rather than having a leg-length's worth of travel, the engine jumps to meet lower gears with a polite tap to the pedal.

Fantastic as the car feels from a driving enthusiast's perspective, the experience might as well jog on were it not for the spectacular interior.

CABIN THAT’S CLOSE TO GERMAN QUALITY, BUT NOT QUITE

If there's one consistent folly found in Acura vehicles, it's that they often feel painfully close to their Honda counterparts. Praise be to the heavens, that isn't the case here, at least not in most cases.

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From the seats to the doors and steering wheel there's no mistaking how premium the TL feels. Supple leather upholstery and a meaty steering wheel with just enough resistance reminds you that this is an expensive car.

But then again, it really isn't. At least not when you stack it up to a comparable BMW 5 Series. In fact, the TL runs about $15,000 less than a BMW 535i xDrive, which is a little shocking.

It's true that you'll be trading a status symbol Bimmer for what's become a B-list luxury brand of sorts, but consider the savings and drive one. You just might be sold.

Then again, there are a few bits from the Honda parts bin that will offend even the most forgiving driver. For example, the center stack looks out of place and outdated with monotone buttons and a digital display, all of which belongs in an economy car. Tisk tisk.

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On the other hand, Acura has updated its navigation system for 2013 and it’s refreshingly easy to use. A rotating toggle lets you graze over maps while zooming in and out — something that would benefit from being more responsive, but was passible nonetheless.

Do these complaints split hairs? Maybe for some, but others will be irritated at the idea of a luxury car where such stingy pieces are showing.

AREA FOR IMPROVEMENT

With almost identical rear seat legroom to a BMW 5 Series, the TL will feel comfortable for you and at least three full-size adults. Cargo space in the trunk could, however, be little more generous at just 12.5 cubic feet.

If there is a down side to the amazing Opting for Acura’s SH-AWD system makes the car a bit of a gas hog with 17/25 mpg in the city and on the highway. That’s almost excusable once you feel how well the system works, but in today’s market it’s nothing short of ridiculous that the car doesn’t pass 20 mpg around town.

THE VERDICT

Acura has a fantastic second-tier luxury sedan on its hands with the 2013 TL. The toned-down styling makes it less of an eye sore, but the bird-like front beak might still be too much for some drivers.

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Those who can look past its peacockish exterior will be pleasantly surprised with a well-mannered and reasonably priced luxury cruiser that can be athletic when needed. Skipping SH-AWD clips the car’s wings, so don’t do it.

Like any other Acura, this is a pragmatic approach to luxury driving. It’s the intelligent choice more people should make, but some won’t.

If you’re the sort of person who grabs clothes from the Ralph Lauren rack just to wear a pony stitch, do yourself a favor and buy German. If your Polo fix can wait for things to hit the “on sale” table, Acura is the way to go.

LOVE IT
  • Manual transmission is smooth and precise
  • Plenty of passing power, linear acceleration
  • SH-AWD is a must
LEAVE IT
  • Poor gas mileage
  • Some interior bits too cheap for the car
  • Trunk is tiny
  • Front end style still hard to love

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