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July 12, 2011 > Auto Review: Acura TL

Auto Review: Acura TL

From Passion to Sophistication

By Steve Schaefer

Mid-cycle updates are a perfect time to back off on a styling theme if you went just a wee bit too far. The 2012 Acura TL, released in mid March, remedies an exuberance of chrome with a gentle and friendly rhinoplasty, while the tail gets reined in, too.

Car manufacturers often do this. I remember the last of the big Chevy Impalas back in the early 1990s. It arrived with low cutouts in the rear wheelwells. It made the huge vehicle seem even more whale-like, so after a few years, the rear wheels once again showed themselves. The 1996 Ford Taurus, a jelly bean introduced at precisely the time when sharp lines were coming back into style, lost some of its distinctive styling after a few years to keep up with changing tastes.

Not long ago, Subaru decided to emulate Alfa Romeo, or some might even say the Edsel, with a slim vertical grille up front. It was a non-starter, and within a couple of years the cars reverted to wide, generic grilles once again. Kind of sad, really, but the goal is to sell cars, and people have to like the way they look before they'll write that check.

All this is to say that the Acura TL, the brand's highly regarded sports sedan, will no longer need to be praised for its "inner beauty." I actually got compliments on the car from colleagues and even an unsolicited "beautiful car" from a guy at the Chevron station. The drama of the overall design is no longer hampered by excess in the details.

The interior of the TL needed no real changes, although Acura did update the instrument cluster and bring in some nice new surface materials. The feeling is definitely upscale, and they did it without an inch of wood-real or fake. Acuras are the cars Honda builds when the price point can be higher and the nicer materials can come out.

Cruising along the freeway in the TL was silent, smooth and relaxing. The rich brown leather inside my Ionized Bronze Metallic tester impressed my passengers with its tactile and visual beauty.

The TL comes either as a strong or a very strong performer. The base, front-wheel-drive TL gets a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, while the all-wheel-drive SH-AWD model has 3.7 liters putting out 305 horsepower. That moves the two-ton four-door sedan along quite nicely, while earning just shy of 20 miles per gallon on premium fuel.

EPA's Green Vehicle Guide gives the TL with all-wheel-drive and automatic 18 City, 26 Highway fuel economy numbers, and the green figures are a mid-pack 6 for Air Pollution and 4 for Greenhouse Gas.

The 2012 model gets a new six-speed automatic transmission with both engines, which through its high-tech design allows double-kick-down shifts and contributes to slightly better fuel economy.

TL's double-wishbone independent front suspension and a multi-link independent rear suspension are effective, but Acura improves ride quality and road-holding further by employing dual-stage "blow off" style hydraulic suspension dampers, hydro-compliant bushings for mounting the transmission and key suspension components and a high-tech engine mount design. The SH-AWD model receives special rate coil springs and unique damper tuning. When you drive the TL you can appreciate these invisible components going about their jobs under the car.

This TL starts good and just gets better the more you add to it. My SH-AWD model sported both the Tech Package and the Advance Package. The former brings in those sensational and admired seats as well as a fully-featured navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather. The potent sound system, along with extra insulation for silence, gives you a portable concert hall as you go your merry way.

The Advance Package is comprised of sporty 19-inch wheels and a blind-spot information system. These systems, which are proliferating in the industry, help prevent those all-too-common incidents where drivers don't see their neighbors and pull into the lane next to them, causing an accident. It's hard to imagine why you'd buy the TL without these packages, but you can.

The TL is assembled in Marysville, Ohio, site of the original Honda manufacturing plant-the first Japanese auto plant in the U.S.-which opened in 1982. So this Japanese brand vehicle, made in America, is out to fight the Germans. That's today's international automotive scene.

The TL, without any additional stuff, starts at $37,465. My upscale tester, with both packages, came to $45,945. That's a lot, but the car's loaded and increasingly offers an alternative to the German sport sedans against which it has been very carefully designed to compete.

There are plenty of choices of midsize performance sedans, so you want to feel and look your best. The TL now offers both.

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