Let’s just get this out of the way. Yes, the beaky nose on the new Acura TL looks odd. Maybe it’s just the shock of a new look; maybe it really is weird-looking. We’ll need more time to gaze critically upon it before we decide. We can, however, testify that it looks better in the flesh than in photographs and that the rest of the TL’s angular, modern shape is assuredly handsome, especially in the pointed shape of the trunk. And while it might look odd, the car’s grille carries a familial resemblance to the rest of the Acura lineup. Puns aside, the TL stands out as the face of the brand. It spearheaded Acura’s sales resurgence in the late ’90s and remains Acura’s bestselling car.
The success of previous TLs centered on two aspects: a powerful V-6 engine and lots of standard equipment. The new TL predictably sticks to that playbook but adds another page with the addition of optional all-wheel drive. The standard TL’s V-6 gets a displacement enhancement from 3.2 liters to 3.5; power is up 22 horsepower to 280, and torque grows by 21 pound-feet to 254. Both numbers are, however, slightly lower than the output of the 3.5-liter in the old TL Type-S. The all-wheel-drive TL, dubbed SH-AWD and equipped with the same rear-wheel torque-splitting system found in the RDX and MDX, comes with a 3.7-liter engine rated at 305 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. It’s basically the same powertrain as in the updated RL [C/D, September 2008], with variable intake- and exhaust-valve timing and lift all on a single cam. Both TL engines are mated to a five-speed automatic, which seems outdated in a segment where six and seven speeds are common. Visually, the SH-AWD model is differentiated by the functional front brake ducts next to the fog lamps, four exhaust tips at the rear, and 18- or 19-inch wheels and tires.
As before, the TL is based on the Accord, although this one doesn’t share any major dimensions with the Honda. Exterior dimensions are all bigger than the outgoing model’s, with length growing a full six inches, to 195.3. The bigger size doesn’t translate directly to the interior, though. The front seat is slightly smaller, while the rear seat is a little bigger (legroom is up 1.3 inches). Trunk space is bigger by just less than one cubic foot.
As for the rest of the Acura playbook, the TL still boasts an impressive amount of equipment. The Technology package, an option box that 70 percent of TL buyers are expected to tick, adds to a long list of standards: keyless entry and ignition, a 10-speaker ELS surround stereo with 12.7-gigabyte hard drive, and a navigation system. That nav boasts real-time traffic information, specific lane routing for multilane highways, and an industry-first Doppler radar weather-map feature.
The insides share a familiar look with other Acuras, but the multifunction controller knob and the bevy of buttons that surround it seem less confusing and cluttered than in the RDX. Material qualities are first-rate, and this car feels far more upscale than the previous one did.
Driving the TL back-to-back with its predecessor makes it clear that major improvements have been made, with one exception. Body motions are better controlled, road and wind noise have been all but eliminated, the brakes feel solid, and the TL corners with a more level attitude than its compliant ride would suggest. Torque steer, long a TL drawback, is far better managed. On the other hand, steering feel has lost the plot. The new TL uses electronic power assist, as opposed to the old hydraulic unit. It’s more precise on-center, but the old car’s steering was better weighted and offered much more feel.
Despite about 250 pounds of added weight, 32-percent-stiffer springs, and increased damping force, the SH-AWD rides better than the standard TL. The engine note is slightly throatier, and the handling is more responsive, too, thanks in part to optional 19-inch tires shod with Michelin Pilot Sport PS2 tires.
Saleswise, this is Acura’s most important car, and even with prices holding steady (starting at about $35,000 and moving up to $42,000 for a loaded SH-AWD), it’s possible that potential buyers could be turned off by its funny face. Which is a shame, because everywhere else (except for the steering), the TL is the most focused and best executed car in Acura’s lineup.