02/24/04 — Acura hits a home run with new mid-sized TL

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Acura hits a home run with new mid-sized TL

If your budget can stand the monthly payment involved with a $35,000 entry-level luxury car, then we have a deal for you.

Acura’s all-new mid-sized TL sedan is as good as it gets for under 35 grand even if you don’t get a discount or a low interest rate. This car is worth the price. Period.

Acura TL, 2004

The previous TL, built from 1999 through 2003, was ranked among our favorites, particularly in Type S configuration with its 260-horsepower V-6.

It offered outstanding performance, excellent handling, room for four adults, great fit and finish and solid resale value. As good as the previous TL was, the new one is better in every respect.

And, unlike Honda and Acura products of the past, which have tended toward vanilla styling, the 2004 model has a distinctive, cutting-edge wedge-shaped design that looks good in pictures and will knock you out in person.

The new TL is easy to buy. There is no need to agonize over an options list. Virtually everything is included. It comes in either navigation or non-navigation editions and with either a 6-speed manual transmission or a 5-speed automatic.

The price is $33,195 without navigation and $35,195 with it. There’s no extra charge for either transmission. The amenities list is long and impressive. But more on that in a minute.

Perhaps the headline news regarding the new TL is its engine. All models come with a potent class-leading 270-horsepower 3.2-liter V-6 that develops 238 pound-feet of torque.

These numbers are slightly greater than the 260-horsepower Type S engine of last year and considerably more than last year’s 225-horsepower standard engine.

And it feels great.

We tested the TL with the manual transmission, a slick-shifting 6-speed devise that screams at you, why do you need an automatic when you can have all the fun with something that almost shifts itself?

Throws are short and extremely accurate. The difficult part of the 6-speed is learning the correct modulation between clutch and accelerator from a stop. This difficulty, particularly with sedate starts, is created by a lack of torque at low rpms forcing you to give it more gas than you might think necessary.

One other difficulty with the manual transmission is torque steer, which is acerbated by a front limited slip differential.

There’s enough torque steer — a front-wheel drive phenomenon where the steering wheel is yanked to the left or right under hard acceleration — to give you pause. The new Acura V-6, it seems, has reached the upper limits of acceptable torque in a front-driven machine.

Most people will probably opt for the automatic making smooth starts a cinch 100 percent of the time and eliminating the torque steer bugaboo.

But in the manual format, the TL is a hauler with the capability to motivate from a standing start to 60 miles per hour in 5.7 seconds as measured by a leading car magazine.

That’s serious performance. And it’s worth the minor aggravations.

BMW aficionados may scoff, but the TL feels almost as adept through sweeping back-road curves as the vaunted 330i despite its front-wheel drive architecture.

Independent double wishbone suspension, anti-roll bars front and back and Acura’s stability control system together with a precise steering feel give the TL a composed demeanor through the twisties.

Unlike the previous TL, the new one is about styling as well as performance. It will amaze each time you gaze at its presence in the parking lot.

Its wedge shape, the wheels pushed to the far corners and a distinctive character line running through the door handles from behind the front wheel to the back corner give the TL a hunkered down look that is gorgeous from any angle.

The interior is spacious and beautiful. Fit and finish is what you would expect from a sedan with a 35 grand pricetag.

The controls are pleasing to the touch. The dashboard gauges are delightfully lighted with a sparkling blue highlighted by red gauge needles.

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, slender objects. There is a center pass-through, however.

The Acura navigation is the best in the business and it is made even more useable in the TL by 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 is the first production car to come with a DVD-based audio system as standard equipment.

The DVD audio 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.

Acura provides an audio DVD disc to demonstrate the difference between CD quality and DVD quality. It will simply blow you away. 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 and includes the first three months free. An XM subscription runs $10 a month and is worth every penny.

Acura is 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 a TL and you buy virtually everything offered as standard equipment.

One distinct option is an A-SPEC kit that adds performance springs and shocks that lower the car about an inch. The kit includes 18-inch wheels, a rear spoiler, sport steering wheel and exterior badging. The price of the dealer add-on is $5,200.

Standard equipment, in addition to the audio system, includes dual-zone climate control, leather seating with heated front seats, keyless remote, power moonroof with automatic open and close, Xenon high intensity headlights and 17-inch wheels.

Safety equipment includes four-wheel antilock brakes, brake force distribution, vehicle stability control, side curtain airbags, and driver and passenger front side airbags.

We don’t see how Acura can miss with this delicious new entry into the sports sedan segment, especially when you figure in virtually no price increase over the 2003 model.

Everything is first class from performance, standard features, styling, comfort and fit and finish.

This TL goes to the head of a very good class.

It’s exciting when an automaker gets it just right.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on February 24, 2004 2:23 PM