2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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I'm going to have to admit, up front, that I've never been enamoured with the fourth-generation Acura TL, which was introduced for the 2009 model year. Sure, I was aware that it was a solid, reliable sport sedan with a choice of two powerful V6 engines and plenty of useful technology. I knew that it was available with super-handling all-wheel drive and a 6-speed manual transmission, which are features near to my performance-oriented heart. I knew that it was priced comparably to compact premium sedans like the BMW 3-Series, Audi A4 and Mercedes C-Class, while offering much more standard equipment than those cars, and space closer to the mid-size premium rivals like the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes E-class.

But there were always a couple of things that got in the way of me loving the TL. First was the fact that if you wanted an automatic transmission, then the sporting nature of those sweet V6s was dulled by a 5-speed transmission that too often left the engine a few hundred rpm from the sweet spot. Second, and more significantly, I was always one of those potential TL suitors who just couldn't get over the car's gargantuan chrome beak - there's no way I could wake up every morning to face that staring back at me from the driveway.

Well, for 2012 Acura has some brilliant news: They sent the TL off to the plastic surgeons and it has come back not only with a sleek new aquiline nose, but with a re-sculpted tail end and a new six-speed automatic transmission fitted. When I caught sight of this new TL, my first reaction was something along the lines of, "Where've you been all my life, and why'd I never notice you before?"

The cosmetic changes are at once subtle, yet transformative. The new TL is still entirely recognizable as the same car it always was - just much better looking. The "power plenum" grille blade is still there, but Acura has removed the heavy silver surround and replaced it with a thin chrome frame, clipping the top off the grille to create a body-coloured space between the grille and the hood. There are some other subtle changes too, including black-out headlight innards, but the overall effect is that the grille is now much more proportionate to the rest of the front end, and its lines tie in better with the headlights to create a sophisticated, harmonious look instead of a caricature.

At the back, the license plate has been raised and a bevel line added to the bumper to give the TL the equivalent of a butt-lift. At any rate, it works, and as a side benefit Acura also trimmed 2.5 cm (1 inch) from the front overhang and 1.25 cm (0.5 inches) from the rear overhang.

The six-speed automatic, which my test car was fitted with, offers both improved seat-of-the-pants feel and significant fuel economy benefits - an important consideration given our current high fuel prices and the fact that the TL calls for premium fuel. The extra gear allows the engine to stay closer to the sweet spot for either economy or power, allowing both better efficiency and better performance - depending on your mood, the weight of your right foot, and whether you let the transmission choose the shift points or use the paddle-shifters to choose them yourself. Rated city/hwy fuel economy numbers for the automatic-equipped 2012 TL SH-AWD are 11.4 / 7.6 L/100km, compared to 12.3 / 8.1 L/100km for the equivalent 2011 model.

In most other respects, the 2012 TL remains unchanged from the 2011 model, and that's all good, because the TL always did have a great personality. Structurally it feels rock solid - the doors close with a solid, reassuring "thunk" and on the road there's no evidence of flex or harshness. The suspension is taut yet forgiving, and the handling, in the SH-AWD model, is simply sublime: Precise, grippy and near unflappable. In short, everything a sport sedan should be.

My test car had the 3.7L 24-valve SOHC VTEC V6, but I've driven Acuras with the base 3.5L V6 and they are both sweet sounding, responsive engines. The 3.7L engine cranks out 305 hp at 6,300 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque, which is good enough to launch the TL from 0-100 km/h in under six seconds.

Inside, the TL demonstrates what might best be described as "sport-oriented luxury." It eschews woodgrain trim and pleated upholstery for more function-oriented finishes, but all the expected luxuries and conveniences are fully accounted for: supportive leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, soft-touch materials with metallic trim, Bluetooth and Homelink, 8-speaker audio system with USB connectivity, XM radio, and the list continues. The new-for-2011 Elite trim adds things like ventilated front seats, blind spot information system and 19-inch alloy wheels, all of which are new for 2012. New across the range for 2012 is an integrated battery management system (you wouldn't want to kill your battery playing that 10-speaker audio system!) and some additional features for the Technology trim and Elite models including a new 60 gigabyte HDD navigation system, 15 gigabyte hard disk drive and song-by-voice feature.

During my week with the TL, I had the opportunity to use it both as a sport sedan, tossing it around some twisty roads on my own, and as a luxury conveyance, transporting a carload of passengers to a performance at our local university. It was equally happy in (and equally suited to) both roles, and left me smiling during both trips. Priced at just $39,490 before ranging up to $48,990 for my test car (plus $1,895 in delivery charges), the TL represents a lot of car for the money. It always has. The difference is that now, I'd really love to have one staring back at me from my driveway.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Sport Sedan, Acura, 2012, TL, $40,000 - $49,999,

Organizations: Acura

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