2009 Acura TL
The entry-level luxury segment is a crowded place, what with every manufacturer with an upmarket brand releasing a new, life-bettering piece of technology or brilliant way to transport you and your family in style and luxury beyond your greatest expectations every few months. But among the sea of upscale brands out there, Acura has always distinguished itself by utilizing a combination of legendary Japanese reliability and a surprisingly large amount of standard amenities to create well thought out vehicles. Since the introduction of the Legend in 1986, Acura has proved that Japanese automakers could produce a vehicle that can go toe-to-toe with the best that Europe and America has to offer. Acura is once again attempting to set the market ablaze with the all-new for 2009 TL. This fourth-generation TL carries a number of styling and mechanical innovations, including the most powerful engine ever placed in a production Acura.
What's to Like
The TL’s interior is superb on almost every level, we especially like that the standard leather clad driver’s seat is 10-way adjustable, which makes driving a comfortable endeavor for drivers of every height. The TL also offers plenty of power from either the 3.5-liter V-6 engine or the 3.7-liter V-6 engine and the all-wheel drive option. The TL’s suspension provides a confident yet comfortable ride over most surfaces.
What's Not to Like
The car’s razor blade grille isn’t for everyone and is the only part of the exterior of the vehicle that causes us to hesitate. Still, it looks better in person than via pictures. Also, the bolted-on rear fin looks a little chintzy to us.
DriverSide Driving Impressions
Acura is proud of the fact that the 2009 TL carries the most robust engine of any production Acura ever in its SH-AWD trim. While the 3.7-liter V-6 engine with standard all-wheel drive is the block with all of the bragging rights - serving up more power than the previous Type-S, even the less stout 3.5-liter V-6 has no problem getting up to speed. Both powerplants dish out creamy-smooth gusto that pushes the considerably sized sedan along, which is a good thing because, at 3,700 lbs in front-wheel drive and closer to 3,900 lbs with all-wheel drive, the TL is no lightweight. The front-wheel drive version feels flighty at higher speeds though, dancing around the road more than the 3.7-liter car, and road noise is more apparent in the smaller engine as well, even with the 18- versus 19-inch wheels. The AWD trim features a 20 percent increase in damping force and a stiffer ride overall – allowing the car to bear hug those hairpins. Sport mode in both trims lets you wring more rpms out of the engine, something necessary in a car whose peak torque is delivered much later in the powerband. Steering is light at lower speeds without losing its directness and increases in heaviness as the mph increases. The combination of a properly tuned suspension, center-on steering and that wicked fun 3.7-liter trim makes for a car that’s enjoyable in any driving situation.
Engine and Drivetrain
The TL comes with either a 3.5-liter V-6 engine with 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque or a newly revised 3.7-liter V-6 engine with 305 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. The 3.5-liter engine is coupled to a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and is front-wheel drive. The more powerful 3.7-liter is mated to a similar five-speed transmission that powers all four wheels via Acura’s super-handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD).
Interesting Vehicle Features and Options
Acura managed to incorporate an impressive array of engineering feats in the TL, including an electronic drive-by-wire throttle system, F1-style paddle shifters for the five-speed automatic transmission and an electric power steering pump. The pump minimizes load on the engine, freeing up more horsepower for the road and generating better miles-per-gallon. The newest TL also utilizes Acura’s SH-AWD for the first time in the TL lineup. The system provides more confidence in slippery weather by distributing power to each wheel as needed.
Key Technology Evaluation
Loaded with technology inside and out, the TL takes an evolutionary leap forward from the previous iteration. When equipped with the optional technology package, the TL comes equipped with an eight-inch high-definition multi-information display, a crystalline ELS 10-speaker, 440-watt stereo system with a 12.7 gig hard drive tuned by Grammy winner Elliot Scheiner. (Read: it’s probably better than your expensive home theater.) The tech package also delivers AcuraLink, which pulls disparate sources of information, from local forecasts with Doppler radar to live traffic rerouting. The climate control is solar sensitive and - wha! - GPS linked, so the dual-zones are adaptive no matter where you’re going.
Green Evaluation/Gas Mileage
The TL manages to deliver good mileage despite its girth. In front-wheel drive form with the 3.5-liter V-6, the car manages 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. The all-wheel drive, 3.7-liter V-6 equipped vehicle is slightly thirstier, serving up 17 mpg city and 25 mpg highway. Still, we had hoped for better numbers given Honda’s reputation for incredibly efficient engines. With fuel prices on a never-ending spiral skyward, we wished for slightly better fuel economy. Both models are rated EPA Tier 2 – BIN 5 and are an estimated ULEV-II.
A Closer Look: Vehicle Details
The TL’s interior is a pleasure to sit in and drive. The leather-wrapped steering wheel fits snuggly in your palms, the leather seats – a standard feature - make for a comfortable ride. On the top of the range SH-AWD, the leather is upgraded to silky smooth “Milano Leather”. The TL provides plenty of room for the driver and passengers, whether they’re up front or in the back. We think the instrument panel may have a few too many buttons, but for overall ease of use, we rate it highly.
By far the most polarizing aspect of the vehicle is the exterior. The razor blade grille up front does much to distinguish the car from the rest of the mid-level luxury pack – and we like it – but it may turn off the more conservative TL buyer. The exterior design manages to look properly svelte, dishing up sleek lines that blend with muscular fenders to produce a much more modern look than the outgoing model, which we felt was getting a little long in the tooth. Acura is going for a younger, more techno-savvy market and feels the new design language speaks volumes.
Market Segment and Pricing
Acura has positioned its reinvented sedan to succeed thanks to a relatively low $34,000 estimated price tag. Expect to pay more for the muscular V-6, but the price tag remains within reason when lined up against competitors like BMW's 328xi
at $34,600 or 335xi
at $41,200. Other competitors include the Infiniti G35x
at $34,750, the Lexus IS250
all-wheel drive for $34,485 and the $36,525 Mercedes-Benz C300 4MATIC sedan
, and though the competition is fierce in this segment, this Acura has little to worry about when it comes to all it has to offer.
What We Think
The TL has always been a perfect remedy to the over-sized, over-bloated luxury liners on the market. The newest generation is somewhat larger itself but we feel it delivers mid-sized luxury to go along with plentiful, modern amenities. The technology package has up the right amount of information and entertainment without being a burden and the capable 3.5-liter V-6 and robust 3.7-liter V-6 serve up a thrill with every drive. Combine these attributes with the newly available SH-AWD and you’ve got yourself a car that packs a punch, won’t break the bank and looks good getting you to wherever you need to go.