Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura
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Story and photos by Russell Purcell


Best of the Species

When the Honda Motor Company launched the Acura nameplate in the late ’80′s the plan was to create an up market line of Honda cars that would help the company compete with German rivals like BMW, Audi and Mercedes-Benz, as well as Japanese counterparts Toyota and Nissan (who were set to launch similar programs – Lexus and Infiniti respectively). However, the early Acura products were often seen as glorified Hondas – Accords with different exterior styling and more comfy seats.

The Acuras of 2003 are far removed from the ‘parts bin’ specials of the first generation cars. Acura is now a legitimate contender in all categories in which the company competes. From the economical 1.6 EL and sporty RSX, to the NSX super car and groundbreaking MDX, Acura is a player. The addition of the new TSX sports sedan has put pressure on the sales of Acura’s venerable TL line, which is nearing the end of its model cycle.

The TL line of sedans expanded to include two distinct models for 2002, the TL and the more sports-minded ‘Type-S’ variant, which is a real treat. Loaded with all the luxuries and safety equipment that has made the 3.2 TL so popular, the Type-S ups the ante in both performance and amenities. While the TL is no slouch with 225 horsepower and 216 lb.-ft of torque, revised VTEC intake valves and a higher performance camshaft make the 260 horsepower (232 lb.-ft) Type-S a true ground-pounder. For 2003, Acura Canada decided to offer TL fans the opportunity to buy a very special edition of the TL Type ‘S’ referred to as the A-Spec. While the car is regarded as the ultimate example of the TL line, it doesn’t bring any performance gains to the party, but visually, the A-Spec is striking.


Interior

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura
Click image to enlarge


Front occupants enjoy plenty of room all around, but especially notable is the tremendous amount of headroom. My test vehicle was equipped with the standard power moon roof, and surprisingly enough it didn’t hinder available headroom. At 6’2″ I could comfortably wear a hat in this car and still have room. Try that in some of this car’s counterparts. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for rear seat passengers, as the sloping roofline and recess for the moon roof use up a large portion of available headspace. In fact, I found myself having to lean forward to accommodate my big melon.

Plush leather seating and high quality carpeting and fabrics are on par with the Uber-rivals, but a lot of the plastic switches and latches felt cheap, primarily the steering-wheel mounted switches for the stereo and cruise control, as well as the control stalks for the lights and wipers. I know that Acura is trying to keep the price of the TL (as well as its other offerings) competitive, and for the most part they do win on price, but if you want to be compared to the best in this class you better make the quality evident throughout the whole package.

The matte black plastic that makes up the majority of the console and dash surrounds looks better than that found in earlier models, which seemed to suffer an inordinate number of scuffs and scratches on the console surface, making it look worn out far before its time. The A-Spec now adds brushed-aluminum pieces along the centre console and inserted within the door panels, as well as aluminum, Acura-branded sill guards. Add to this blue perforated leather inserts colour-matched to co-ordinate with the striking Aegean Blue Pearl exterior paint, and you have one sporty looking machine. The car is also available in Nighthawk Black Pearl, but the seats still feature the blue inserts. The two-tone leather looks very sharp, especially when you look closely and recognize that the stitching is also a bold blue colour. Sweet! The four-spoke steering wheel also benefits from the addition of blue leather wraps, as does the short-shift gear lever.

Honda likes to regard itself as a cutting edge company and both the interior and exterior designs of most of its cars show this to be true. However, I was very surprised to see ashtrays in all three passenger doors, although the manual calls them individual storage bins. The long stem, sill mounted door locks, floor-mounted parking brake pedal, and console-mounted barn-door drink holders seem out of place on such a modern looking vehicle.


Surprisingly big


Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura
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This car is deceptively large, something you will quickly realize when it comes time to park it. At 4889 mm (192.5 in.) the TL is almost 431 mm (17 inches) longer than a BMW 330! But size does matter when you have a family to haul or a pack of golf buddies to shuttle around. Open the cavernous trunk with the touch of a button and it will gobble up all your gear. A nifty cargo net is included as are hooks for grocery bags and a recessed storage bin. Clever.


Luxury


All the luxuries expected in a car of this class are present, including an automatic climate control system with a standard micron air-filtration system, and an outstanding Bose engineered 5-speaker CD and cassette unit, that incorporates a 9-inch Bose Nd sub-woofer in the rear shelf. This unit can store 6 CDs in dash, and radio, CD and volume levels can be operated via steering wheel mounted controls.

An 8-way power driver’s seat (4-way passenger) with 2-position memory is now linked to the remote keyless entry as is the trunk release mechanism. Conveniences like these were once reserved for much more exclusive cars.


Safety


Safety is handled by standard traction control and ABS brakes, but the Type-S adds Acura’s Vehicle Stability Assist system, which integrates the traction control and brakes and steps in when it senses severe under or over-steer. For true enthusiasts this system can be deactivated with the flick of a dash mounted button.


The Look


Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura

Test Drive: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type S A Spec car test drives acura
Click image to enlarge

Visually you would be hard pressed to differentiate the Type-S A-Spec from the standard 3.2 TL Type ‘S’, but get close and you will see a slightly different front light treatment, subtly cloaked with a blue-tint shade, special to the A-Spec 17-inch alloy wheels, and a very nicely executed aero package- extended front spoiler, rear and side skirts and a very trick trunk-mounted wing. The wing is the most distinctive appearance feature as it features a pair of unique side marker lamps that appear white during the day but illuminate red at night. Subtle Type-S badging completes the package.


Step on the gas


You won’t hear any complaints about performance however, as the driving experience in the TL Type ‘S’ A-Spec is spirited to say the least. This car is more than capable of completing any passing maneuver you may ask of it, as well as bringing the car to a stop quickly and quietly with its advanced traction control and ABS braking systems. Slip behind the wheel of the Type-S A-Spec and you are in for a thrill ride. Instantaneous power comes on smooth and strong, and the aggressive sound of the VTEC power plant will bring visions of sweeping corners, checkered flags and cheering fans to your head. I love this car.

The A-Spec tester came equipped with Acura’s close-ratio 5-speed sequential SportShift transmission, and although I am still a fan of the manual stick, these clutchless units are getting so advanced that they are almost as entertaining. Push up for up-shifts and pull down for downshifts, just like in a Champ Car. Now if only I could squeeze into one of those.

Ride and handling are predictable, and the firm sport suspension is immediately evident when speed bumps are encountered in the Type-S. Power assist on the steering is light enough to keep the driver feeling in control.


Conclusion


Loaded with luxury and impressive performance, the TL is a convenient-sized package for the small family or the executive looking for a feature-laden car without breaking the bank. Stepping up to the Type S offers the enthusiast driver pretty big gains both in performance and styling, while splurging for the A-Spec option offers an outstanding value. The A-Spec is exclusive to the Canadian market, and as a mere 800 units are destined for dealer showrooms, you can be certain that odds are pretty good that you may have the only one in your neighborhood, or even town for that matter.

As a send off to the present TL model, the A-Spec represents the best of the species, and as such a special car, should hold its value better than most. If a Type S is in your future, and you had planned to modify its appearance, the A-Spec is worth a look as the body-kit alone would set you back about the same amount as the premium ($2,000) you pay for the option, and that’s before paint! Factor in the other goodies as well as full warranty coverage, and the extra expenditure starts to look like a bargain.


Technical Data: 2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type ‘S’ A-Spec

Base price Type S $41,800
Price as tested A-Spec $43,800
Type 4-door, 5-passenger sports sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.2-litre V6, 24 valves SOHC VTEC aluminum alloy
Horsepower 260 @ 6100 rpm
Torque 232 lb.-ft. @ 3500-5500 rpm
Transmission 5-Speed automatic with Sequential SportShift
Curb weight 1584 kg. (3485 lb.) 1614 kg. (3551 lb.) -Type-S
Wheelbase 2745 mm (108.1 in)
Length 4889 mm (192.5 in)
Width 1795 mm (70.6 in)
Height 1365 mm (53.7 in)
Trunk space 405 litres (14.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City 12.0 l/100km (24 mpg)
  Highway 7.4 l/100km (38 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km, powertrain 5 year/100,000 km