First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

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Acura Canada

Review and photos by Paul Williams

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2009 Acura TL

New York City, New York – If you want to get noticed, you have to be different. That goes for clothes, restaurants, music, people, and, of course, cars. And if you want to be different, you sometimes have to take risks, which, to some extent, is what Acura has done with its all-new fourth generation 2009 Acura TL.

How so? Well, this is not a car that will blend into the scenery. It is, to use a well-worn styling cliché, bold. According to Arch Wilcox, Vice President, Sales, Acura Canada, the new model, “infuses Acura with distinctive and emotional design,” and in this I would certainly agree.

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

You can tell that Acura executives are very excited, but a little nervous about the new-look TL. “The new age of luxury buyers are looking to make a powerful statement on the road,” says Mr. Wilcox. In other words, what’s the point of buying a special car if it looks the same as everything else? But then again, when does a powerful statement become overkill?

Put more succinctly, the 2009 TL succeeds in being different, but does it look good? My opinion is that it does, although I’m still getting used to the formidable front end. It’s got real presence, and it attracts attention with its looks that are both controversial and striking. During our First Drive, a Ridgeline owner actually pulled up beside TL, lowered his window, and said, “Wow, that is HOT! Is it on sale now? How much?” He then proceeded to take a picture, hit the gas and blew down the highway, stones and dust flying (maybe to the nearest Acura dealer? Maybe…).

No doubt, the front of the TL is the wild child, the back is a delight, the sides are BMW 5-Series, the cockpit’s from NASA, the seats are terrific, the steering wheel’s got more buttons than a universal remote, and the audio system is better than the one in my house, and probably better than the one in yours.

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

And the new TL’s available with all-wheel drive…

What’s that you say? Oh, yeah, now you can buy a TL with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), or you can stick with the front-drive version (but Acura Canada doesn’t think the majority will).

Now we’re talking! For years TL fans and automotive writers have lamented the lack of a rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive platform for this car. Its competitors from BMW, Audi, Cadillac, Infiniti and Mercedes, to name only some, have moved to one or both of these platforms, so the availability of SH-AWD on the TL is a necessary option and really, about time.

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

I’ll spare you the long list of technical and engineering wizardry found in the new TL (believe me, Honda/Acura are known for engineering for a reason), and get to the heart of it. Two models: TL and TL SH-AWD; the TL has a 3.5-litre V6 making 280 horsepower and 254 foot-pounds of torque driven into a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters. Fuel consumption is 11.6/7.5 L/100 km, city/highway, which is the same as the outgoing 3.2-litre engine, with power equivalent to the 2008 TL Type S.

The TL SH-AWD features a 3.7-litre version of the V6, making 305 hp and 275 lb-ft torque, also mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters (a six-speed manual will be available next year in one of the two models, yet to be decided). Fuel consumption is 12.3/8.3 L/100 km, city/highway.

Performance is, to put it mildly, spirited. New levels of power, ride, handling and quietness are achieved that comprehensively improve the driving experience compared with the 2008 model (which was no slouch, by any means).

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

The two models are visually differentiated by the TL SH-AWD’s standard 18-inch wheels (19-inch with performance tires are optional), a revised grille that incorporates brake ducts, quad exhaust tips and special badges. Inside, sport seats with more aggressive bolstering and a thicker steering wheel are the immediate cues that you’re in the “performance” model.

The instrument panel and controls are described by Acura as an Intuitive Human Machine Interface, which sounds more complicated than it is. In fact, controls are easily operated even though there’s an abundance of switches, knobs, gauges and buttons. What you need to see and access is indeed right in front of you, or immediately at hand, so you can concentrate on driving the TL without distraction.

A feature that will be appreciated (although it’s comparatively minor when compared to the sophisticated all-wheel drive system, the engines’ dual variable valve timing, the new electric power steering and sophisticated suspension) is the climate control’s ability to deliver cool air in the upper cabin and warm air in the footwells. It’s smart enough to know that just because the sun hits an interior sensor in mid-winter, this doesn’t mean you want to be blasted with cold air from every vent in the car.

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

In contrast to competitors’ vehicles, when you lift the TL’s hood, you’ll notice that the plastic engine shroud is neatly cut away so you can see the engine (“We’re proud of it and want you to see it,” said one Acura engineer).

The new TL is 156 millimetres longer than the model it replaces (to 4,965 mm), and wheelbase is up 34-millimetres (which all goes to rear legroom). Interior volume increases by 16-litres and the trunk is also larger. Along with the increased size, the design gives the car much more visual presence and flair. It looks like a premium car, no doubt.

On the road, the TL is a delight to drive. The SH-AWD version felt particularly substantial (maybe it’s that super-thick steering wheel and lively performance exhaust note), as it negotiated twisting sections of Connecticut roadways around our Patron Highcroft Racing base of operations. The sport suspension and chassis stiffness have to be the real reasons, though, making the car notably responsive and tight. Fact is, the FWD TL was also adept at quick handling manoeuvres and possesses a smooth, compliant ride. It just feels lighter.

First Drive: 2009 Acura TL first drives acura
2009 Acura TL. Click image to enlarge

What I thought, as did several others at the launch, was that the TL with AWD and an expected price of $40-50,000 will give the Acura RL a run for its money, and will force that car to raise its game (which it is expected to do in the near future).

When it comes to the 2009 TL’s bold design, think Cadillac’s big gamble of 2002. That was a huge departure for the brand, and it has paid off handsomely. Acura’s design shift, starting with the recently updated MDX and TSX, is not a change of the same magnitude, I don’t think, but it’s a confident statement from a marque that wants to flex its muscles in the marketplace.

Acura fans will love it; those new to the brand will certainly notice it.

The 2009 Acura TL will be available in October, 2008.

Manufacturer’s web site
  • Acura Canada



  • About Paul Williams

    Paul Williams is an Ottawa-based freelance automotive writer and senior writer for Autos. He is a member of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC).