2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge


Review and photos by Greg Wilson

Earlier this week, Consumer Reports announced that the 2004 Acura TL came out ahead of the Lexus ES330, Saab 9-5, and Volvo S60 in their upscale sedan (U.S.$30,000-$40,000 MSRP) vehicle comparison test. In addition, the TL scored higher than the previously-tested BMW 330i which had been the frontrunner for the past three years. The influential consumer magazine said the TL was “..the best upscale sedan that we’ve tested,” a strong statement from what is probably the most objective automotive publication in North America.

I’ve driven the TL on two occasions now, and while it is a fine sports sedan in many respects, not everything about it is superior to its competition. For example, it doesn’t handle as well as a BMW 3-Series sedan, and it’s not as stylish as a Volvo S60 or BMW 330i – at least in my opinion. The TL has a terrific engine, a top rate interior, and a comparatively low price, but it’s certainly not a benchmark car in the “near luxury” class. More on that in a minute.


Nuts and bolts

2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge

Based on the current front-wheel-drive Honda Accord platform and built in the same Ohio assembly plant, the 2004 TL it has a unique engine, interior, and bodystyle, but shares a modified suspension and brakes. Compared to the previous 2003 TL, which was based on the last-generation Accord, the ’04 TL is shorter, wider and taller with a slightly shorter wheelbase.

For 2004, the TL comes in three trims: TL $40,800; TL with Navigation package $44,000; and TL “Dynamic Package” $41,800. The “3.2” in “3.2TL” has disappeared, and the “Type S” model designation is gone. My 2004 test car was the TL Dynamic Package with the optional 6 speed manual transmission – this model also includes Brembo front brakes, standard summer performance tires (mine had optional winter Blizzaks and alloys), hands-free Bluetooth phone technology, and limited slip front differential – all for $1,000 more than the base TL, plus $1,708 for the snow tire/wheel package.

Of note is that the 2004 TL is the first car with a DVD audio system and hands-free Bluetooth cell-phone operation. As well, models with the Navigation system include English and French-Canadian voice recognition.


Driving impressions

2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge

The 2004 TL’s transversely-mounted 3.2 litre V6 with four valves per cylinder and Honda’s VTEC variable valve timing system, is similiar to the one used in the 2003 TL Type S, but it now has a lighter aluminum alloy block, a higher compression ratio, improved air induction and a modified exhaust flow. Horsepower is now 270 at 6200 rpm, 10 more than the 2003 TL Type S and 45 more than the previous TL. Torque is up slightly to 238 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm. Though it has more horsepower, the revised 3.2 litre engine offers the same fuel consumption as the previous engine, and meets stricter emissions standards.

The six speed manual shifter is really a delight: shifts are short, fluid and noiseless, and shifting effort is minimal. However, clutch pedal effort is a bit heavy, and the engagement point is quite far back in the pedal travel. This makes it difficult to engage the clutch smoothly. A sensitive left foot is needed to avoid jerking the car on takeoff. A large dead pedal to left of clutch pedal provides a useful space to rest your left leg while cruising.

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge

Acceleration from 0 to 100 km/h goes by in under seven seconds, according to independent acceleration tests conducted by members of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada (AJAC). The TL with the manual transmission is almost a second faster to 100 km/h than the TL equipped with the 5-speed automatic.

What’s not obvious from these numbers is the way the TL accelerates – torque-steer is generally controlled in a straight line, and the engine is amazingly smooth and quiet even while pressed. As well, there’s almost no vibration, and there’s very little flex in the body. At highway speeds, the engine is just a hum in the background doing only 2,100 rpm at 100 km/h and 2,600 rpm at 120 km/h in 6th gear.

Fuel consumption is relatively good for a mid-sized performance sedan: 11.7 l/100 km (24 mpg) in the city and 7.7 l/100 km (37 mpg) on the highway. Premium gas is recommended though.

Braking performance is excellent. AJAC braking tests show it stops in just 115 feet from 100 km/h. That’s at or near the top of its class. Must be those Brembos…

My test car had the optional 235/45R-17 Bridgestone Blizzak winter tires, and as luck would have it, there was no snow on the West coast in February. However, I did discover that these tires are quite noisy on dry and wet pavement – a high-pitched ‘singing’ whine which peters out above 100 km/h.

The TL has a comfortable highway ride, despite low profile tires and a sportier suspension. On uneven pavement however, I found the ride stiff. Handling is great up to a point (I’ve also driven the TL with summer tires) but with its front-wheel-drive layout and more weight over the front wheels, the TL is just not as balanced as a rear-wheel-drive BMW 3-Series or an Infiniti G35. Of more concern to me was the tug-of-war between the engine and the steering under hard acceleration when cornering – not exactly torque-steer, but more torque-influenced. The TL 6 speed includes a limited slip front differential to improve traction and standard stability control (VSA) to keep it in line should directional stability be lost while cornering. A button on the dash gives the driver the choice of turning it off.

For typical day to day commuting, the TL’s strong points of refinement, power, luxury and quality are of more importance than handling, and in that sense the TL ranks as one of the top models in its class.


Interior impressions

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed

2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge

As mentioned, the interior is very nicely finished and well-equipped. The sturdy-looking leather-upholstered front sport seats have perforated inserts, wide side bolsters for support, and seat heaters with high/low temperature settings. The driver’s seat also has power height and lumbar adjustments. The TL interior includes a leather-wrapped steering wheel with real aluminum trim and integral controls for the stereo, cruise control and phone/navigation system. Dash and doors feature simulated carbon fibre trim.

Behind the steering wheel, the three backlit gauges include bright white numerals with a cool blue surround – very easy to read day or night. There’s also a digital odometer with bright, white numbers. The centre stack also has Honda/Acura’s new white on black digital display for the heater and radio which is easy to read from a distance. As well, large push-buttons for most functions are clearly marked, and the two metal dials for the radio offer a weighted ‘turning-feel’ that reminds me of a quality home stereo.

Legroom and headroom in the front seats are good, and rear legroom is OK, but rear headroom is tight for adults over 5′ 10″. As well, the rear seat is best suited for two adults, not three, and the side window ledges are rather high. The rear seats feature two height adjustable head restraints, but no centre head restraint. The right rear head restraint partially blocks the driver’s rear visibility when lane-changing.

Something else I noted when trying to get into the rear seat – the sloping angle of the rear door design makes the rear door openings smaller, making it a little more difficult to get in.

I played around with the new DVD audio system using a demonstraton DVD supplied by Acura. The Acura/ELS 8-speaker system will play DVD’s, CD’s, DTS discs, but not MP3 discs. The sound is awesome, but I’m not sure if it’s significantly better than a good CD player, and I don’t know if many people could really appreciate the difference. But if you’ve got to have the best sound system, this is it. For more detailed information on this system, see Jim Kerr’s Auto Tech column.

The new TL is also available with the hands-free Bluetooth phone system. After an initial setup procedure, you can make calls on your Bluetooth cell-phone without taking it out of your pocket. Press a button on the steering wheel, say the telephone number, and it will appear in the instrument cluster. Confirm the number by pressing the button again and it dials the number. A microphone on the overhead console allows the driver to talk while the stereo speakers broadcast the reply. To disconnect, press a button on the steering wheel. It’s all hands-free. But you have to buy a more expensive Bluetooth-enable cell phone.

One interesting feature: the centre armrest slides forward to rest your right arm,

2004 Acura TL 6 speed
Click image to enlarge

or slides back out of the way for gearshifting. Underneath it is a dual level storage bin with a powerpoint in the lower bin. Additional storage is also found in the console, doors and glovebox. The TL’s trunk is smaller than the previous TL’s, now 353 litres (12.5 cu. ft.) however, it will fit up to four golf bags. Sadly, there are no folding rear seatbacks, but there is a pass-through behind the rear centre armrest.

For passenger safety, the 2004 TL now includes standard head curtain airbags which protect both front and rear passengers in a side collision. TLs also have standard front and side airbags with an occupant-position sensor for the front passenger. As of February, 2004, government crash tests on the new TL have yet to be performed.


Competitors

There are numerous “near luxury” competitors most of which are more expensive than the TL: the Audi A4 3.0 ($45,490), BMW 330i ($46,950), Infiniti G35 ($42,700), Jaguar X-Type 3.0 ($44,995), Lexus ES330 ($43,800), Saab 9-5 Arc ($44,000), Volvo S60 T5 ($46,495), Mercedes-Benz C320 Sport ($52,070), and Mazda RX-8 ($36,795).

Verdict

A solid piece of Acura craftsmanship, the TL with the 6-speed manual transmission has a great shifter but a stiff clutch pedal. Handling, while crisp, is not as balanced as the class-leader BMW 330i. The TL’s V6 engine is powerful and surprisingly quiet. The TL is a good value in its class, and offers lots of new gadgets to play with…


Technical Data: 2004 Acura TL 6 speed with “Dynamic Package”

Base price $41,800
Options $1,708 (Blizzak winter tires and wheels)
Freight $950
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $44,558
Type 4-door, 5-passenger mid-size sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.2 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves, VTEC
Horsepower 270 @ 6200 rpm
Torque 238 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Transmission 6 speed manual
Tires Bridgestone Blizzak 235/45R-17 winter tires
Curb weight 1585 kg (3495 lb.)
Wheelbase 2740 mm (107.9 in.)
Length 4730 mm (186.2 in.)
Width 1835 mm ( 72.2 in.)
Height 1441 mm ( 56.7 in.)
Trunk space 353 litres (12.5 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.7 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.7 l/100 km (37 mpg)
Fuel type Premium 91 octane
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

Connect with Autos.ca