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by Paul Williams
Photos: Grant Yoxon
If you’re looking to move up in the automotive market, and have about $40,000 to play with, Acura has an impressive new TL for your consideration.
If it were the only car in this category, Acura would likely have a slam-dunk. But this “near luxury” segment of the market, where the TL is located, has become very popular. At that price, or thereabouts, manufacturers can include just about every option they’ve got, in very stylish vehicles, and still make a profit (unlike with smaller, cheaper cars, where margins are thin to non-existent).
So what’s the TL got to separate it from this very crowded line-up? Plenty, I think, to make it distinctive enough for a buyer looking for a particular set of features, including performance, technology and design.
The TL’s 3.2-litre V6 engine with variable valve timing makes 270-horsepower and 238 lb.-ft. of torque. This is one of the smoothest engines you’ll experience in any segment, being almost silent at idle and at low-speed acceleration. Put your foot down and the silence changes to a snarl as the car aggressively propels you forward. But this engine is smooth like butter and a major strength in this car – a most impressive piece of technology.
Challenging the BMW 530i in handling (or at least, Acura says, using it as a target) the TL uses a double-wishbone front suspension and a five-link double wishbone rear suspension with sport-tuned shock absorbers with hydroformed aluminum alloy front subframe.
Electronic Brake force Distribution (EBD) is standard, along with Brake Assist (for panic stops), anti-lock brakes (ABS) and a four-channel Vehicle Stability Assist system (VSA) including traction control.
The speed-sensitive, torque-sensing, variable power-assisted rack and pinion steering is designed to provide a precise steering response at higher speeds, without compromising road feel at lower speeds.
My test vehicle came equipped with the optional “Dynamic” package (a $1,000 bargain, in my opinion) that includes a six-speed manual transmission (five-speed automatic is standard), limited slip differential, Brembo four-piston front brake callipers and five 17″ aluminum wheels with Bridgestone Potenza high performance tires (18″ wheels are available).
As well as power and handling, Acura feels its buyers are looking for the latest in technical innovation, especially as it relates to providing driver comforts and utility.
The 2004 TL is the first car that comes standard with a DVD-audio system, which, if you own DVD-audio discs, provides a breathtaking listening experience (it plays CDs as well). Matched with the Thinsulate panels that line the car and keep exterior sounds out, and the acoustic glass windshield, the TL is probably as fine a place to enjoy your tunes as you’ll find, in or out of a car.
The TL is also ready to communicate with your Bluetooth-equipped cell phone. This it does automatically as you enter the car, and from that point on, all your calls are routed through the audio system for a complete hands-free communication experience. The TL even displays the phone numbers from incoming calls in a panel embedded in your speedometer, and lowers the volume on the audio system so you can take/make your calls.
If you select the Navi package ($3,200) you’ll get a bilingual navigation system, which will speak French with a Quebec accent. Apparently it’s the only navigation system on the Canadian market with this feature. In addition to plotting routes for you, it can find restaurants, theatres, garages, and other points of interest, look up their phone numbers, and call them. You can then use your Bluetooth phone link to order food, make reservations or buy tickets, all hands-free.
On the road the TL has a substantial and solid feel. Doors close with a satisfying thunk, seats are big, comfortable and sporty, and upholstered in soft, perforated leather. The instruments are easy to read and controls, for the most part, easy to use (in the interest of symmetry, some of the buttons face away from the driver and are harder to read and operate; controls for the mirrors are fiddly). Between the seats is a cooled storage compartment, and the flip-down map pockets in the doors are a useful addition. Rear seat legroom is excellent, and the rear seats are comfortable for two or three passengers. Trunk capacity is on the small side, but shaped well, and it opens remotely with the key fob.
Put the TL in gear and it rockets away from a standstill, it’s engine instantly responding to the accelerator. If you’re not going in a straight line, though, torque steer may pull the car off course, so in some circumstances you need to hang on tight to that wheel. Also, the clutch is very direct, and if you’re test-driving the six-speed manual, I bet you’ll need some time to get used to it, especially in first and second. Otherwise the throws are short and precise and the gearbox is a delight to use. You do get used to it, by the way.
The Acura TL is a lovely car to drive in town and on the highway. For your $40,000 dollars (or thereabouts) you’ll get a fully equipped car that’s as close to sport-luxury as you can get without spending $20,000 more. The list of standard features is very long – including sunroof, dual climate control, power seats, side curtain airbags – and furthermore, the car’s a real head-turner from all angles (the profile and rear are particularly nice) with standard high-intensity discharge headlamps and LED side/rear lamps lighting it up at night.
Too bad the colour choices are restricted to option packages. If you select the Navi package or standard TL you can choose from white, black, dark blue, silver and beige. The Dynamic package gets you the silver, white, black plus Redondo Red Pearl or Anthracite. Want the Navi with red? Sorry. Dynamic with blue? Ditto. Another restriction is that you can’t get the navigation system with the suspension and brakes from the dynamic package, or the five-speed auto either. Acura says it will monitor customer preferences, and respond accordingly.
It’s wishful thinking, of course, but what the TL really needs is a rear-wheel drive platform – that would emphatically establish the car’s claim to balance and handling. However, in normal operation I’d bet most drivers couldn’t tell what platform it uses. If you’re looking for a car in this price range, better put the TL on your list.
Technical Data: 2004 Acura TL w/Dynamic Package
|Price as tested||$42,850|
|Type||4-door, 5 passenger mid-size luxury sport sedan|
|Layout||transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive|
|Engine||3.2 litre V-6, SOHC, 24 valves, VVT|
|Horsepower||270 @ 6,200 r.p.m.|
|Torque||238 lb.-ft. @ 5,000 r.p.m.|
|Transmission||6-speed manual (five-speed automatic w/SportShift std.)|
|Tires||Bridgestone Potenza P235/45R-17|
|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: 11.6 l/100 km (24 m.p.g.)|
|Hwy: 7.6 l/100 km (37 m.p.g.)|
|Warranty||3 yrs/60,000 km|
|Powertrain warranty||5 yrs/100,000 km|