2004 Acura TL
Click image to enlarge


by Greg Wilson

Confidence-inspiring performance and plenty of gadgets


When the Japanese-made Acura 3.2TL switched to the American-made Honda Accord platform in 1999, there was initial skepticism about the TL’s ability to compete with established luxury sedans like the BMW 325i, Audi A4 and Mercedes-Benz C-Class. There was, justifiably, an impression that the 3.2TL was just a tarted-up Accord. A day spent driving the TL through the coastal mountain ranges of British Columbia quickly dispelled this feeling – the ’99 TL proved to be a much better performer than expected – particularly for a front-wheel-drive car. And with an initial price of $35,000, it was well-equipped and a good value in its class. Significantly, the TL went on to win Car of the Year in an annual contest judged by more than 60 professional Canadian auto writers.

The 2004 Acura TL is also based on the American-built front-wheel-drive Accord platform, but it’s the new Accord platform which was redesigned last year. As before, the 2004 TL’s engine, body and interior are unique while the platform, suspension, and brakes are modified from the Accord. The ’04 TL is wider and taller than the ’03 TL, but its wheelbase is slightly shorter and its overall length is significantly shorter (159 mm/6.3 in.), mostly because of shorter front and rear overhangs.

2004 Acura TL
Click image to enlarge

2004 TL’s come in three trim levels: TL $40,800; TL with Navi package $44,000; and TL Dynamic Package $41,800. The “3.2” in “3.2TL” has been deleted, and the “Type S” model designation is gone. Now that the 2004 TL has more horsepower than the previous Type S, it’s arguably a replacement for the Type S, which accounts for the ’04’s higher starting price of $40,800, up from $37,800 for the base ’03 3.2TL.

TL’s are available with a couple of technology firsts: DVD audio system and hands-free Bluetooth cell-phone operation. Also unique is a navigation system that includes English and Canadian-French voice recognition.

Also of note, 2004 TL’s with the Dynamic Package include the first 6-speed manual transmission available in the TL – this transmission was first introduced in the CL coupe. The TL 6MT also gets Brembo front brakes, summer performance tires, hands-free Bluetooth phone technology, and limited slip front differential – all for only $1,000 more than the base TL. But Acura representatives say it will be a limited production model.


Wedge-shaped styling

With a new wedge-shaped profile, taller sides, and a wider, more aggressive stance, the 2004 TL resembles the smaller Acura TSX from the front and sides, while the rear reminds me of, well, a Chrysler Sebring. In fact, there appear to be little bits of other cars mixed in to the TL’s styling – a little bit of Mustang there, Audi here, Mazda there…this lack of individuality is disappointing. OK,

2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura Tl

2004 Acura TL
Click image to enlarge

there’s nothing BAD about the styling, but it doesn’t inspire the same kind of passion that a BMW 330i, Audi A4 or Infiniti G35 might – at least, in my opinion. I know I’ll get some letters..


Interior well-finished

Like the prevous model, the 2004 TL’s interior is very nicely finished. The quality of the cabin materials, fit and finish, and attention to detail are superb – it’s all very luxurious and very comfortable. I particularly liked the supportive front leather sport seats, tilt/telescopic steering wheel, blue-lit gauges, and real aluminum trim.

The cabin is roomier than before, but its high sides make the cabin feel a little more claustrophobic, particularly in the rear. There’s plenty of headroom and legroom for front and and rear passengers, however the rear seat is only wide enough for two adults. And while the front doors are large, the rear doors are narrower at the bottom because of intrusion from the rear wheelwells.

For passenger safety, TLs now include 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, and outboard height adjustable rear head restraints are also new. Acura has conducted its own crash tests, and says the new TL will get top marks in future government frontal and offset crash tests.

The trunk is smaller: 353 litres (12.5 cu. ft.) compared to 405 litres (14.3 cu. ft.) before – however, the new trunk is well shaped and will fit up to four golf bags and duffel bags. There’s a pass-through to the trunk, but no folding rear seatbacks.


Leading-edge technology

An optional Navigation system has a large 8 inch colour touch screen which I found easy to use. Manual inputs are accomplished using a combination of the touch-screen, toggle switch and buttons to the sides of the screen. Unique to Acura’s system is a voice-recognition system for English and Quebecois French – over 150 Honda Quebec employees participated in recreating an accurate French-Canadian voice recognition software. In the TL, this voice recognition system can be used to operate the Navigation system and Bluetooth cell phone system.

Acura is one of the first manufacturers to offer the hands-free Bluetooth system. After an initial setup procedure, you can make calls on your Bluetooth enabled cell-phone without taking it out of your pocket or purse. Simply press a button on the steering wheel, say the telephone number, and it will appear in the instrument cluster. To confirm the number, press the button again and it dials. A microphone positioned on the overhead console allows the driver to talk while the stereo
speakers broadcast the recipient’s reply. To disconnect, press another button on the steering wheel. There’s no need to take your hands off the steering wheel. Great!

The TL is also one of the first cars to offer a DVD audio system with six different audio channels. The Acura/ELS 8-speaker system will play DVD’s, CD’s, DTS discs, but not MP3 discs. Its higher resolution provides clearer, crisper sound with much greater detail. See Jim Kerr’s recent Auto Tech column for more details about this system.


Strong performance

Like the 2003 TL, the 2004 TL’s strong points are its superb engine and terrific handling. Under the hood is a transversely-mounted 3.2 litre SOHC 24 valve VTEC V6 engine, similiar to the one used in the 2003 TL Type S – but now with an aluminum alloy block and pumping out 270 horsepower at 6200 rpm, 10 more horsepower than the TL Type S and 45 more than the previous TL. Torque is also up slightly. A higher compression ratio, improved induction air flow, and improved exhaust flow are the main reasons for the extra horsepower and torque. Even with the extra horsepower, the new engine offers the same fuel consumption as the previous motor, and now meets stricter emissions

2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura TL
Click image to enlarge

standards. But it does use Premium gas.

A 5-speed automatic with manual mode comes standard while a new 6 speed manual is offered on the 6MT version. I tried both transmissions – the 5 speed automatic is one of the smoothest shifters I’ve encountered and includes automatic shift down when braking and coasting. It can be manually shifted sequentially by moving the lever over to the left shift gate – tapping forward shifts up a gear, tapping backward shifts down.

The 6-speed manual offers light, purposeful shifts while the clutch pedal requires a firm push and a delicate clutch engagement to prevent lurching. The manual transmission includes a self-adjusting clutch and a dual-mass flywheel. With the manual tranny, Acura quotes 0 to 60 mph times of only 6.3 seconds, while TLs with the automatic do the same distance in 7.2 seconds. The engine lets out a mild roar under hard acceleration, but is otherwise extremely quiet, as is the cabin in general.
I experienced no torque steer even under full power. At freeway speeds, the engine is very relaxed running at just 1800 rpm at 100 km/h, and 2200 rpm at 120 km/h in top gear. I found the TL to be a very comfortable highway cruiser.

Vehicle dynamics are really outstanding for a front wheel drive car. The 6MT model with 17 inch Bridgestone Potenza performance tires sticks like glue on dry pavement with virtually no tire squeal at the limit. Even the all-season Bridgestone Turanza tires on the standard TL offer excellent grip, assisted by the TL’s fully independent double wishbone suspension and anti-dive, anti-squat suspension setup. In some ways, the TL handles with the balance of a rear-wheel-drive car – it’s only under hard braking and when the car is unsettled that you notice its heavier front end. My only complaint is with the new speed-sensitive, torque-sensing steering – it’s doesn’t communicate road feel at speed.

The TL comes standard with many safety features such as Vehicle Stability Assist, Traction Control, new electronic brake force distribution, ABS, and Brake Assist. So if you lose control on a slippery patch, these systems will intervene to correct the vehicle’s direction, increase traction or reduce braking distances.

Driver visibility is good to the front and sides, but the high rear deck makes it difficult to see other cars, concrete barriers, fire hydrants and the like when backing into a parking space.

Previously, TL’s had HID low beams, but now the high beams are also HID lamps, increasing long range lighting by about 50%, according to Acura.


Competitors

The TL’s competitors include the BMW 330i, Lexus ES300, Audi A4 3.0, Infiniti G35, and Mercedes-Benz C240 – but because the new TL now has 270 horsepower and has a roomier cabin, it could also be considered competition for mid-sized luxury sedans like the BMW 530i, Audi A6, Lincoln LS, Cadillac CTS, and Lexus GS300.


Verdict

Terrific handling, wonderful engine, top-notch interior, many innovative techno gadgets, and a good price, but styling could be more distinctive.

Technical Data: 2004 Acura TL w/Navigation Package

Base price $40,800
Price as tested $44,000
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 5-speed automatic w/SportShift manual mode (6-speed manual)
Tires Bridgestone Turanza 235/45R-17 all-season
Curb weight 1626 kg (3585 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.)
Cargo capacity 348 litres (12.3 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 11.6 l/100 km (24 mpg)
  Hwy: 7.6 l/100 km (37 mpg)
Fuel type Premium 91 octane recommended
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain Warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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