2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD. Click image to enlarge

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Acura Canada

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2009 Acura TL

Oshawa, Ontario – For 2009, Acura has completely redesigned its TL sedan, giving it all-wheel drive and a 305-horsepower, 3.7-litre V6 engine that’s the strongest in the nameplate’s stable. But while that’s the model that’s getting all the attention, there’s a second TL in the line-up – my tester, the 3.5-litre TL in front-wheel drive.

While it may not have the wow factor of the top-line’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, or SH-AWD – which generally does live up to its name, especially on twisty roads – its $39,990 base price is $4,500 under the SH-AWD model, which is a chunk of change no matter how you look at it.

Despite the price difference, the overall packages are fairly well-matched. Both drivelines use a five-speed automatic transmission, and while both prefer premium fuel, the front-wheel-only system naturally gets slightly better fuel mileage – against the published figures of 11.6 L/100 km in the city and 7.5 on the highway, I averaged 11.1 L/100 km. Both contain the usual number of premium features, including xenon headlamps, sunroof, automatic climate control, six-CD stereo and active head restraints; the only items missing from the FWD version that you get on the SH-AWD are 18-inch wheels to the front-wheel’s 17-inchers, plus hill start assist, headlight washers, quad tailpipes, and a sportier-trimmed steering wheel. The SH-AWD also has more of a performance-tuned suspension.

My tester was further optioned with a Technology Package, which is the same on both models, at an extra $3,500; it adds a rearview camera, navigation system, pushbutton start, perforated leather seats, and GPS-linked climate control. That last little number figures out where the sun is in the sky, and adjusts the vent airflow to compensate for one side of the car getting more sunlight through the windows than the other. Just how did we survive without all this, I wonder?

2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD. Click image to enlarge

The front-wheel TL’s 3.5-litre produces 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque, and if that pales on paper beside the 3.7-litre’s 305 horsepower and 275 lb-ft, it certainly doesn’t feel wanting once you’re on the road. I like the smaller engine very much, with its quick response, linear throttle, and a transmission that shifts smoothly and keeps the engine nicely in its powerband, even if it’s only got five cogs in a world that’s increasingly moving to six. It doesn’t quite have the handling or feedback of a true sports sedan, but steering response is very good nevertheless. Having driven both models, I also find the regular TL’s lighter weight – a 114-kg difference – gives it a more nimble feel. And realistically, given that most drivers don’t spend their days carving out switchbacks, the TL works very well for the average commuter who spends much of his time in traffic, but likes to push the pedal when the road finally opens up. The brakes are also very good, bringing the car down from speed quickly and accurately, but without grabbing.

Larger than the 2008 model it replaces, both inside and out, the TL is a very comfortable car, with supportive seats and more legroom this time around. The back seat doesn’t fold, but the trunk holds 371 litres, and there’s a locking pass-through. I could definitely see packing this car full of luggage and taking it on a long-distance trip, and getting out at the other end with my spine still exactly where it’s meant to be.

My tester came with an “Ivory” interior, but I’d rather go for the all-black version; not only is the contrast a bit much between the dark upper pad and the lighter lower dash, but beige plastic simply looks cheap, no matter who makes it. Everything’s put together very well, but overall, it’s just far too complicated. The designers at Acura love their buttons and dials, and the TL has plenty of them, especially with the Technology Package. There’s simply too much time taken away from the road when looking for a control. And while every button is backlit, which every button should be on every vehicle, the sheer number of them means that at night, it feels like you’re piloting a jumbo jet.

There’s no question that the exterior styling is polarizing, and while I’ve always maintained that bold is better than bland, I’m not entirely sold on the squid-beak grille here. (The TL was designed in California, by the way, and is built in Ohio.) I’ve come to accept it on the MDX, but I think it overpowers the TL, especially when that big hunk of front chrome is in such contrast to my tester’s black paint. The sharp-creased origami styling continues on the trunk, with a prominent spoiler and chrome strip. I do like the side view, though, with the muscular arches over the wheels and the chrome surround on the windows.

2009 Acura TL FWD
2009 Acura TL FWD. Click image to enlarge

While Acura is pointing the SH-AWD version at several rear- or all-wheel competitors, the front-wheel TL can take on some titans of its own. The Acura has more horsepower and a lower starting MSRP than the Audi A4 2.0T or the Saab 9-5, and while the Volvo S60 and Lincoln MKZ cost less, their prices don’t include the Acura’s sunroof, xenon headlamps or six-disc stereo. Closest in the arch-rival department is the Lexus ES 350, which has 272 horses to the Acura’s 280, and power-adjustable steering wheel and auto-dimming exterior mirrors missing on the TL, for a $40 difference in the Lexus’ favour, although it doesn’t have xenon headlamps.

Of course, the only way to know for sure is to drive one, but I’m guessing that when you get to the dealership, it’ll be the SH-AWD version that catches your eye. By all means, take it out and see just what it can do around corners. But do yourself a favour, and give its little brother a spin, too. It may not be getting all the attention, but it can certainly hold its own.

Pricing: 2009 Acura TL
  • Base price: $39,990
  • Options: $5,492 (Technology Package, $3,500; winter tires, $1,992)

  • A/C tax: $100
  • Freight: $1,825
  • Price as tested: $47,407
    Click here for options, dealer invoice prices and factory incentives

  • Specifications: 2009 Acura TL

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