Review and photos by Steven Bochenek

The combination of that signature shark’s-grin grille with the tapered front and rear make the Acura TL utterly distinct. As much as any direct competitor, it reminds me of the ironclad Merrimack of civil war infamy. Beefy and bold, if it takes any design cues from competitors at all, it’s just as much from American luxury sedans as what’s coming out of Japan or Europe.

Translation? Solid, uncompromising muscle.

That impression is only confirmed once you’re inside. A bright red start/stop button beckons wantonly amid an otherwise somber blue-black setting, promising all kinds of thrills, like the massive lips at the opening of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. You can insert the key fob into the ignition if you want to or let it rest in your pocket and work remotely.

Behind the wheel, you have three logically separate displays: the instrument panel whose dials provide all the real-time feedback you need for the drive; the navigation and programming system sitting just below the dash between driver and passenger; and, separately, the stereo. So your attention can be divided out quickly and judiciously.

The ride on 19 x 8-inch aluminum-alloy wheels is excellent fun (lesser trims than this TL SH-AWD Elite come with 17 x 8 and 18 x 8). Picture a tank crossbred with a panther. During the week of the test, I completed well over twice the distance I’d achieved with any of the last four testers I’ve reviewed. Yet even then, I never quite got the feeling that I’d seen all it’s capable of. That would require expensive track time – or time behind bars.

2013 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite2013 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite2013 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite
2013 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite. Click image to enlarge

Nonetheless, the few times I did get aggressive, I was instantly and easily front of the class. The TL has cojones.

Despite the comparison to American muscle, the TL is plenty agile and doesn’t mind tight corners in the least. The sport suspension finds just the right compromise between stability and buoyancy. The steering is tight and balanced. (The day I brought it back, I was booked directly into a luxury SUV and the instant difference between steering experiences was profound.)

This tester was imbued with SH-AWD. It’s an acronym for super-handling all-wheel drive and not some badass DJ’s stage handle. It’s an active technology that reads the ride and sends torque to front and back wheels, further splitting distribution between the rear wheels. Watch for it working in inclement conditions. It’s noticeable and makes you feel less clever.

Speaking of which, you can turn off the anti-skid technology – the button’s temptingly near the steering wheel – and get intimate with dirt roads. (This car would be a blast in winter. While you can’t put the back seats down, there is a tiny lockable ski door accessing the trunk.)

Beside that button you’ll find another to disable the blind spot warning lights, which only come with the Elite package. Unobtrusive enough, the lights aren’t accompanied by trilling beeps, a la Volvo’s unintentionally ironic BLIS system, and their amber glow isn’t particularly bright. Indeed, chances are you’d stop noticing it after a while like banner ads and relatives. (My favourite blind-spot solution comes with the TL’s competitor, Cadillac ATS: Safety Seat Alert vibrates your gluteus maximus on either the left or right cheek depending on where the potential danger is. So lights, beeps, bottom tickling –the only senses left for an innovative auto engineer to distract us with would be smell and taste.)

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