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by Richard Russell
Seattle, Washington – Acura has scaled new heights with the 2004 TL, moving it solidly into the performance side of the luxury realm. Honda’s upscale division has decided to pursue the Germans in this class and the result is a seriously fast luxury sedan.
Performance starts with power and here Acura engineers decided enough would not be good enough. Whereas the previous TL came with two performance levels, 225 and 260 horsepower, the all-new 2004 version will be available with one engine level only – 270 horsepower. But they didn’t stop there. The Germans rightfully earned a performance reputation based on all-round packaging so Acura endowed the new TL with a six speed manual gearbox, massive Brembo brakes and a suspension tuned for Herculian speeds.
We drove several early production versions hard and fast over several hundred kilometres of scarcely populated Pacific Northwest logging roads and can attest to the fact this is one seriously competent and deceptively fast motor vehicle!
Acura also decided that since the lineup has been expanded with the TSX they can move the TL up a notch. In addition to the performance hike, all ’04 TLs get electronic stability control, six airbags, Zenon headlights and a simply-amazing industry-unique DVD sound system. The new TL is also significantly more stylish than its predecessor which had often been called bland. The loping, smooth contours have been axed, replaced by clearly defined edges. The result is a much more substantial look and a bold stance. The new TL is 14 cm shorter than the outgoing model, yet manages to provide more interior space.
Acura means exceptional quality, fit, finish and materials. But there are a myriad of other touches inside that make this a very pleasant space. Soft blue LED lights are used for the instrument panel and they not only welcome you with a gradual and staged performance, the backlit analog instruments are highly visible in bright sunlight even while wearing sunglasses. The standard interior trim includes supple leather and wood trim.
The standard sound system is the first automotive application of DVD-A 5.1 audio. DVD audio has 500 times the resolution of a CD – which the system can also accommodate. The new Acura ELS surround-system, named after Elliot Shiner, the 17-time Grammy nominee sound engineer who helped in the development, features six discreet channels, eight speakers and a dedicated sub-woofer permitting a level and quality of sound previously heard only in elaborate home entertainment systems and theatres. Suddenly being stuck in traffic is not as big a bother as it used to be. Or you might find yourself going out to the garage to enjoy a favorite new pressing.
Acura also worked hard to ensure its first navigation system was Canadian-friendly. An English-French Voice Recognition system was developed by 170 French-speaking Honda Canada Associates. It’s screen displays more than 8.7 million points of interest and recognizes 180 verbal commands. The database contains more than 250,000 Canadian Points Of Interest including POI dialing. Speech recognition also controls the climate control and sound systems. Also available with the Navi and Dynamics packages is Acura’s new HandsFreeLink system. Based on emerging technology – no wires and no cradles – it automatically recognizes a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone.
The added power over the old Type S engine came from a higher compression ratio and on the intake side, the three-rocker VTEC system and dual stage manifold. Airflow is up 4% from the Type S and 41% from the past base model. Acura’s testing shows class-leading 0-100 and 80-120 km/hr times. Should you not want the six-speed self-shifter, the wide ratio five-speed sequential Sport Shift automatic has been refined, ratios altered and the gated shifter simplified.
The 2004 TL will be available in one trim level only, but two packages are available to allow a buyer to select his or her flavour, Navi and Dynamic. The Navi package obviously includes the new navigation system and other electronic additions. The Dynamic Package forgoes the navigation system in favor of performance. This version has the same 270-horsepower engine, but mates it with a six-speed manual gearbox and helical Limited Slip Differential, specific high performance tires and upgraded brakes.
The Dynamic package comes with high performance summer-only tires resulting in sharper steering, improved handling, reduced braking distances and lower noise levels. Separate winter tires are always a good bet – and worth the added outlay.
The new TL also showcases some serious safety thinking. In addition to active safety features like massive brakes, ABS and Vehicle Stability Assist, the TL has a wide variety of passive safety items including front, side and side-curtain bags, a 24% stiffer body and neck-injury reduction front seats.
The 2004 TL is more stylish, safer, roomier and faster – with no letup in Acura quality and craftsmanship. Smaller yet roomier, faster but more fuel-efficient, improved handling at no sacrifice in ride quality and more standard equipment. Sounds like a recipe for success.
Prices are not yet finalized but Acura fully expects to bring the ’04 TL in at about the same price as the previous Type S ($42,000) despite its more extensive standard equipment list and serious boost in performance.