Evolution has been kind to the Acura TL. Although we judged the all-new model, launched in 2009, as cold and uninspiring, the company spent the last three years continually refining, reworking, and improving its mid-size offering. Suspension revisions, which arrived in 2010, improved handling, and an available six-speed manual transmission endeared itself to buyers looking for a premium performance machine. Arguably, the 2012 model -- which actually arrived at dealerships in early 2011 -- is the best TL yet, thanks to another round of polishing. Perhaps the best example is the exterior -- the car's ungainly, beaklike nose has been abolished, replaced by a more conservative grille and new, proportional front and rear bumper fascias. The makeover isn't quite as extensive inside, but the optional technology package does toss in luscious Milano leather seating surfaces. Beneath the skin, a six-speed automatic transmission improves fuel economy, and it's also a little smoother shifting than the outgoing five-speed unit. Front-wheel-drive TLs continue to use a 280-hp, 3.5-liter V-6; stepping up to the all-wheel-drive model forces an upgrade to a potent 305-hp, 3.7-liter six-cylinder. Enthusiasts will prefer the latter, but not simply for the power: the torque-vectoring driveline increases grip in cornering. Better yet, it's also the only way to opt for that crisp, slick-shifting six-speed manual.
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