First Drive: 2012 Acura TL

Numbers may not tell an entire story, but they do help build a business case. When it comes to looking at the figures associated with the fourth-generation Acura TL, which launched in 2009, the luxury sports sedan was a success. The model remains Acura's second best-selling model (eclipsed only by the MDX crossover), and remains the brand's best-selling passenger car. Almost three years after its launch -- and even in the shadow of a global economic shakeup -- nearly 34,000 customers ponied up to bring a TL home in 2010.

That doesn't mean there isn't room for improvement. Contrary to popular belief, product planners do listen, and Acura has heard both customers and critics grumble over matters ranging from fuel economy to frumpy exterior styling. Fortunately, the refreshed 2012 TL, which debuted earlier this year at the Chicago auto show, promises to address several of those issues without usurping the TL's successful formula.

Nip The Nose, Tuck the Tail
Perhaps the most controversial aspect of the previous TL was its exterior design. Not only was the car considerably larger than its successor, but its angular form -- billed as Emotion Advanced by marketing folks -- was perhaps a little too advanced for buyers. The chunky front and rear fascias, along with an ungainly grille aperture, puzzled pundits and, according to Acura marketing vice president Steve Center, may have been "too bold" in a conservative luxury market.

Consider the matter resolved for 2012. Designers made no changes to the car's profile nor revised a single pane of sheet metal. They did, however, bless the TL with revised front and rear fascias, both of which help the car look wider and lower than before. Up front, the beak-like grille is replaced with a slender, more conservative aperture, which sports a body-colored surround and no longer stretches to the hood's edge. New horizontal edges placed halfway down the bumper break up vertical surfaces, avoiding the shovel-nosed look that plagued the previous TL.

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