First Drive: 2012 Acura TL

Same Engines, But Six Speeds All Around
Beneath the skin, the 2012 TL largely mirrors its forebears. Base front-wheel-drive models use a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter SOHC V-6. All-wheel-drive models are fitted with a larger 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 and Acura's slick SH-AWD system. Not only is the system capable of shifting 70 percent of the engine's torque to the rear axle, but it can also shift that power to the outside wheel during cornering, both improving turn-in and increasing cornering speeds.

Regardless of the driveline, 2012 TLs receive a new six-speed automatic transmission in lieu of the aging five-speed unit. Although similar to the six-speed transmission used in both the MDX and ZDX crossovers, the TL uses a lower 3.722:1 final drive ratio. This, coupled with some minor exterior aerodynamic tweaks and some internal engine improvements, helps boost fuel economy. Front-wheel-drive TLs are rated at 20/29 mpg (city/highway), an increase of 2 and 3 mpg, respectively. SH-AWD models are now rated at 18/26 mpg, representing a mild 1-mpg improvement over last year's model.

Enthusiasts looking to row their own gears will likely be excited to learn that a six-speed manual is still available on SH-AWD models, although it is relegated models fitted with the Technology Package. Fuel economy for TLs so equipped remains unchanged at 17/25 mpg.

As much as we'd love to see Acura roll out a performance-tuned TL variant to counter Infiniti's new IPL line or BMW's established M offerings, officials tell us a Honda Performance Division-tuned variant isn't likely to join the fold anytime soon.

A Familiar Drive
We recently had a chance to sample the entire 2012 TL line over the back roads of Austin, Texas -- and although the revised car drives much its predecessor, there are still some improvements.

Despite the fact that the entry-level TL sedans are sending almost 300 horsepower through their front wheels, handling remains remarkably balanced. Torque steer is surprisingly restrained, and mild understeer is only exhibited when the car is hustled into a corner -- and hard. Even then, the electronic safety nannies, including ABS, traction control, and stability control -- never reared their heads during our spirited driving session.

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