Back in my young and foolish days, I considered swapping a manual transmission into my first car, a front-wheel-drive Pontiac Grand Prix. Thankfully, I didn't go through with it (the cost of parts alone would have exceeded the car's value), but I remain a huge believer in the transformative power of a stick shift.
That faith is vindicated with the Acura TL. I've driven several versions of the car with the old five-speed automatic (Acura has since gone to a six-speed auto) and found it a perfectly competent yet completely unremarkable sports sedan -- good at everything, great at nothing. The six-speed manual changes that. Thanks to one of Honda's legendary gearboxes, the Acura TL can claim a superlative: Best Shifting Sport Sedan. It's better than the slightly rubbery gear change in the BMW 3-series and better than the somewhat notchy action in the Audi A4/S4. Whereas I couldn't really remember anything defining about the slushbox TL, I will be blathering for weeks about the precise perfection that is the TL's manual transmission.
Just as important, the three-pedal setup acts as a magic ingredient, enhancing the flavor of several other already good parts. The 3.7-liter V-6, freed of the muffling effect of a torque converter and bolted to the front subframe via stiffer bushings, now growls angrily as it charges through the gears, chirping the tires on 1-2 upshifts. The "Super Handling" all-wheel drive system now seems more aggressive, mostly because the TL is now always in the right gear (or at least what I believe to be the right gear) when the I pin the throttle to shoot out of corners. The only fly in the ointment is steering that's a bit too light and numb, though it firms up reassuringly at higher speeds.
The new front fascia -- the biggest change for this model year -- has less of a transformative effect but is still a definite improvement. In the design studio that big ol' silver beak probably seemed like the perfect way to announce Acura's bold new styling language. In the real world, it became the only thing people noticed when the car pulled up. The toned-down grille lets the rest of the exterior design take the spotlight. Lo and behold, it's not a bad design at all -- still not on par with style leaders like the Cadillac CTS and Audi A4 but handsome nonetheless.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor