Since its inception in 1995, the Acura TL has always been a stylish expression of attainable Japanese luxury, and when the second generation arrived in 1999, the car quickly rose to the top of the near-lux segment. Soon after, with the help of the sporty Type-S, the TL became Acura's top-selling vehicle. The problem was that even the Type-S wasn't the driver's car that other companies were offering. Enter the new-for-2004 Acura TL, with a smooth 270-horse V-6, much-improved dynamics, and interior and exterior styling befitting a car costing well more than the mid-$30K pricetag, giving it strong competitive footing. With the third-generation TL, Acura also set out to define itself as a leader in innovation, offering one of the industry's first Bluetooth hands-free phone interfaces and a standard DVD audio system.
Redesigned for 2004, the dramatic TL is muscular, edgy, and modern. Every crisp line exudes both performance and luxury, making the TL arguably more attractive than the much costlier RL sedan. It looks low and long, and indeed the TL is more than eight inches longer than a Mercedes-Benz C-class and nearly equal in length to an Infiniti G35. As with the rest of the Acura line, there are no trim levels, so every TL looks basically the same, with the exception of those equipped with optional wheels or the pricey A-Spec package. That option, installed at dealers, adds anthracite 18-inch wheels, a lowered suspension, a rear spoiler, and an aero kit.
The clean modernity of the exterior styling is carried gracefully into a well thought-out cabin. While wood-grain trims are available, the more contemporary black plastic and aluminum look that comes with darker interior colors works better with the blue and white gauges to create a cool and relaxed ambiance. Acura prides itself on making the buying experience as easy as possible, as reflected in the single-item (navigation) options list; everything else comes standard. Those standard amenities include XM satellite radio, the aforementioned Bluetooth connectivity, DVD surround sound audio, a 10-way adjustable driver's seat, and a favorite feature for cold winters, heated seats. Gauges are bright and easy to read, and steering-wheel-mounted controls allow you to keep your eyes on the road. The plush leather seats are comfortable and, amazingly, head- and legroom for all passengers are superior to those of the flagship RL.