2004 Acura TL

The Acura TL has been the big dog in its category since the second-generation version was introduced in 1999, but it has been a car built to limit options and emphasize affordability-on the principle that less is more. Acura itself has made this notion of practical value into a kind of corporate culture, and it has been very successful as a result. The trouble is, Acura sedans have been for buyers, not for drivers.

Full Front View

Fortunately for all of us, the TL has been made over into the kind of car that shows us that more can indeed be more. The car has more style, more horsepower, more road manners, and more feature content. This is not just a TL makeover; it's an Acura makeover.

Just look at it. This is an Acura with style. A great-looking, beveled front fascia has a wide, powerful stance. The gutter at the beltline of this tough, extruded shape recalls the blade of a hunting knife. And, as you'd expect from Acura, the engineers also played an important role here, adding an assortment of pieces beneath the floorpan that trim the drag coefficient to 0.29.

Restrictive speed limits and vigilant cops always make it difficult to wring out any car in the vicinity of Seattle, even on Bremerton Island, where we did most of our driving. But finally we found ourselves on some country roads where only logging trucks are usually seen, and the new TL's 270-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 pulled us irresistibly forward. The shift throws of the six-speed manual transmission were short and clean, while the helical-style limited-slip differential occasionally tugged at the front wheels. The body danced across the crests and dips, and we never once pounded the suspension's bump stops. The TL still has a light, deft feel, but there's been a dramatic improvement in suspension steadiness and body composure.

That's because the hardware under the skin has been revitalized just as the styling has. Based on the new-generation Accord, the new TL is 3.7 inches shorter than before and 2.5 inches wider, although interior passenger volume remains the same. The stiffer body shell helps the control-arm front suspension and five-link rear suspension get the best from the 235/45WR-17 tires. There are three separate chassis calibrations: one to suit the car with the five-speed automatic transmission, another tuned to the six-speed manual, and one more for a high-performance "A-SPEC" version (much like the now-discontinued Type-S model) with lowered suspension and 235/40ZR-18 tires.

Front Dashboard View

The new TL also makes drivers feel great as they go about their work. Honda rigorously formats the ergonomics, so the driving position feels perfectly natural (glory be, the switch for the electric sunroof has been moved at last from the dash to the roof). Now the controls themselves also feel as if they belong in a performance car, notably the short-stroke brake pedal that lets you modulate the new four-piston Brembo front brakes with complete precision.

With the new TL, Acura is among the first few car manufacturers to commit themselves to leading-edge consumer electronics. First, this car has Bluetooth-enabled wireless phone technology, which makes it possible to use your own cellular phone through the car's audio system in a truly hands-free style. Second, the TL features a stunning eight-speaker DVD audio system, the forthcoming standard music format for home entertainment. The TL is also wired for XM satellite radio. Moreover, these features are standard equipment. Only an upgraded Alpine navigation system with voice recognition is optional.

So much goodness comes at a cost, though. The TL's base price has climbed some $3000 to $33,000, which surely will have consequences in a marketplace where few carmakers dare attempt a ten percent price increase. But it shouldn't matter for enthusiasts, because the TL is at last a car for drivers, not just buyers.

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