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2009 Acura TL SH-AWD Test Drive - Seat Time

The Luxury Sedan That Won't Make You Yawn

Andy Anderson
May 1, 2009
Photographer: Courtesy of American Honda

Acura TL
It's been out since last November, so if you haven't had a chance to test drive or at least check out Acura's new top dog-the TL SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive)-shame on you. Like the name implies, SH-AWD models are equipped with all-wheel drive configurations, a first for the TL. And this is no wussy part-time AWD setup that only engages once the tires lose traction. Nope, this is a real-deal, full-time design, one that transmits torque to all four wheels, under almost all conditions. Sorry Subaru, Audi, and Mitsubishi; the AWD monopoly is no longer yours.

Mouthwatering technological upgrades, an abundance of new gadgets, and a complete interior and exterior redesign are what gives the '09 TL the edge that it has over competitors like the Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes-Benz C-class. And the TL does all of this without coming off as snooty or pretentious...and it'll probably last years longer.

Acura says that the new TL is "by far the most technologically advanced sedan in Acura's history," and that they haven't missed a beat, making sure that the new brute of a four-door is fully stocked with all of the latest gadgetry, including a multi-link navigation system and optional 10-speaker sound system. But while technology abounds inside the TL, the real innovations lie elsewhere.

Under the hood lies the most powerful engine Honda has ever built. Period. No, the NSX's C30A and C32B do not even come close. The new 60-degree J-series is accurately tweaked and tuned to provide an explosive amount of power. The aluminum alloy V-6 engine displaces 3.7 liters, 305 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque at 6200 rpm. Featuring PGM-FI multi-point fuel injection with VTEC on the intake and exhaust valves (a first for a SOHC engine, mind you), the TL destroys its competition with its impressive 0-60 sprint of only 5.5 seconds. The 3.7-liter J gets Honda's patented VTEC applied to both cam lobes, which we all know means top-end power is no longer had at the expense of low-end response and emissions. But this is all a bunch of babble; the real story begins once you drive it.

On the road, the TL is immediately impressive with its quiet cabin; almost no wind noise intrudes, which incidentally makes going very fast less noticeable than you'd imagine. Steering feel is also improved, thanks to a new variable-assist electric power steering (EPS) similar to that found on later NSXs. That's about all it shares with the NSX though. A front independent double-wishbone suspension with a rear independent multi-link give the TL a sense of handling that you might not expect from such a large car, while the larger body allows for a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase, helping to generate even better turning capabilities than before. And boy does it turn. The AWD drivetrain helps keep the TL's meats stuck to the highway in ways you wouldn't expect from such a car. Traction is no longer an issue. The TL SH-AWD also features a five-speed automatic that not only includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but also the widest gear ratio of any in its class. Its overdriven top gear gives the TL strong acceleration in lower gears, as well as an increase in fuel efficiency. Want a six-speed? Too bad. Only paddle-shifted, automatic models will be offered until the release of the 2010 model. We're waiting.

With all of its increased speed capabilities, power, and torque, the TL requires an impressive braking system, given that stopping is such a crucial part of driving. Thankfully, Acura didn't overlook such things, including dual-diagonal, power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with electronic anti-lock features as well as brake assist. The TL's ability to distribute power to the rear outside wheel makes cornering easier than you'd imagine. The suspension has been stiffened to minimize body roll, and the wider track makes the sedan feel more planted and secure during aggressive driving. The down side is a less comfortable ride than the base model, as bumps and other road minutia are absorbed less. But who cares about any of that, really?

A recognizable face-it's something every luxury carmaker desires, and is usually found in a distinctive grille or rear end. The TL has both, and is arguably one of the most recognizable grilles in the automotive world's recent history...but not necessarily in a good way. It's quickly become one of those attributes that would-be TL owners either love or hate; there is no in between. It's nearly impossible to miss it, with its smiling, polished V-shaped mouth and low scooping front air intakes. You might say it gives it a classy, stylish look. You might say something mean about it.

Even the body's sides have been redefined for 2009, highlighting the TL's strong character lines. Sweeping C-pillars and a brilliant stainless steel trim keep the TL consistent with other Acuras, but at the same time give it a look all its own. Further innovations by Acura include the TL's frame rails relocated inside of the floor pan, resulting in a nearly flat underside, which not only provides drivers with increased crash safety, but also reduced interior noise levels and aerodynamic drag. The high-strength, yet lightweight steel frame of the TL improves its overall strength without adding pounds. Aluminum has been used for the hood, front-suspension, subframe, and rear suspension knuckles in an effort to reduce weight (more NSX similarities). Overall, the TL weighs in at a surprisingly light 3900 pounds. If the TL looks a little bigger than previous generations, it's simply because it is. The car is more than half a foot longer and nearly two inches wider, making room for more trunk space and improved rear-seat room and an interior overhaul. Speaking of interior, it's been redesigned in a twin-cockpit style for the front seat occupants, with metal trim that twists and curves as it wraps around from door to dash to console. The comfortable leather seats include deep side bolsters, which enhance the wraparound feeling. Both front seats are power, with memory for the driver side, and seat heaters are included. Fragrant Milano leather (included with the Technology Package) further accentuates the sleek, streamlined appearance of the TL.

Acura's Technology Package includes the most comprehensive array of advanced electronic features ever offered by Acura. In addition to the 440-watt, 10-speaker sound system the TL also comes with iPod and Bluetooth connectivity, voice recognition software, DTS surround sound, AcuraLink real-time traffic and real-time weather, keyless access with smart entry and push-button start/stop, as well as AM/FM/XM capabilities. And if all of this gadgetry isn't enough, the TL includes an eight-inch full VGA high-resolution color display with a rear view camera so you can stop bumping into that car behind you when parking. A 2,500-song hard drive that rips and stores music from your personal CDs on command has also been included, and is all controlled and managed through the multi-link navigation system.

The TL SH-AWD is a car built for the enthusiast, with its highly powerful 305hp engine, performance-oriented all-wheel-drive system, and underpinnings tuned to take on the windiest of roads. But non-enthusiasts should enjoy the TL every bit as much, whether for its dizzying array of technological upgrades, mechanical innovations, or simply for its stylish exterior and interior beauty. Haven't driven one yet? Shame on you.

By Andy Anderson
22 Articles

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