Breaking habits, especially bad ones, is one of the most difficult challenges we face during our time on this planet. From touching ourselves to cursing, flying paper airplanes to porn surfing, it's tough to stay in line. And if that's not enough, we're also addicted to cars, which doesn't help either. Why? Because the list of bad habits grows longer every year. We'll show you what we mean: Think of a fast Acura model. Now say Acura TL aloud. Great, now try again, without messing everything up by adding a Type-S suffix at the end. Nope, you said it again. See? You're like a Pomeranian that can't stop vomiting on the grand piano-you need a good toss against the wall. We realize quitting is hard to do, so we'll try to help you get it down by the time the '04 Acura TL rolls out, which, since we write our stories four months ahead of time, is probably right this minute. Yeah, you might want to close those pop-up windows and pay attention here.
If you think the TL is a remake of the Type-S with a few minor changes, think again. In fact, just look at the photos. That's no Type-S, is it? Nope. As you can see, it's completely remolded and shaped to resemble a menacing growl, and it certainly does, if ever a menacing growl could have a shape. Scoping the lines, it's obvious that the TL is a vault stuffed full of both scientific and artistic research. That's because the engineers at Acura actually dropped more than a few tabs of, uh, caffeine during the past four years to come up with its form. According to the team, its inspiration came from Bauhaus, the legendary founders of goth music. No, wait, that doesn't sound right. Maybe it's Bauhaus, the art movement. Form follows function? Yeah, that's it. Once upon a time, that phrase actually wasn't a clich, and if the TL existed back then, the art world would have constructed a vinyl graphic of it and plastered it across the windshield. Basically, the saying means the body shape is linear, flexed, and bulging at the shirt sleeves, and when you consider the TL drops a whopping 270 hp, you can also say it's bulging at the inseams.
Reflecting upon last year's TL Type-S, with its 3.2L V-6 producing 225 hp and 216 lb-ft of torque, it's amazing how much internal massaging went into creating an engine with the exact same displacement in the '04 TL, yet this new version jams out 45 additional Seabiscuits without whining like Tobey Maguire. No wonder the powertrain designers had as much steam blasting out of their ears as there was smoke emanating from the brake pads as we tore around on the Bremerton Raceway near Seattle-it was the first time they got to witness the TL at full-throttle. And they were just as excited and in love, if not more, than Matt Damon was when he first saw Ben Affleck in his Daredevil suit. Of course, we were pretty damned excited too, especially when we destroyed a row of cones with the front fender, forgetting that a FWD isn't supposed to drift. No matter, though, because the sheer power on the straights and the utter hatred the TL harbors for body roll while cornering made for a powerfully joyous ride, far beyond how we expected it to perform. It felt just as solid as a BMW 3-series, the TL's fiercest competitor. Pinpoint steering accuracy mixed with fantastic handling and genuine power was precisely what Acura was aiming for, and it pretty much nailed the bull's-eye like Timberlake nailed Spears.
There are stark differences, however, between the six-speed manual transmission and the automatic setup. For one, automatics are for babies, and two, Acura blessed the manuals with a slew of suspension upgrades, most notably thicker stabilizer bars and a set of Brembo four-piston caliper disc brakes up front. We slipped into one of the six-speeds and sucked as much life out of the Bridgestones as we possibly could, but when we tried the automatic, it left us hankering for one of Maggie's pacifiers or a MILF. Either one would have helped us pass the time as we waited for the other journalists to get the hell out of our favorite model and let us scare the bejesus out of Acura again.
The most innovative addition to the TL, however, lies not within the engine bay, the chassis, or even the trunk lid. Wedged firmly within the dash is a system unlike any your ears have witnessed before, outside the time you paid George Lucas' private ranch a visit. A premium Acura/ELS eight-speaker surround sound system with DVD-Audio, DTS, a six-disc CD changer, AM/FM tuner, and Dolby cassette player make driving the TL actually feel like you're piloting an IMAX movie theater. Our model was even affixed with the Acura Navigation System, which kept us from roving into the treacherous ghettos of Vancouver, which are notoriously filled with brutal hockey fans. On top of that, the XM Radio setup helped us feel ultra-fly as we bumped the Raw Hip Hop channel (61) with all windows down. We weren't popular enough to use the Acura HandsFreeLink system compatible with Bluetooth-equipped cellies, but we're pretty sure it's helpful for those who are. For example, you can call your grandma just by pushing a button on the steering wheel and saying, "Abuela, dial." Then listen to her voice as it's broadcast throughout all eight speakers during your conversation about the intricacies of the Louisiana Purchase. Well, maybe calling her isn't such a great idea if you want to stay awake at the wheel.
Overall, the '04 Acura TL is extremely comfortable and chock-full of over-the-top amenities for the finicky, feeds-the-cat-Sheba, near-luxury market. If you can spork up enough cash to make the payments, you'll bless yourself with a fantastic ride equipped with Matrix II-level technology.
If you can't, just drool over the horsepower numbers and consider going to college and majoring in anything but English.
The ELS Sound SystemThe Acura/ELS eight-speaker surround sound system is nothing short of an amazing experience thanks to DVD-Audio, a new music format that incorporates sound quality far outstepping regular stereo CDs. Acura queried Elliot Scheiner, a legend in the music world for producing Grammy-winning tunes, to donate a perfect listening experience for every TL driver. Elliot's been laying down tracks since the time your parents rioted against 'Nam, which of course means he has some amazing experience under his belt. Without his touch, the system wouldn't be called "ELS" (i.e., his name), or sound exactly like the master tapes the artists originally laid down in the studio. We can also look forward to a lot more DVD-Audio in the future thanks to companies such as Acura for taking the first bold steps to incorporate the format in a vehicle.
That New Car SmellTHE RIDE '04 Acura TLTHE STICKER $33-34K (estimated)UNDER THE HOOD 3.2L DOHC 24-valve VTEC aluminum alloy V-6THE POWER 270 hp @ 6,200 rpm, 238 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpmSCALE TIPPING 3,482 lbsLAYOUT Front engine, front-wheel driveGEARBOX Six-speed close-ratio manual transmissionSTIFF STUFF Independent double-wishbone suspension with coil springs and stabilizer bar (front), independent multi-link double-wishbone with coil springs and stabilizer bar (rear), gas shocksROLLERS 17x8-inch cast alloy wheels with 235/45R17 Bridgestone Turanza All-season tires (235/45R17 Bridgestone Potenza High Performance tires optional on six-speed manual)STOPPERS (Manual) Brembo ventilated 12.2-inch discs up front and 11.1-inch solid stock discs in the rear; (automatic) ventilated 11.4-inch stock discs up front, 11.1-inch solid stock discs in the rearAT THE PUMP 19 mpg (city), 29 mpg (highway)THE PACK Lexus ES300, Audi A4, Infiniti G35, Mercedes-Benz C320, BMW 3-seriesDEEP THOUGHTS You don't quite have to be Giorgio Armani to afford a TL, but it will take a sizeable chunk out of your money clip. Then again, you'll look pretty Armani driving one.