- Class-leading power.
- Available slick six-speed manual with extra performance goodies.
- Excellent audio system.
- Honda quality and reliability.
- Fairly good handling for a front driver.
- Still a front driver running after rear-drivers.
- Pricing competes directly with the dynamic Infiniti G35.
- Floaty suspension feel over harsh bumps.
- Although nicely weighted, steering lacks feel for a sports sedan.
- City fuel economy gets worse as power goes up for new model.
Press Coverage :
The all-new 2004 Acura TL is pushing the limits of how much power a front-wheel-drive car can handle. With 270 horsepower on tap, the only other production front-driver to put down more horses is the Cadillac Seville STS. The new TL is built in North America, will only be available in North America and is specifically designed to serve North Americans. It is once again derived from the bread-and-butter Honda Accord, sharing the same chassis and wheelbase. However, the TL is shorter and wider. In fact, the new TL is actually shorter and wider than the outgoing TL, while being taller too. The new design theme is even edgier than before, making the car look like a cross between a TSX and a Cadillac. Even the tailpipes are square-ish.
The 2004 TL packs the same 3.2L engine as the previous model, it is now tuned to produce 270 hp and 238 lb-ft. New high-tech features include drive-by-wire throttle and a sport-tuned 4-wheel independent double wishbone suspension hooked up to standard 17-inch wheels. The TL comes equipped with either a 5-speed Sequential SportShift(TM) automatic transmission or, for the first time, a close-ratio 6-speed manual transmission with limited slip differential.
Inside, an assortment of class-leading electronics includes a standard DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system, and the TL is the first ever car to offer this. The Acura ELS Premium Audio System, developed with Grammy-award winning music producer Elliot Scheiner, uses eight strategically placed speakers to deliver discrete sound with 500 times the resolution of CD. The TL also boasts the first standard application of a Bluetooth-based hands-free phone system. The HandsFreeLink(TM) system enables a Bluetooth link with compatible mobile phones, allowing calls to be made through the TL's voice recognition and audio systems. XM(R) Satellite Radio, with a free three-month trial subscription, is also standard equipment. Safety features include four channel Vehicle Stability Assist, dual stage front airbags and standard side curtain airbags, Electronic Brake Force Distribution and a Brake Assist System.
As always, the options list for the TL is minimal. The Acura Navigation System with voice recognition and 8-inch display screen is available as a factory installed option for $2,000. The manual transmission model also has $200 high performance tires available as an option.
Acura will also offer an A-Spec kit, with high-performance springs and shocks that lower the car by an inch, 18-inch wheels with 235/40ZR18 Yokohama tires, a subtle body kit with rear spoiler and a sport steering wheel. Automatic TL models will get front Brembo brakes in A-Spec trim, which are already standard on manual models.
Moving to the cockpit, we find a shapely dash with a two-tone color scheme (as in most German sedans) bisected by bright aluminum trim. The trim feels cool to the touch because it's real aluminum, and generous strips of it run down either side of the center console as well. The ensemble is quite stunning, and particularly in cars with dark interiors, the aluminum gives the TL a definite sporting ambience. There's also a sparing application of either faux carbon fiber or faux wood (sort of a maple tone) on the console, depending on which of the four interior colors you select. It's pretty convincing for the fake stuff, and no one who rides in your TL will be the wiser.
As in the other Acuras, shifting in the TL is a heavenly experience, one that you'd be hard-pressed to duplicate in any other luxury sedan. The shifter slots perfectly into each gate, and the spacing of the pedals is just about ideal - such that our editor was soon heel-toeing with a level of confidence rarely experienced. Our sole complaint is also one that we had about the CL Type-S: the clutch has an early engagement point that makes it difficult to execute smooth 1-2 upshifts. Although we adjusted pretty quickly, our skillful co-driver had the annoyance of stalling the car on several occasions.
The company is very up-front about the fact that BMW, specifically the '03 530i Sport, was the benchmark for the '04 TL's ride and handling characteristics. As is typically the case with successors, body rigidity is up (something engineers achieved without a significant weight gain) and the wheels are pushed farther apart. Additionally, the front subframe that carries the engine, transmission and front suspension components is now a hydroformed aluminum design - lighter and stronger than the previous steel architecture.
As we drove our TL prototype on various back roads, it did indeed feel tight around the turns with plenty of road information transferred to the driver seat. Although we found it to be an easy car to drive aggressively, we're not ready to call it an equal of the 3 or 5 Series, A4 or G35 in terms of handling. The Acura's front-drive layout is limiting from an enthusiast's point of view, but even less serious drivers are apt to notice that the TL floats and bobs over the occasional bump. This won't be a disadvantage for most people, and the payoff is excellent ride comfort when cruising on the highway.
The weighting of the steering seemed just about right to us, but when pushing the car around turns, the rack seemed neither as quick nor as communicative as those of top-handling competitors. The brakes and tires inspired no such equivocating - brake feel is spot-on and the tires offer lots of grip while making little noise.
Acura engineers have also made extra effort to reduce road vibration and ride harshness in the new car. In addition to the use of front aluminum and rear steel subframes to dampen forces experienced through the suspension arms, an acoustically-tuned glass windshield, thicker side glass and better sealing are also in place to filter out any unwanted wind noise.
A day's drive on winding roads near Bremerton, Washington, showcased the new TL's excellent road manners. The peppy V-6 scoots the car along quickly and gives a welcome throaty exhaust note. The 6-speed manual transmission is easy to operate, though the clutch pedal could benefit from a shorter travel for easier gear engagement. The ride quality is first-rate, and the cabin noise is kept at a minimum.
The two highlights of the new TL's interior are the Bluetooth-enabled wireless phone capability and the Acura/ELS Premium 8-speaker Surround Sound System with DVD-audio. The former allows you to talk on your cell phone as you get into the car and have the call seamlessly transferred, using the car's onboard speakers and built-in microphone. Also, any new phone numbers entered into the Bluetooth-enabled cell phone will automatically be synchronized with the car's phone book. Co-developed with Grammy-winning music producer Elliot Scheiner, the Acura/ELS sound system is guaranteed to give you the kind of musical experience rivaling that of the best concert halls in the world. The DVD-audio with its six distinct channels truly delivers lifelike sound.
2001-2003 Acura 3.2 TL Type-S
3,210 cc / 260 hp / 232 lb-ft / 3558 lbs / 0-60 mph 6.5 sec.
1999-2000 Acura 3.2 TL
3,210 cc / 225 hp / 216 lb-ft / 3500 lbs / 0-60 mph 7.5 sec.