A member of our staff dubbed the new 2009 Acura TL "The Polynesian War Canoe". An apt handle: the newly redesigned sedan is swift, strikes awe (or fear) with its collection of angry angles, and stomps purposefully down the road.
Many have criticized Acura's new beaky prow; Honda's luxury division seems to have taken this styling cue to a new extreme on the 2009 TL from front to rear. Whereas the Cadillac CTS' crisp design theme harks to angular supermodels, the TL's just seems to be trying too hard. Picture Janet Jackson's shoulder pads back in Rhythm Nation days. With such a polarizing design, the TL definitely draws attention in a love-it-or-hate-it way; we came across a pretty even number of both reactions, so it seems Acura might well have found a version of styling success.
Luckily, the interior provides some relief from the drama going on outside. It still overwhelms the eyes and senses with a sea of buttons, but the shapes, textures, and materials are peerless. Gentle arcs and beautiful gauges meld leather and synthetic, analog and digital in an artful way that this company seems to nail perfectly every time. And technophiles will delight to the TL's armada of infotainment features that, once learned, are remarkable in their ease of operation and range of capabilities. Not to mention an optional 10-speaker stereo that blends crisp highs with thunderous lows. The USB iPod/MP3 interface is, simply, one of the best we've used, simplifying the ability to access your tunes without diverting eyes from road. It's Apple-intuitive.
The 2009 TL is redesigned this year and is based on the Honda Accord. That means a spacious, sensible, well-designed front-wheel drive sedan format. It's certainly capable, but when saddled with approximatley 4,000 lbs. in fully-optioned, all-wheel drive format (SH-AWD), this vehicle is neither lithe nor playful. The 19" wheel/tire package clumps and thuds over bumps and irregularities, and a front-wheel drive architecture means a nose-heavy demeanor and an understeering nature when pushed. Absolute cornering levels are astounding, and the all-wheel drive system magically erases understeer when your foot's planted on the hair-trigger throttle. The 305 hp, 3.7-liter V-6 has more than ample verve, but the aging 5-speed automatic is down a ratio from the competition and a bit sluggish in its responses.
In base form, the TL just makes more sense. Smaller wheels and tires yield a more comfortable ride, a lighter curb weight without the all-wheel drive means a more nimble feel in day-to-day driving, and a base price of $34,955 blows away most similarly-sized competitors. So if interior comfort, incredible infotainment, attention-getting style, and Honda reliability are tops on your list, the TL could be a wise choice. But if subtlety and pure driving joy mean the most, best look elsewhere (perhaps even at Acura's own TSX).