For 2010, the Acura TL is once again offered with a manual gearbox. But you're probably going to have to special-order it, or at least do some calling and searching to even find one.
Why? Because even among luxury sport sedans, the number of people opting for a manual transmission is very low—typically less than five percent for many models that offer it.
But for people who still love to drive—and be in control of the driving experience—a good manual transmission can't be beat, as a weeklong drive of a 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD proved.
Offered only with the company's so-called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, with the more powerful 3.7-liter V-6, the new combination brings out the sport-sedan character in the TL. Working together with the stability control system and allocating torque not only front-to-back but left-to-right, the SH-AWD system is ideally suited to spirited driving and quick emergency maneuvers on the road. Even on rough-surfaced, rain-slicked pavement, we found the TL almost impossible to fluster.
There's a lot to like in the TL's electric power steering, too. At parking-lot and city speeds it feels light and responsive, returning to center promptly out of corners, with a nice natural feel on center. Up at highway speeds it gathers more heft, but whether slow or fast, the steering manages to transmit some information from the road surface.
The 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, making 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque; but that peak torque doesn't happen until 5,000 rpm; the engine doesn't have surprising gobs of low-range torque like BMW's twin-turbo six, and it doesn't quite whirl itself into the heavy-breathing frenzy of the Infiniti G37's V-6. But overall, it's a solid performer in the mid- to upper-rev ranges—and much better-suited to the manual transmission than we remember it being with the six-speed automatic. You'll find excellent passing ability but it sometimes requires downshifting two, even three, gears to make the best dash.
Fortunately, you'll probably enjoy rowing through the gears. The TL gets a new-design gearbox that Acura says is "substantially stronger" than the previous gearbox from the last-generation TL, with heavy-duty internals, a rigid case, an improved linkage and synchronizers, and new gear ratios. Overall, the feel of the gearbox is just right, it snicks neatly from gear to gear with delightful precision and tactility, with throws that are short but not too short. Marring an otherwise perfect execution, the clutch on our test vehicle was just a bit too grabby, engaging all at once in gentle driving.
With the manual transmission, the 3,889-pound TL SH-AWD can get to 60 mph in the mid five-second range. That's a slight bit slower than the G37 but a bit faster than the automatic TL.
In all fairness, the TL is a larger sedan. It's actually longer and more spacious than the BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class, or about the same size on the outside as a 2010 Infiniti M35 AWD, and compared to these models it feels light and responsive.