2009 Acura TL Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
May 2, 2009

The 2009 Acura TL is a great choice for those who value superb audio, high-tech features, and Honda reliability; serious driving enthusiasts are wise to cross-shop the rear-wheel-drive competition, and buyers who prefer restrained styling need not apply.

Expert reviewers at TheCarConnection.com consulted what the most authoritative auto critics have written about the new Acura TL to produce this conclusive review. TheCarConnection.com editors also drove the TL in order to interweave our expert opinion and help you make the right decision on a new vehicle.

 

The 2009 Acura TL has been completely redesigned by Honda's luxury division. It's wrapped in a controversial skin from stem to stern, full of angles, furrows, creases, and rather long overhangs. Even in all-wheel-drive guise, it's a front-heavy beast that's not quite a performance match for rear-wheel-drive competitors.

Review continues below

 

People notice the TL. Period. Not an inch of its Mr. Roboto facade brings on boredom, though it does inspire rolled eyes from drivers of more restrained mid-lux sedans. Technophiles will likely thrill to the TL's collection of creases and prominent prow; it all looks very digital and intentional rather than organic or subtle. But nearly everyone can appreciate the TL's interior, which provides blessed relief with gentle arcs and circles that beautifully meld leather and synthetic, analog and digital in an artful way that is uniquely Acura. What a shame that Acura chose the cold, harsh light of white/blue LEDs as the sole source of overhead illumination for this stunning interior.

 

In base form, the TL's front wheels are driven by a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 that can also be found under the hood of the Honda Accord. Spring for the TL SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive), and a 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 from the RL sedan sends power to all four corners through a remarkably adept system that eliminates torque steer, displays power distribution in the gauge cluster, and makes the TL feel like a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan as long as you're heavy on the gas. A five-speed automatic is the sole transmission; though smooth and responsive in sedate driving, it's one ratio down on its competition and doesn't respond quickly enough in aggressive driving. Both engines are sweet, smooth, and responsive, but the accelerator's short travel and hair-trigger response are annoying.

 

The TL is a real player among luxury sport sedans. The SH-AWD, especially, displays frightening levels of grip, unshakable tenacity, and ferocious acceleration to redline. As well, the brakes haul this 4,000-pound (SH-AWD) sedan down from speed with confidence and no drama. But in day-to-day driving, the TL SH-AWD feels like a sensible, front-wheel-drive, front-heavy sedan with massive wheels (19 inches in the SH-AWD) and tires that clomp and thud over every road irregularity. The base model strikes a better balance between ride and handling for most drivers.

 

The Acura shines as a showcase for a high-tech infotainment system that is intuitive, accessible, and among the best in the industry when it comes to interfacing with your personal electronics. All TLs have a USB interface for your iPod or MP3 player; the sparklingly clear center-mounted screen shows your playlists, artists, albums, and songs while a big central controller comprising two concentric circles makes iPod operation Apple-intuitive. The sound that pours forth from the base system is stout, while the optional 10-speaker system is positively thunderous. Beware; there are lots of buttons, especially on the steering wheel, so reading the owner's manual is a good idea. Once learned, however, they make audio, navigation, Bluetooth hands-free phone operation, and voice commands for all of the above simple and convenient.

 

The center stack's click-and-turn interface does double-duty as the controller for the optional nav system, making destination entry and location search a simple operation. Or forget the buttons altogether with the optional voice recognition system. AcuraLink Real-Time traffic and weather functions are built into the nav system, further increasing convenience. Even Zagat reviews may be easily accessed. Geek out with the Technology Package, and you'll get goodies like a climate control system that tracks the sun's position and intensity, then adjusts each side of the TL's cabin accordingly.

 

New for 2009, the Acura TL has thus far performed very well in crash testing. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gave it top five-star score in frontal impact performance for both driver and passenger, but the TL has not yet been tested for side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety deemed the 2009 Acura TL a Top Safety Pick by virtue of its excellent performance in that agency's front, side, and rear crash tests, as well as for its standard electronic stability control. Acura equips all TLs with six airbags.


The TL occupies a bit of a no-man's land with regard to pricing. With a $34,955 base MSRP, it rings in thousands cheaper than similarly sized and positioned German competitors like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class. However, it sorely lacks their athletic rear-wheel-driving finesse in the mind of an enthusiast. If passenger space and interior features are top priorities, the Acura presents a compelling value. But if you typically drive with only the front seats occupied and yearn for the balance of rear-wheel drive, smaller sedans such as the BMW 328i or Cadillac CTS move more athletically and come in at roughly the same price.

6

2009 Acura TL

Styling

Styling is always a matter of personal preference, but Acura may have gone a little too far with the redesign of the 2009 Acura TL.

Acura has apparently decided that the Japanese reputation for conservative styling is not appropriate for Acura, so it's begun to unveil a new set of vehicles with rather dramatic styling. While the new look has certainly generated buzz, the jury is still out on whether or not this will boost sales of the new 2009 Acura TL.

Love it or hate it, the 2009 Acura TL is hard to ignore. Edmunds reviewers report that there are "two TL models available: the base car and the more athletic SH-AWD mode," and both share the distinctive new corporate look. Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com won't necessarily call it attractive, but they never fail to mention the striking nature of the Acura TL's new mug. Edmunds says that "Acura's new goal is to be bold and brash, with aggressive lines and audacious details," and they go on to proclaim that "the 2009 Acura TL accomplishes just that." Initially, Automobile Magazine appreciates some of the concept drawings, especially of the hood, "but on the production car it strikes us as an oddly shaped appendage that looks out of place." Cars.com says that "there's just no escaping its looks," which they find hard to live with, and mentions that the new Acura TL "will certainly draw stares." On the positive side, Car and Driver reviewers feel that the 2009 Acura TL "looks better in the flesh than in photographs," and aside from the front, "the rest of the TL's angular, modern shape is assuredly handsome."

The overall look inside the 2009 Acura TL isn't quite as dramatic as the exterior styling might lead you to believe, but reviewers do find it attractive. Car and Driver notes that the cabin of the Acura 2009 TL lineup shares "a familiar look with other Acuras, but the multifunction controller knob and the bevy of buttons that surround it seem less confusing and cluttered than in the RDX." Road and Track loves that the Acura TL's "new interior features a cool-looking 4-gauge instrument cluster and classy center stack," while Cars.com calls the hooded gauges "sporty." In terms of overall effect, Automobile Magazine reports that the "interior has 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 effect might be confining, if the cabin had not grown wider."

7

2009 Acura TL

Performance

The base 2009 Acura TL isn't as inspiring as previous versions, but enthusiasts still have the option of the better-handling SH-AWD.

The 2009 Acura TL comes in two distinct flavors, and reviews read by TheCarConnection.com indicate that driving enthusiasts will most definitely favor the Acura TL SH-AWD model over the base Acura 2009 TL.

 

The latest iteration of the Acura TL receives two potent engines, according to reviewers. Edmunds says that the base version of the Acura TL picks up "a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 280 hp and 254 pound-feet of torque," while the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD version "gets a 3.7-liter V6 that makes 306 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque." Road & Track reports that a "freer-flowing exhaust gives the SH-AWD a nice rip above 3000 rpm," but they add that "both engines are terrifically smooth pieces" at just about any speed. In terms of objective acceleration numbers, Automobile Magazine notes that a "shorter final drive ratio helps [the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD] sprint from 0 to 60 mph about one-half-second quicker than the base car."

 

Although the Acura TL has a lot of enthusiast appeal, especially in SH-AWD garb, it does have one major strike against it--no manual gearbox anywhere in the lineup. Edmunds reports that "both [Acura] TL models come standard with a five-speed automatic that includes automanual steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters." In addition to a lack of manual transmission, Car and Driver is disappointed with the five-speed, contending that it "seems outdated in a segment where six and seven speeds are more common." However, if you give the Acura 2009 TL's transmission a chance, the standard paddle shifters might grow on you. They are positioned quite well, according to Motor Trend, which says that the Acura TL's "paddle shifters lie at the ready just behind the steering wheel." Motor Trend also offers comfort for the purists out there by noting that "Acura says the TL will offer [a manual transmission] for 2010."

 

Some manufacturers seem to have an easy time tuning a V-6 engine for thrifty fuel consumption, but the Acura 2009 TL is geared more for performance, and fuel economy suffers accordingly. According to the official EPA estimates, the 2009 Acura TL should return 18 mpg city and 26 highway in base form, while the SH-AWD gets 17 mpg city and 25 on the highway. Granted, these numbers are far from terrible, but they're certainly not near the top of the class.


If you plan on buying a 2009 Acura TL for enjoyment on your daily commute, reviewers suggest opting for the base model. Edmunds says this version is "more for comfort-minded buyers," as it suffers from "lifeless steering" that "feels decidedly artificial." Car and Driver agrees, finding that the base TL's "steering feel has lost the plot." However, the Acura TL SH-AWD ups the ante significantly, with Edmunds reporting that the steering "exhibits more weight and feedback, resulting in a more natural feel." Automobile Magazine is pleased to note that, "despite the firmer suspension, the TL still rides agreeably," and Road & Track reviewers marvel at how the Acura TL "strikes a nice compromise for both cruising through town and scurrying down a twisty back road." When it comes time to stop, Motor Trend attests that "larger brake rotors all around, plus two-piston calipers up front, put a stout squeeze on forward motion."

8

2009 Acura TL

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Acura TL is all-day comfortable yet still manages to keep you from sliding during high-performance driving.

As Honda's more upscale brand, Acura is held to a higher standard in the quality department, but reviews read by TheCarConnection.com show that the latest Acura 2009 TL doesn't disappoint.

 

Inside the 2009 Acura TL you can expect to find what Edmunds calls a "spacious cabin." Up front, Automobile Magazine reviewers comment that the "comfortable seats embrace you with deep side bolsters," and in keeping with Acura's upscale image, "both front seats are power, with memory for the driver's side." Cars.com agrees that "the front seats [are] both comfortable and supportive," while reviewers are equally pleased with the rear accommodations inside the Acura TL. ConsumerGuide reports that "headroom is good" inside the 2009 Acura TL, while Motor Trend notes that "the new TL provides noticeably more rear-seat legroom than the outgoing car." In comparison to some of the Acura TL's chief rivals, Cars.com says that the backseat is "vastly roomier than any of the competition from BMW, Audi, Cadillac or Infiniti."

 

Aside from offering decent performance numbers, the 2009 Acura TL makes its case as a practical family vehicle, thanks to its decent storage volume. Edmunds reports that the "trunk holds 13.1 cubic feet of luggage, a bit less than typical" for the class but not too low to make it impractical. Even though the trunk falls slightly below the class average, ConsumerGuide finds that "trunk space has been increased," but a "rise in the trunk floor...robs most of the gains." Inside the cabin, ConsumerGuide contends that "interior storage space is good" on the Acura 2009 TL.

 

The interior of the 2009 Acura TL is dressed up with a liberal dose of upscale materials. Car and Driver says that "material qualities are first-rate, and this car feels more upscale than the previous one did." Automobile Magazine agrees, finding that "the quality of interior materials is very good." ConsumerGuide reviewers voice similar opinions of the Acura TL, and report that the interior features "rich-feeling leather, soft dash and door surfaces, and metallic trim" that help justify the 2009 Acura TL's sticker price.


Build quality is also exemplary on the base 2009 Acura TL, at least if cabin noise levels are any indication. Motor Trend notes that the Acura TL "immediately impresses with its quiet," while Cars.com says the latest TL is "almost Lexus-silent." However, stepping up to the higher-performance SH-AWD brings a noise penalty, as these "versions suffer from road and tire noise that are excessive for the class," according to ConsumerGuide.

9

2009 Acura TL

Safety

Acura turns its attention toward safety with the redesigned 2009 Acura TL, one of the few vehicles to earn perfect scores in all of its crash tests.

The 2009 Acura TL works hard to keep both driver and passengers safe, and based on crash test results, it succeeds admirably.

 

The newest Acura TL is a true standout in both NHTSA and IIHS crash tests, earning top marks from both institutions. In IIHS tests, the Acura 2009 TL lineup earns the highest possible rating, "good," in both the frontal offset impact and side impact tests. The Acura TL performs so well, in fact, that the IIHS awards it a Top Safety Pick, citing the Acura TL's "good performance in front, side, and rear tests and standard electronic stability control." The 2009 Acura TL also aces NHTSA's set of crash tests, earning a perfect five-star rating in both front impact categories, both side impact categories, and the rollover protection category. In short, few cars can hope to match the Acura 2009 TL lineup when it comes to comparing crash-test scores.

 

In addition to its industry-leading scores in the various crash tests, the 2009 Acura TL boasts a number of standard safety features that work in concert to provide a safe ride. Edmunds reviewers note that "all 2009 Acura TL models come with antilock brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control...and active front restraints," while Cars.com adds "side curtain airbags [and] front-seat side-impact airbags" to the list of standard safety features on the Acura TL.

 

Reviews read by TheCarConnection.com also rave about driver visibility from within the 2009 Acura TL, which is among the best of any sedan on the road. ConsumerGuide reports that the "slim front roof pillars provide good forward visibility," while a few design elements also contribute to rear visibility. Among those elements, Edmunds points out that the "large flip-up headrests provide protection for occupants, while clearing rear vision when nobody's back there." In the event that you are carrying passengers in the backseats, Automobile Magazine reviewers highlight the available "rear-view camera, [a] part of the...technology package" on the 2009 Acura TL.

9

2009 Acura TL

Features

The 2009 Acura TL can get pricey if you step up to some of its options, but they’re some of the most impressive, high-tech upgrades.

Over the past decades, Acura has earned itself a place in the heart of younger luxury shoppers for its innovative use of high-tech features. The 2009 Acura TL continues that tradition, offering all the usual goodies and, in what is becoming a common move for Acura, an industry-first option.

 

The base Acura TL is hardly deserving of its lowly "base" designation, as Edmunds reports that this Acura 2009 comes standard with "tons of user-friendly high-tech features." Among the more noteworthy standard items on the 2009 Acura TL are "iPod and Bluetooth connectivity," full power accessories, "an eight-speaker stereo with in-dash six-CD changer, [and] satellite radio," according to Edmunds reviewers. Other reviews read by TheCarConnection.com list even more standard features, which Motor Trend says are "enough to make the commander of a Los Angeles-class submarine jealous," including "a conventional AUX jack plus a USB port that allows complete control (and charging) of your iPod through the audio system" of the Acura TL.

 

Few cars on the road today come standard with full iPod integration, but the 2009 Acura TL offers much more than that, if you're willing to spend a little extra. The most frequently mentioned option package in reviews read by TheCarConnection.com is the appropriately named Technology Package, which adds, among other features, a "voice-activated navigation system" that Cars.com attests "works well and features improved screen graphics compared to Acura's current system." Edmunds reviewers mention that the Acura 2009 Tech Package also brings "real-time traffic, real-time weather forecasts, GPS-linked and solar-sensing adaptive climate control system...and a 10-speaker Panasonic/ELS surround-sound system with DVD audio and 12.7 GB of digital music storage." Car and Driver is particularly impressed with the Acura TL's navigation system, which they say features "specific lane routing for multilane highways, and an industry-first Doppler radar weather-map feature." For you audiophiles out there, Cars.com reports that the 2009 Acura TL's hard drive "allows users to upload music from CDs or flash drives" and can actually "recognize the artist and track names from the CD you want to record."

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Comfort & Quality 8.0
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