- Head-turning style
- Athletic capabilities
- Superlative iPod interface, excellent stereo
- Head-turning style
- Thick pillars mean spotty outward visibility
- Overwhelming sea of buttons in center stack
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.
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 front and rear. Its Honda Accord underpinnings give it generous room front and rear, but also mean that even in all-wheel-drive guise, it's a front-heavy beast that's not quite a performance match for rear-wheel-drive competitors.
People notice the TL. Period. Not an inch of its Mr. Roboto façade 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.
On paper and during extreme driving, the TL is a serious player in the luxury sport sedan segment. 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. Even the base, eight-speaker audio system comes standard with 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.