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While the 2011 Acura TL lays aim at some of the market's top sport sedans, it has very modest roots—essentially, building on the V-6 Honda Accord. That said, the TL is up to the task; it's a surprisingly well-rounded luxury sedan, with host of advanced tech features, and in top SH-AWD trim morphs into a complete and compelling sport sedan.
The TL has changed little since it was last completely redesigned, for the 2009 model year. Skinned with a high-tech but controversial look, the TL is, for many, a love-it-or-leave-it design. Still, heads swivel when the TL drives by. The more restrained mid-lux sedan owner may roll their eyes at its seemingly robot-inspired sheetmetal, but younger or more adventurous buyers will consider it refreshing. On the inside, there's much less controversy and more to like. Gentle arcs and circles predominate, beautifully melding leather and synthetic, analog and digital in an artful yet logical way that is uniquely Acura.
If you're looking at the TL because you're in the market for a well-rounded luxury sedan, you'll be happy with the standard 280-horsepower 3.5-liter VTEC V-6, that's essentially the same engine as used in the Honda Accord and powers front wheels with a five-speed automatic transmission. But if performance at all matters, you'll want to step up to the TL SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive), and you'll get the 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 from the RL sedan juicing all four wheels through Acura's capable system that removes any threat of torque steer, displays how its distributing power in the instrument cluster, and almost gives the TL the feel of a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan-as long as you're heavy on the gas. In addition to the automatic, you can get a manual on the TL SH-AWD. 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.
Thanks to its Accord roots, the TL has excellent passenger space front and back, with enough space for three adults in the back seat. The interior was appointed with supple leather and seats with generous proportions, giving good thigh support but not quite enough lateral support for serious high-performance driving. There's only one functional disappointment: With 13.1 cubic feet of space in the trunk, the TL is a bit short of some of its competition. Build quality is typically Acura, with solid materials and close tolerances, though there aren't as many options or upgrades as you'll find at brands like BMW, Mercedes, or Lexus.
The TL's cabin also feels tight and free of wind noise, and even on the coarsest pavement surfaces we noticed very little road noise—definitely less than the M37 or Cadillac CTS. The big 19-inch wheels, however, give the SH-AWD a particularly rough ride over irregular surfaces, a problem not evidenced in the base model, which is more comfortable for most purposes.
When it comes to showcasing a wide range of high-tech features, the 2011 Acura TL is at its best. Interfacing easily with a host of personal electronics, even the base TL features a standard USB iPod/MP3 interface, an eight-speaker audio system, and a crisp, high-resolution center-mounted display for controlling the infotainment system. Going up the scale, the top SH-AWD model sure can seem pricey, but it's a complete, sophisticated sport sedan with the Tech Package, including a navigation system with live traffic, weather, and rerouting; a rearview camera; solar-sensing temperature control, keyless access, and an upgraded 440-watt Acura/ELS surround sound system.