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Acura has in recent years shown with its TL that there really is a different way to reorder priorities and end up with an engaging sport sedan--without a cramped back seat or compromised real-world drivability. And in top SH-AWD trim, the 2012 Acura TL can be quite thrilling to drive--a complete and compelling sport sedan, even if lacking the pedigree of its German rivals.Ever since its last full redesign for 2009, the Acura TL's seemingly robot-inspired look has been controversial—or refreshing, depending on how you see it. Most notably, for 2012 the 'love-it-or-leave-it' front-end styling has been toned down just a bit, with the pointy beak giving way to a minimal vee shape and a more horizontal orientation to the front bumper. In back, the license plate has been raised, with a diffuser added, and wide dual exhaust exits rather than last year's quad tips. 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. Except for some "warmer colors," the snug and cockpit-like yet reasonably space-efficient layout carries over.
For the most part, the 2012 Acura TL isn't as much of an overt sport sedan as those with dedicated rear-drive platforms, like the BMW 335i or Infiniti G37, but it is clearly a car meant to be driven, rather than ridden in. The standard 280-horsepower 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 is 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. The availability of a six-speed manual with the SH-AWD also ups its sport-sedan credentials. The system feels almost impossible to fluster, allocating torque not only front-to-back but left-to-right, to help with slick surfaces or quick emergency maneuvers.
The 2012 Acura TL remains built on Honda Accord roots, and that pays off for interior space. There are generously sized, supportive front seats (although they could use more lateral support for performance driving), plus a nice, adult-sized backseat that could accommodate three across. The only major disappointment is the trunk's meager 13.1 cubic feet of cargo space. That said, the ride is firm but not harsh in the 2012 Acura TL, but there's a pronounced difference in road noise between the base version and the SH-AWD, with its larger, lower-profile 19-inch wheels. 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 is at its best for those who want to pair that luxury-sedan cabin with an impressive tech feature set. 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. A top Advance Package adds to that ventilated seats, a blind-spot system, and those top 19-inch wheels.
- Top-notch true-luxury interior
- Poise and responsiveness (SH-AWD)
- Nice sound system and iPod integration
- Roomy backseat and excellent ride
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- Overwhelming center-stack layout
- Balky automatic transmission
- Small trunk
- Inferior navigation interface