2013 Acura TL Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
August 2, 2012

The 2013 Acura TL is a comfortable, attractive, and well-equipped luxury sedan--but in top SH-AWD guise it morphs into something that even driving enthusiasts will find compelling.

The 2013 Acura TL doesn't quite fit neatly into the German-pedigreed sport-sedan landscape, but as a luxury sedan it takes a different, somewhat more adventurous tack. Whichever way you see it, the TL has a comfortable, spacious interior, while offering an athletic, inspiring driving experience in its top SH-AWD form.

 

The TL's seemingly robot-inspired look, including its unmistakable metallic beak, has been controversial--or refreshing, depending on how you see it. A retouch last year helped it sit a bit better from the outside, while inside it's uncontroversially attractive, with gentle arcs and circles, and a setup that's artful yet mostly logical. The interior is a bit cluttered--essentially what we think of many Acura interiors today--but we like everything else about it. The twin-cockpit design is smooth but doesn't rob too much space, and the details do stand out as neither overwrought nor overly Euro-influenced.

Review continues below

 

There are essentially two personalities to the TL, and one of them isn't all that performance-oriented. Get it in base front-wheel-drive form and it's a comfortable luxury sedan--albeit one with relatively crisp handling and an eager powertrain. But in its SH-AWD guise, this is a model that can definitely be enjoyable from the driver's seat. With it comes a 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6, juicing all four wheels through Acura's capable performance-oriented system that effectively quells torque steer or any scrambling for traction, distributing its power smartly without the loss of traction, but in a way that helps this sedan feel surprisingly balanced and nimble--and almost like a rear-wheel-drive sedan at times in tight corners. On the SH-AWD, there's one other true sign of a sport-sedan: the availability of a six-speed manual.

 

When it comes to interior space and comfort, the Acura TL's Honda Accord roots are nothing to be ashamed about. Those space-efficient origins make the TL more passenger-friendly than most other luxury sedans with its exterior dimensions--while of course the TL is more lavishly appointed through and through. Generously sized, supportive front seats make the TL a joy on long highway trips--although they could use a bit more lateral support if you intent to take to the mountains. And in general, the back seat is adult-sized, with space for three across. It might appear from the outside that rear headroom might be very limited by the arch and downslope of the roofline, but with seat contouring, it works. The only major disappointment in the 2013 Acura TL remains the trunk's meager 13.1 cubic feet of cargo space. It's less space than in many compact sedans.

 

At the base level, the 2013 Acura TL is a well-equipped luxury sedan--the kind a realtor should be happy to ferry clients in, or that a comfort-oriented commuter will think of as plush. But step up to one of the Tech or Advance models of the TL and you'll get the true good stuff--in the form of top-notch audio or infotainment, or active-safety items. In its base form, the 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. The Tech Package adds a navigation system with live traffic, weather, and rerouting, plus a rearview camera; solar-sensing temperature control, keyless access, and an upgraded 440-watt Acura/ELS surround sound system--a system that we love for its thunderous power yet clarity. However, we're not fans of the navigation interface itself, or of the cobbled-together way its menu system feels. As we see it, the SH-AWD model with the Advance Package--which gets items like ventilated front seats, a blind-spot system, 440-watt ELS surround sound, and a nav system with live traffic--makes quite the well-rounded, high-tech sport sedan. But at the same time, with a bottom-line price of about $46k, it's worth keeping in mind that's nearly the cost of a base-level Mercedes-Benz E-Class or BMW 5-Series.

8

2013 Acura TL

Styling

The 2013 Acura TL is sporty and different on the outside, crisp and nicely proportioned on the outside.

The Acura TL was more of an outlier than it intended to be at the time of its last redesign, for 2009, but it's grown into itself since then. Its exterior fits in well with the current luxury style, and the set of minor changes made to the TL along the way have helped the design feel more cohesive.

 

The TL's seemingly robot-inspired look, including its unmistakable metallic beak, has been controversial--or refreshing, depending on how you see it. Last year, Acura toned down that styling, just a little bit, with a few changes that were relatively subtle on their own--a new chrome grille surround and a few other new details--but brought more beauty, less gawkiness. In back, last year's retouch brought a higher rear license plate, a new rear diffuser, and wide dual exhaust exits. Overall, the TL looks attractive--and without knowing anything about this model we might say that its proportions make it look like a rear-wheel-drive sedan.


The 2013 TL has a less controversial interior that's actually quite beautiful, with gentle arcs and circles, and a setup that's artful yet mostly logical. The interior is a bit cluttered--essentially what we think of many Acura interiors today--but we like everything else about it. The twin-cockpit design is smooth but doesn't rob too much space, and the details do stand out as neither overwrought nor overly Euro-influenced.

8

2013 Acura TL

Performance

In top SH-AWD guise, the 2013 Acura TL is an edgy, athletic performer.

The 2013 TL essentially has two personalities, and one of them isn't all that performance-oriented. Get it in base front-wheel-drive form and it's a comfortable luxury sedan--albeit one with relatively crisp handling and an eager powertrain. But in its SH-AWD guise, this is a model that can definitely be enjoyable from the driver's seat.

The base TL's 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 is essentially the same engine as used in the Honda Accord; it makes 280 horsepower here, and it powers the front wheels with a six-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive versions of the TL can feel remarkably close in driving manners to the previous-generation Honda Accord V-6 on which they're based--although we like the feel of the Acura's steering much better. It's a responsive, agreeable, and refined sedan, but not all that sporty.

 

Go with the TL SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive), and you'll get a car that is overtly sporty. With it comes a 305-hp, 3.7-liter V-6, juicing all four wheels through Acura's capable performance-oriented system that effectively quells torque steer or any scrambling for traction, distributing its power smartly without the loss of traction, but in a way that helps this sedan feel surprisingly balanced and nimble--and almost like a rear-wheel-drive sedan at times in tight corners. You can see how the system is working through an instrument-cluster display as well.

 

On the SH-AWD, there's one other true sign of a sport-sedan: the availability of a six-speed manual. Overall, the AWD 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.


There's a lot to like in the TL's electric power steering, too--especially how it is in the SH-AWD. It does transmit a bit of feel from the road surface, and returns to center promptly out of corners, with a nice weighting.

8

2013 Acura TL

Comfort & Quality

The TL offers more passenger space and refinement than you'll find in most luxury sedans its size, though trunk space is disappointing.

When it comes to interior space and comfort, the Acura TL's Honda Accord roots are nothing to be ashamed about. Those space-efficient origins make the TL more passenger-friendly than most other luxury sedans with its exterior dimensions--while of course the TL is more lavishly appointed through and through.

 

Overall, the driving position and cockpit-like feel of the instrument panel amount to an interior feel that's very different than that of the Accord. The deep, round gauges and hooded central screen--the first details you notice when you step into the deeply bolstered driver's seat--are complemented by a selection dial for screen functions that's not too low from the line of vision. We just wish Acura would have simplified the techno-cluttered instrument panel, which tends to feel a little cluttered and overwhelming until you're familiar with it, as we've noted in some other Acura models.

 

Generously sized, supportive front seats make the TL a joy on long highway trips--although they could use a bit more lateral support if you intent to take to the mountains. And in general, the back seat is adult-sized, with space for three across. It might appear from the outside that rear headroom might be very limited by the arch and downslope of the roofline, but with seat contouring, it works.

 

The only major disappointment in the 2013 Acura TL remains the trunk's meager 13.1 cubic feet of cargo space. It's less space than in many compact sedans.

 

The 'normal' front-wheel-drive Acura TL models are very quiet inside, and last year Acura brought more weatherstripping and additional foam insulation to these sedans. But if you get the SH-AWD, with the available 19-inch wheels, beware that a lot of road coarseness still finds its way into the cabin.

7

2013 Acura TL

Safety

Safety scores in federal crash tests have been lackluster for the TL; although there are plenty of other reassuring factors.

The 2013 Acura TL doesn't have a perfect set of safety ratings, but this year it's looking better.

 

Last year--or at least, the earlier part of last year--the crash-test ratings from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the federal government (NCAP) weren't in accordance. Those from the federal government were quite poor, in fact; but late in the 2012 model year the TL was retested and it now earns better ratings of four stars overall, and four stars both for frontal and side impact.

 

In tests from the IIHS, on the other hand, the TL has achieved top 'good' results across the board, and it's been a Top Safety Pick.


All TL models include six airbags (front side airbags and full-length side-curtain bags), four-wheel disc brakes with ABF, Brake Assist, and electronic stability control. Rear headrests can flip neatly out of the way when nobody's back there, which helps visibility, and a rearview camera system is available. The Advance model also includes a Blind Spot Information System.

9

2013 Acura TL

Features

There's no shortage of tech features on offer in the 2013 Acura TL.

At the base level, the 2013 Acura TL is a well-equipped luxury sedan--the kind a realtor should be happy to ferry clients in, or that a comfort-oriented commuter will think of as plush. But step up to one of the Tech or Advance models of the TL and you'll get the true good stuff--in the form of top-notch audio or infotainment, or active-safety items.

 

In its base form, the 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.

 

The Tech Package adds a navigation system with live traffic, weather, and rerouting, plus a rearview camera; solar-sensing temperature control, keyless access, and an upgraded 440-watt Acura/ELS surround sound system--a system that we love for its thunderous power yet clarity. However, we're not fans of the navigation interface itself, or of the cobbled-together way its menu system feels.

 

At the top of the lineup, the Advance Package adds to that ventilated seats, a blind-spot system, and 19-inch wheels.

 

As we see it, the SH-AWD model with the Advance Package makes quite the well-rounded, high-tech sport sedan. But at the same time, with a bottom-line price of about $46k, it's worth keeping in mind that's nearly the cost of a base-level Mercedes-Benz E-Class or BMW 5-Series.

7

2013 Acura TL

Fuel Economy

With only a V-6 as some other luxury sedans its size move to four-cylinder or hybrid powertrains, the 2013 TL is no standout for fuel efficiency.

The 2013 Acura TL fills two roles, as a luxury sedan in base form or as more of a sport sedan in SH-AWD trim. And in both of those cases, gas mileage is neither tremendously disappointing nor very good.

Base 2013 Acura TL models with front-wheel drive get a reasonably good 20 mpg city, 29 highway; but SH-AWD models with the somewhat larger 3.7-liter engine and all-wheel drive aren't nearly as frugal or efficient. With the automatic transmission, models with SH-AWD get 18 mpg city, 26 highway, and with the six-speed manual gearbox it's rated at just 17/25.


We should note that we've as well or better than the EPA ratings in the SH-AWD models; in one with the manual gearbox we averaged nearly 23 mpg in about 400 miles of cold-weather driving--about two-thirds of it on the highway.

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