The standard TL uses a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 that's also under the hood of the Honda Accord to power the front wheels. 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. Last year's standard five-speed automatic transmission was joined in late 2009 by an optional six-speed manual. The automatic, though smooth and responsive enough in sedate driving, is a cog short of its competition and responds too slowly in aggressive driving. Both engines are smooth, sweet-sounding, and responsive, but short travel and hair-trigger responses make the accelerator pedal annoying to use.
In the objective language of acceleration numbers, Automobile notes that a "shorter final drive ratio helps [the 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD] sprint from 0 to 60 mph about one-half-second quicker than the base car." Road & Track reports that a "freer-flowing exhaust gives the SH-AWD a nice rip above 3000 rpm," but "both engines are terrifically smooth pieces" at nearly any speed.
Although the Acura TL manages a lot of enthusiast appeal in SH-AWD garb, until 2010, it had one major strike against it: the absence of a manual gearbox. With the introduction of the 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT, however, that's been fixed. The TL's automatic transmission also has standard paddle shifters to let you get a bit of both worlds. 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." Edmunds reports "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to a lack of manual transmission, Car and Driver finds the five-speed auto itself a shortcoming, contending it "seems outdated in a segment where six and seven speeds are more common." When the manual joins the picture, however, Car and Driver changes its tune, saying, "Adding a manual transmission makes the robotic TL more human."
Tuning a V-6 engine for thrifty fuel consumption is easy enough, but the Acura 2010 TL is geared more for performance, and fuel economy pays the price. According to official EPA figures, the base 2010 Acura TL should return 18 mpg city and 26 highway, while the more powerful SH-AWD gets 17 mpg city and 25 on the highway. These aren't terrible numbers by any means, but neither are they near the top of the class.
Both on paper and in hard driving, the TL is a serious player in the luxury sport sedan segment, though it has its shortcomings. Its Honda Accord underpinnings give the 2010 TL generous room front and rear, but such heritage means that even equipped with Acura's Super Handling all-wheel drive, it's front-heavy and not up to the performance par set by its rear-wheel-drive competitors.
Excellent grip and strong acceleration are hallmarks of the SH-AWD model in particular. Powerful brakes slow the 4,000-pound car handily and with confidence. Despite these good traits, when driven tamely in traffic, the TL, including the SH-AWD, feels more like the front-heavy and sensible sedan it is. Big 19-inch wheels also 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.
Car and Driver declares that the base TL's "steering feel has lost the plot." Edmunds agrees, noting this version is "more for comfort-minded buyers," as it is plagued by "lifeless steering" that "feels decidedly artificial." However, the Acura TL SH-AWD turns the game around, with Edmunds reporting that the sportier model's steering "exhibits more weight and feedback, resulting in a more natural feel." Automobile Magazine likes the TL's comfort, contending that "despite the firmer suspension, the TL still rides agreeably," and Road & Track reviewers praise the way the Acura TL "strikes a nice compromise for both cruising through town and scurrying down a twisty back road." Clamping the stoppers is a worry-free process, according to Motor Trend, as the "larger brake rotors all around, plus two-piston calipers up front, put a stout squeeze on forward motion."