The standard TL uses a 280-horsepower 3.5-liter VTEC V-6 that's also found in the related Accord, from Honda. It powers the front wheels. On the TL SH-AWD, Acura fits its all-wheel-drive system and a 3.7-liter V-6 with 305 hp, on loan from the RL sedan.
Acura's capable all-wheel-drive system 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-drive sedan. Last year's standard five-speed automatic transmission was joined in late 2009 by an optional six-speed manual. Sedate and smooth in everyday driving, the automatic needs one more gear to compete with its main rivals and to give it better low-end response. Both engines are smooth and sound sweet, but short travel and hair-trigger responses make the accelerator pedal annoying to use.
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. Car and Driver finds the five-speed auto itself a shortcoming "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."
The TL is geared for performance, and gas mileage pays the price. According to official EPA figures, the base 2010 Acura TL gets 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 best in class.
Both on paper and in hard driving, the TL is a legitimate player in the 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 says it's plagued by "lifeless steering" that "feels decidedly artificial." The SH-AWD model turns the game around. Automobile Magazine likes the TL's comfort, and Road & Track praises the way the Acura TL behaves, "scurrying down a twisty back road." Brakes are good: Motor Trend says the TL puts "a stout squeeze on forward motion."