Driven: 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

December 31, 2009
2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

For 2010, the Acura TL is once again offered with a manual gearbox. But you're probably going to have to special-order it, or at least do some calling and searching to even find one.

Why? Because even among luxury sport sedans, the number of people opting for a manual transmission is very low—typically less than five percent for many models that offer it.

But for people who still love to drive—and be in control of the driving experience—a good manual transmission can't be beat, as a weeklong drive of a 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD proved.

Offered only with the company's so-called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, with the more powerful 3.7-liter V-6, the new combination brings out the sport-sedan character in the TL. 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.

There's a lot to like in the TL's electric power steering, too. At parking-lot and city speeds it feels light and responsive, returning to center promptly out of corners, with a nice natural feel on center. Up at highway speeds it gathers more heft, but whether slow or fast, the steering manages to transmit some information from the road surface.

The 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, making 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque; but that peak torque doesn't happen until 5,000 rpm; the engine doesn't have surprising gobs of low-range torque like BMW's twin-turbo six, and it doesn't quite whirl itself into the heavy-breathing frenzy of the Infiniti G37's V-6. But overall, it's a solid performer in the mid- to upper-rev ranges—and much better-suited to the manual transmission than we remember it being with the six-speed automatic. You'll find excellent passing ability but it sometimes requires downshifting two, even three, gears to make the best dash.

Fortunately, you'll probably enjoy rowing through the gears. The TL gets a new-design gearbox that Acura says is "substantially stronger" than the previous gearbox from the last-generation TL, with heavy-duty internals, a rigid case, an improved linkage and synchronizers, and new gear ratios. Overall, the feel of the gearbox is just right, it snicks neatly from gear to gear with delightful precision and tactility, with throws that are short but not too short. Marring an otherwise perfect execution, the clutch on our test vehicle was just a bit too grabby, engaging all at once in gentle driving.

With the manual transmission, the 3,889-pound TL SH-AWD can get to 60 mph in the mid five-second range. That's a slight bit slower than the G37 but a bit faster than the automatic TL.

In all fairness, the TL is a larger sedan. It's actually longer and more spacious than the BMW 5-Series or Mercedes E-Class, or about the same size on the outside as a 2010 Infiniti M35 AWD, and compared to these models it feels light and responsive.

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD

While exterior styling is controversial—especially the snout—the interior feels like a home run. Neither derivative nor over-the-top, the smooth, swoopy design impresses as a smoother version of recent Acura and Honda designs, especially with respect to the instrument panel. The deep, round gauges and hooded central screen are complemented by straightforward controls below and a selection dial for screen functions that's not too low from the line of vision. And (likely thanks to its Honda Accord roots) it has excellent passenger space front and back, with enough space for three adults in the back seat and very roomy trunk. 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.

What's remarkable about the TL SH-AWD is how the whole package fits together for real-world driving, not just perfectly surfaced canyon roads. Sport sedans often sacrifice a lot of ride comfort and in-cabin refinement for the sake of handling and stiff suspension calibration. But the 2010 TL manages to strike just the right balance, in our opinion, for most performance-minded drivers who just want good, precise control with reasonable comfort on public roads. The TL's cabin felt tight and free of wind noise, and even on the coarsest pavement surfaces we noticed very little road noise—definitely less than the M35 or Cadillac CTS AWD.

Fuel economy ratings for the TL ring in at 18 mpg city, 26 highway, but you might be surprised to find your results in the upper end of the range. In about 400 miles of cold-weather driving—about two-thirds of it on the highway, but most of it taking advantage of the TL's engine—we averaged nearly 23 mpg, which is better than we would have seen from most other mid-size luxury sport sedans.

At $43,195 as equipped, with the Tech Package, our test car initially seemed pricey. But that includes 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 number of current sport sedans—including the Ford Taurus SHO, Nissan Maxima, and even the Lexus GS 350—have skipped the manual transmission entirely, but the TL is a complete and compelling sport sedan, and a lot more interesting, when you do the shifting yourself.

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High Gear Media has partnered with Tesla Motors on a new writing contest where YOU can win a tour and road test of the 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport. You can submit as many articles as you like and enter multiple times.  Enter now!


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