2012 Acura TL SH-AWD: Driven

November 22, 2011

Mention the Acura TL as a next-car possibility, in certain sport-sedan enthusiast circles, and it's possible you might lose some credibility. If you want a serious sport sedan, they'll argue, you might as well get one on a dedicated rear-wheel-drive platform, like the BMW 3-Series, Cadillac CTS, or Infiniti G37 (or larger Infiniti M).

Point taken; it's true that the TL remains built on the same platform as the best-selling Honda Accord sedan. But you might miss out on an excellent choice if you dismiss it for that reason. As we recently discovered over the course of a week with the new 2012 TL in high-performance SH-AWD guise—directly following a week with a Honda Accord V-6, no less—the TL has a completely different personality, and it's truly worth the extra money. And on public roads, you'll have nearly as much fun, if not more, than those traditional sport sedans.

Sweet engine, improved transmission

At least in SH-AWD form, the TL has a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6, with a six-speed automatic transmission and the Super-Handling all-wheel drive system (base TLs come with a 280-hp, 3.5-liter version that is essentially the Accord V-6). But the higher-performance TL engine is sweet; unlike the Nissan/Infiniti 3.7-liter, which takes a step down in refinement next to the 3.5-liter, Honda has somehow created a stronger (and better-sounding) engine that's also just as smooth. It's an enjoyable engine; there's lots of torque down low, but it's fun to rev all the way to redline.

For that, we recommend using the steering-wheel paddle-shifters, as in Drive, unless you keep your right foot mashed, the TL's automatic transmission tends not to waste revs; it wisely shifts up as soon as you ease up on the throttle, and it completely avoids the low-speed, part-throttle indecision that's always bugged us about Honda's five-speed units. By the way, Acura still makes a six-speed manual available in the SH-AWD; we haven't driven that version since 2010, but we found it well-matched to the engine's rev-happy personality.

While we managed nearly 20 mpg in the Accord, we the trip computer in the TL clocked a meager 16.5 mpg by the end of the week—in a comparable 150-mile mix of short-trip city driving, a couple of runs to the suburbs, and a stint on twisty backroads. That's likely a matter of the TL's larger-displacement engine, its additional weight, and the drag of all-wheel drive.

SH-AWD makes it special

The SH-AWD system is among the better all-wheel-drive arrangements in luxury sedans, as it's not just for foul weather. It completely quells torque steer by sending more torque to the rears on quick takeoffs and at lower speeds, but you can also feel it dial up power to the rear wheels in moderate-speed corners, to gently reduce roll in front and give this sedan a more confident feel. And overall, the TL's steering—an electric power steering unit—shows that all the difference is in tuning; in the TL it feels somewhat hefty, but it does manage to transmit some feel of the road surface. Altogether, we found the system hard to fluster, even on a tight, somewhat damp roadway with mixed surfaces.

The other part to like about the 2012 TL—and why you might enjoy this sport sedan more than other traditional rear-drivers—is that there's simply more interior space and comfort. The back seat is a true adult-size space, and you could even fit three across if needed. We'd venture to say, too, that the soft upholstery for the ventilated-leather seats, as well as the dash and door trims, are a step above what you get in base versions of many rival models for roughly the same price. Ride quality is on the firm side, but it isolates the most jarring bumps.

Comfort and tech features are the payoff

Our top-of-the-line SH-AWD Advance trim included the Blind Spot Information System, ventilated front seats, and showy 19-inch alloy wheels. The Advance equipment stacks on top of the Tech Package's navigation system, real-time traffic, weather, and traffic rerouting, Bluetooth Audio, and Keyless Access. At $45,945, it's certainly not cheap, but it prices well below base versions of the Infiniti M37 or BMW 5-Series.

In the end, you're going to have a blast driving the TL; you'll appreciate the interior space and comfort; and (perhaps other than the balky center-stack controls and dated nav interface) you'll love all the tech features. If you can get past the Accord connection, the TL is a strong contender with a lot of personality.

For an in-depth look, specs, and ratings--and more details about the TL's slight refresh this year--see our full review pages on the 2012 Acura TL over at The Car Connection.

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