The most powerful import entry-luxury sedan is also the least well-known: Acura's 3.2 TL Type S. With 260 hp on tap from its 3.2 liter V-6 engine, the $31,320 Type S vastly outguns such rivals as the 225-hp BMW 330i ($33,990), the 215-hp Lexus IS 300 ($30,805) and the comparatively weak-kneed 190-hp Audi A4 2.8 ($30,340), as well as both versions of the Mercedes C-Class ($29,950-$36,950).
Based on the 3.2 TL, the performance-oriented 2002 Type S is a new offering that adds the stronger engine that first appeared in the CL coupe Type S earlier in the year. In addition to the 35-hp boost in output from the standard TL's 225-hp 3.2 engine, the '02 Type S also gets an upgraded, sport-tuned suspension with 17-inch rims and Acura's Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) active handling system that corrects for driver error to avoid accidents. It does this by selectively using the traction control and anti-lock braking systems to correct for oversteer and understeer, which might otherwise cause the driver to lose control of the vehicle during abrupt, emergency-type maneuvers.
2002 Acura 3.2TL Type S
That's quite the deal when you ponder the pushing-40 price of the 215-hp Mercedes C320 — and very competitive as regards to the others that are closer in price but which lack many of the features (not to mention underhood gumption) that come standard on the TL. Optioned out, a BMW 330i will tickle $40k, and even the well-equipped, high-performance Lexus IS300 comes out nearer to $35,000 when you add a few options.
Meanwhile the only available optional extra on the 3.2 TL (both the regular version as well as the Type S) is Acura's excellent touch-screen GPS satellite navigation system. It adds $2100 to the price of either car, so a Type S "with everything" will sticker out at $33,230.
That figure includes climate control air conditioning, Bose audio system with six-disc, in-dash CD changer, wood and leather trim, electric sunroof, heated eight-way power driver's seat (four-way heated passenger seat), Xenon high intensity discharge headlights, plus power-actuated everything (one-touch windows, locks, mirrors, etc.). It's a lot of stuff, much of it extra cost, or not available, on similar competitors' models.
Crisp, but quiet
The TL is also well-built and stylish, in a crisp, quiet sort of way. The car may not draw attention to itself like a Bimmer, but it displays solid good taste, which a wag once described as "that which is approporiate."
The restyled nose -- another change for 2002 across the TL line -- definitely helps the car stand out a bit more from its Honda forbears (the TL shares a common albeit heavily tweaked platform with the current Accord).
Sometimes mid-year facelifts are no great shakes but Acura has done a credible job here; there's not an ugly line to be found. And while it may be a touch too anonymous for those seeking to impress, the car has a respectable dignity that will hold up well over the years -- something to consider if you plan on holding onto the keys for more than the typical 48-month new car lease period.
2002 Acura 3.2TL Type S
And don't forget the added bonus of that outstanding GPS satellite navigation system. Acura's DVD-based, touch screen-activated unit is so vastly superior to anything else out there (at any price, on any model) that it's almost worth buying the car just to get this particular system. Unlike the absurdly complex units offered on some other cars that are harder to figure out and use comfortably than an arthritic late 1980s PC running DOS, Acura's system is simple, intuitive, and as user-friendly a gadget as you'll find.
The Type S would be truly phenomenal if it had two more things: rear-wheel drive and an available manual transmission instead of the take-it-or-leave-it five-speed automatic. The front-drive platform of the Type S is its only real handicap as a performance sedan vis-a-vis the rear-drive Big Boys of the entry-luxury sport sedan world: the BMW 3-series, Mercedes C-Class and Lexus IS 300. But this could be remedied in a Detroit minute by the availability of a manual transmission. A TL with 260 hp and a five- (or six-) speed? Now that would make the "s" in Type S stand for something really super.
2002 Acura 3.2 TL Type S
Base price range: $31,320-$33,230
Engine: 3.2-liter V-6, 260-hp
Transmission: Five-speed automatic, front-wheel-drive
Wheelbase: 108.1 in
Length: 192.5 in
Width: 70.3 in
Height: 53.7 in
Curb Weight: 3538 lb.
EPA (cty/hwy): 19/29 mpg
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, side airbags, traction control, stability control, ABS
Major standard features: 17x6.5-inch alloy rims, sport suspension, electric moonroof, climate control, leather trim, eight-way heated power driver's seat, six-disc in-dash CD-changer, power windows, locks, tilt wheel, electric rear defroster
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles