Preview Drive: 2012 Acura TL

Sensibly elegant midsize sport sedan from Honda's luxury division earns fresh front end and notable refinements for 2012

by Bruno Bornino and James M. Flammang
(Historical introduction by James M. Flammang;
main text by Bruno Bornino, reporting from Austin, Texas)

Newly "refined" TL sedan features smoother front end and
new six-speed automatic transmission (photo by Acura)

Marketed for the past decade and a half by Honda's luxury division, the TL has kept pace with the times. Along the way, it went from a slow seller to a mainstay of the company. Never the flashiest of the sport/luxury sedan lot, the TL continues to attract buyers who seek sensible accommodations and road behavior, combined with a useful touch of plushness.

When Acura's TL sedan first appeared on the U.S. market, as a 1996 model, it replaced the old Vigor, offering either a four-cylinder or V-6 engine. Redesigned for 1999, the TL sedan grew slightly and was now built in the U.S. rather than Japan.

More power and additional safety features went into the next-generation TL, which debuted for 2004. The restyled body was 6.3 inches shorter than before. Acura dropped the performance-oriented Type-S edition, but the 3.2-liter V-6 developed 270 horsepower.

Slightly bigger in its 2009-11 form, the TL had something new: a Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) version with a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine and five-speed automatic transmission. Regular front-drive sedans held a 3.5-liter V-6 that made 280 hp.

Now, the "refined" 2012 TL is ready for distribution to dealers, with another new transmission and upgraded technology. Shoppers first got a look at the latest TL sedan at the Chicago Auto Show in February. Among other changes, repositioning of the grille gives the front end a welcome appearance change, veering away from the prior "keen edge" styling that had inspired some criticism - including assertions that the grille looked "beaklike." Now, helped by gently-flowing headlamps, the front end exhibits a smoother contour.

Acura continues trend-setting ways - by Bruno Bornino

AUSTIN, Texas - Because of its successful past, continuous trend-setting reputation, and constant "best-is-yet-to-come" future, Acura is celebrating its 25th anniversary as a proven leader in the automotive industry. For example, Acura, which is Honda's Luxury Division, is calling its fourth-generation TL "the most diverse in the vehicle's history offering more performance capabilities and luxury appeal than ever before." The newly refined TL is a 2012 model that goes on sale March 18th.

At the national press introduction of the TL, Steve Center, Acura's vice president of national marketing operations, said, "Acura is in the right place at the right time. Value for the money is now the top reason for purchasing a luxury vehicle, followed closely by the auto manufacturer's reputation, past experience with the brand, quality of workmanship and reliability. These top factors are Acura's long-term strengths."

The 2012 TL has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) of $35,605. Equipped with the available Technology Package, the MSRP rises to $39,335, or $41.535 when equipped with the available Advance Package. The TL Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) model has an MSRP of $39,155. Equipped with the available Technology Package, the TL SH-AWD stickers for $42,885, or $45,085 when equipped with the available Advance Package. The TL SH-AWD with six-speed manual transmission (6MT) with Technology Package will have an MSRP of $42,885.

"The 2012 TL is refined, yet aggressive," said Steve Hansen, Acura's large project leader. "Already known for its great performance, the enhanced TL has a sophisticated new look and an all-new six-speed automatic transmission that will take performance to the next level."

For 2012, two distinct versions of Acura's performance luxury sedan remain on sale: a front-drive model with a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, along with a powerful (305-hp) 3.7-liter V-6 TL paired with Acura's exclusive Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. The performance-minded, manual-shift 6MT version will remain part of the 2012 TL SH-AWD lineup, Hansen advised, "helping to broaden the TL's appeal among luxury performance sedan buyers."

Hansen said the automatic transmission teams with a new multi-clutch torque converter that not only reduces heat build-up during operation, but also allows for lock-up activation during a much wider range of driving conditions which helps generate improved fuel economy. As a result, city/highway fuel economy for the new TL is now 20/29 mpg - an increase of three miles in highway driving over the 2011 model. The TL SH-AWD equipped with the new six-speed transmission increases by one mpg in both city and highway fuel economy, to 18/26 mpg. Matched with the transmission is a new final drive gear ratio that allows for more relaxed cruising on the highway.

TL's refined new look includes a redesigned front bumper with improved aerodynamics, a revised grille, updated headlights and turn signals, a new fog light design and a shorter front overhang. At the rear, a new bumper incorporates a significantly repositioned license plate opening and smaller reflectors, while updated taillights and a thinner trunk edge trim add to the new look. For 2012, all TL models receive body-colored door handles and rear window trim. "With the 2009 TL, the exterior design was a lot about passion," said Damon Schell, Senior Designer, Acura Design Studio. "With the 2012 TL, we pushed for an increased level of sophistication."

Acura's always predictable driver-oriented interior features a "dual personal" design that provides both the driver and front passenger with their own personal space. TL benefits from an even further refined cabin that includes instrument cluster changes, new surface finishes for many interior appointments, and available ventilated front seats. As would be expected, there also are many technology improvements, including refinements of Bluetooth Audio (now with artist's name, song title, etc.), new "active pairing" functionality for Bluetooth-enabled cellular telephones, Dial-By-Number and dial-by-voice tags, and much faster connection speed for USB port.

Both the TL and TL-SH-AWD models offer an available Technology Package, which includes the Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition, AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with Traffic Rerouting, AcuraLink Real-Time Weather and an Acura /ELS Surround 440-watt Premium Audio System. For 2012, the hard disk drive (HDD) based navigation system increases in size to 60 gigabytes, map coverage is more expansive, and the full VGA monitor is brighter with richer colors in the new backlit LED display. With the revised HDD system, there is an increase to 15 GB of dedicated space for storage of up to 3,500 songs. Also new is Song By Voice that allows the driver to choose music by artist, album, song title, genre, playlist, and even composer.

New for 2012 is an available Advance Package that incorporates all-new ventilated front seats, larger wheels, and a new blind-spot information system that alerts the driver when another vehicle is detected behind the driver in an adjacent lane. Also for 2012, the use of new body sealing techniques including improved weather-stripping design. Additional expanding foam pillar separators help reduce high-frequency noise by three decibels within the TL's interior.

Behind the TL's wheel, through Texas Hill Country

To further increase performance, a new Sequential SportShift six-speed automatic transmission is applied on all TL models fitted with an automatic. In addition to incorporating engineering enhancements aimed at improving efficiency, a sport-mined double-kick-down feature lets the driver command a double-downshift - such as from fifth to third gear. Acura's Drive-by-Wire throttle system also creates a "blip" of the throttle to help match gear speeds while downshifting. This feature was very noticeable - and very welcome during a 50-mile drive over the scenic roads of the Texas hill country.

While traveling on a particularly twisting and hilly road at the posted speed limit of 55 mph, my driving partner had to come to an abrupt stop as we encountered an early-morning road crew that was re-painting a bright yellow center line. We had to follow the crew at a stop-and-go pace of five miles per hour for 20 minutes before we could turn off at a side road. When you're experiencing a fun-to-drive vehicle like the TL, and suddenly you're forced into such a situation, you have time to really appreciate all the comforts, technologies and luxurious features that come standard with an Acura.

I became an immediate fan of the TL while driving 65 miles per hour on a busy highway, when I had to make a lane change to exit. The TL's new blind spot information (BSI) system alerted me that another vehicle was behind me in an adjacent lane, and I was then able to stay in my lane until it was safe to change lanes and exit. It's become a clich‚ for auto writers to say a particular vehicle looks like its raring to go even when it's parked, but that really was the case for me with the TL. My initial driving and overall handling impression - which included trips on busy city streets, aggressive driving on highways and open country roads, and even some "beware of" dirt trails - is that the TL is indeed always "raring to go."

© All contents copyright 2011 by Tirekicking Today
Upper photo supplied by Acura; in-text photo by Bruno Bornino