2012 Acura TL
Just because something is polarizing doesn’t mean it’s bad.
We hear the term a great deal these days, usually in connection with politicians or issues that are diametrically opposed and often antagonistic.
Motor vehicles can be polarizing as well, predominantly when it comes to opinions about styling. One person’s gorgeous work of art can be another’s piece of junk.
A prominent example is the 2009 to 2011 Acura TL, a mid-sized sport/luxury car from Honda, which 25 years ago became the first Asian automobile company to establish a luxury division. Its first cars were the 1986 Acura Legend and Integra.
In its brief history, the TL has been up and then down. Annual U.S. sales peaked in 2005 at 78,218 and declined after that. Struggling to inject some excitement, Acura delivered edgy new styling for the 2009 model.The grille featured a razor-like overbite blade that looked ready to attack and chew up invading alien robots. Similarly, the view of the rear was one of sharp-edged aggression as it blasted past you on the highway.
No question, the look was controversial—and polarizing. Sales totaled just 34,049 in 2010, up slightly from 2009, so there were at least that many people who found the styling distinctive and pleasing.
Despite that, the Acura folks decided that the teeter-totter tilted toward those who didn’t like the look, or even found it offensive.
“We tried to make a bold statement,” said Vicki Poponi, Acura’s assistant vice president for product planning. “But it was too bold for some people.”
The answer is the 2012 TL, with softer, more graceful and subdued styling that carries it back to a look compatible with the pre-2009 models. Both the front and rear have been redesigned to make the car look lower and wider, and it is about 1.5 inches shorter overall while retaining its passenger volume of 98 cubic feet, with a trunk of 13 cubic feet.
In the government’s system, that puts the TL barely into the mid-size class, just a few cubic feet larger inside than some bigger compact cars. Moreover, the trunk has a fairly small opening and there’s a big floor hump in back that welcomes only a midget fifth passenger.So it’s best to think of the new TL more as a taut sport/luxury four-door than a family hauler. With front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive, the TL competes against the likes of the Audi A4 and A6, BMW 3- and 5-Series, Infiniti G37 and Nissan Maxima. The Lexus ES350 is similarly sized but emphasizes luxury more than sport.
There are six automatic-transmission versions of the 2012 TL. Three have front-wheel drive, a carryover 280-horsepower V6 engine and, new for this model year, a six-speed automatic with manual-shift control. Base price is $36,465. A technology package with voice-activated navigation, ELS surround-sound audio, premium perforated leather upholstery and pushbutton starting boosts the price to $40,195.
Should you wish to go all the way, you also can add the so-called Advance package with blind-spot warning, bigger wheels and tires, and heated and ventilated front seats. That model has a list price of $42,395.
The other three versions come equipped with Acura’s SH-AWD, which stands for super-handling all-wheel drive. It enhances control by apportioning power side-to-side in corners, and comes with a larger 3.7-liter V6 rated at 305 horsepower. The price starts at $40,015 and jumps to $43,745 with the technology package and $45,945 with the Advance package.Tested for this review was the front-drive model with the Advance package, which should suffice nicely for anyone who doesn’t have to battle unplowed snow at ski resorts or other chronic foul-weather conditions.
The front-drive TL has a lighter handling feel than its SH-AWD sibling, owing mainly to the fact that it weighs more than 230 pounds less. It also delivers better fuel economy: 20/29 miles to the gallon on the EPA’s city/highway cycle versus 18/26 for the all-wheel drive model.
For the all-out enthusiasts, likely very few, Acura also offers the SH-AWD TL with a six-speed manual gearbox. It has a 17/25 fuel economy rating.
Originally based on the same platform as the Honda Accord, the TL emphasizes the sport half of the sport/luxury equation, although it always has featured a classy interior and, on the top models, every luxury amenity.
But the ambiance is different from, for example, Acura’s top-of-the-line RL. It is similar in size and power to the TL, but it is a dedicated luxury car with a softer ride and handling, and a hushed and plusher interior. The RL has not sold well—just 2,037 copies in 2010. Some observers believe it’s because the RL does not offer a V8 engine, but that likely will become moot as gasoline prices continue to rise.
Meanwhile, the new TL continues to deliver its expected sporting blend of precise handling and spirited performance. However, don’t expect a boulevard limousine. The suspension system delivers a choppy ride on rough surfaces and the move off the line is abrupt, thanks to an aggressive throttle tip-in. But you also can enjoy the engine’s growl and musical exhaust.