The TL is one of Acura's best selling vehicles. For years, it has been a rock solid performer, impressing everyone from the toughest automotive critics to the sticklers at J.D. Power. Of course, the most important impression is that made upon the consumer; in this category the new TL scores a perfect 10.
At first glance, the new TL looks vaguely familiar. That's because it carries many of the same styling cues as the smaller TSX. The two employ the same muscular stance, sharply raked side profile and angular rear flanks. The TL takes the design a step further with prominent wheel flairs, lower side skirts and a deep side crease capped on either end by side marker lights. Compared to last year's model, the new TL looks like a much bigger and heavier car. But this is merely an illusion, the 2004 TL measures the same distance between the wheels, but is actually almost a foot shorter than the previous generation car. A huge set of 17-inch five-spoke wheels come standard on the TL and their appearance only heightens the car's aggressive good looks.
Inside, the TL is pure Acura. Though everything is new, there is a feeling like you've been here before. Acura stylists just have a way of crafting an interior to look uniquely Acura. The TL's handsome dash is highlighted by a brilliant set of white on blue LED gauges, each housed in its own circular bin and tucked neatly beneath a hooded visor. The optional navigation system is merged seamlessly with the rest of the center console, placed between the center vents and the audio system. Speaking of audio, the TL's system is really worth hearing. It employs a technology known as DVD audio 5.1. The system requires specially mixed DVD audio CDs that split the conventional two-channel stereo tracks into six. The result is not so much a better tone or quality, but a more vibrant sound that allows you to hear tracks previously buried. During the playing of Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," one of our test drivers swore he heard instruments and vocals he'd never heard before.
The rest of the TL interior is flawless. Handsome leather seating and elegantly blended door panels instill a feeling of solidity and quality. The thick grip four-spoke steering wheel seems perfectly placed, never cutting into the gauges or blocking pertinent controls. The seating in the TL is first rate, with excellent lower back, side and shoulder support. Some of our taller drivers wished for a bit longer seat bottom and another inch or two of headroom, but overall no one felt uncomfortable or cramped. We did find the rear seat headroom to be a bit tight, though leg and hip room were deemed acceptable.
The TL's optional navigation system won unanimous praise as the best system we've experienced to date. Its voice activated command center understands 293 voice commands and contains thousands of points of interest. You can also use the large LCD touch screen to input commands; the automatic dual-zone climate control is also operated via the touch screen.
Power for the new TL comes from a 3.2-liter, 24-valve VTEC engine. A new two-stage manifold helps increase horsepower, which tops out at a whopping 270. When mated to the five-speed Sequential Shift automatic, the TL's engine can propel it like a bullet leaving the barrel of a gun. Shifts are practically imperceptible, begging the question: "Why interfere with a good thing?" Of course, if you are the type that prefers a bit more control, you can opt for a tight-ratio six-speed manual, a first for the TL line. Even with all its newfound power, the TL's engine is still one of the cleanest burning in the world, elevated this year to a ULEV-2 status.
Acura offers the TL in only one version this year; the popular Type-S has been discontinued. Acura assures us that the new TL incorporates all the handling and performance attributes of the old Type-S and after a few minutes behind the wheel we believe every word. The TL is marvelously grounded, free of the torque steer and plow that sometimes spoiled the older car. Acura had refined the TL's fully-independent suspension, upgrading it with such features as standard four-channel Vehicle Stability Assist, anti-lock brakes and traction control; six-speed manual cars get a limited-slip differential.
You will hear lots of comparisons between the new TL and its rivals from BMW and Audi, but we think that each car has its own unique driving feel and experience. There are pluses and minuses for each, that being front-wheel drive vs. rear-wheel drive vs. all-wheel drive. Suffice to say that unless you're running SCCA autocross on the weekends, the TL will thrill, delight and more than satisfy the driving enthusiast in you.