Test Drive: 2012 Acura TL

courtesy of http://www.prlog.org/11711589-dc-acura.jpg

The Acura TL.

As long as I can remember, this has always been known as being a dynamically competent car. As some of you may have read, I was quoted in an Auto Show Promo magazine as the TL being my “favorite for upscale features and power”.

And while it was my favorite of the three cars I test drove that day (vs. Chevy Volt and Fiat 500), it wasn’t my favorite for those reasons.

It certainly wasn’t the looks. I liked the way the last generation TL looked – there was something very Japanese about it. And it was probably due to the way it hid its size; like how people in Japan use a 400 sqft apartment as a living room, dining room, office, and kitchen for a family of four. This was especially true of the Type-S version. It also hid the fact that it was essentially an Accord underneath exceptionally well.

The new version doesn’t. It looks like somebody had taken the latest boat of an Accord and stuck it in the oven for a few hours. Then as the paint was drying, a piece of shrapnel from a nearby explosion landed on the front face. They have toned down the corporate face for 2012 (the 2011 version had an even bigger piece of shrapnel), but in my mind the offender here is the size and bulk of the body.

Inside, cabin materials are of good quality, and the optional leather seats are supple and comfortable. There are a few electronic gizmos to keep you entertained (fold out larger display screen, bluetooth connectivity, and upgraded sound system), although nothing ground breaking.

What’s it like to drive?

The ride is smooth and cosseting despite the huge wheels, and the car feels stable and planted. And big. I drove the 305 hp 3.7L V6 which feels adequate. The 6 speed automatic with paddle shifting functionality doesn’t shift quickly enough and shifts up when I want it to hold a gear – Which is perfect if I want to be annoyed.

The new thing with this generation is the addition of the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD for you acronym lovers). According to the commercial, it shoots out a grapple which helps you turn like you are on rails. Well, it actually directs torque to the outside wheel to help you steer (also called torque vectoring).

This generation of the TL has grown by 5″ in length, and 2″ in width. The height is about the same (grows 0.5″). And for that growth in size, the car gains 200 lbs, and another 250 if you opt for the SH-AWD. That’s a total of 450 lbs!

Let’s compare power:weight to the previous generation TL:

Old fwd model power:weight = 0.074
Old Type-S power:weight = 0.082
New fwd model power:weight = 0.076
New SH-AWD power:weight = 0.077

That just doesn’t feel like progress to me. I’m not really looking for a huge boost in power/torque, but I don’t think a large boost in power with a bump in weight is forward thinking. With the recent increased focus on global emissions and fuel economy, shouldn’t there have been more emphasis in reducing weight?

Ok – so the awd is a new feature. But in my mind, awd should be used on rally homologation cars, off-roaders, or cars with so much power they explode if you think about touching that throttle. The TL does not fit into any of these categories.

And let’s get this straight – this awd system is not for grip in slippery conditions, it is to help steer through corners thus concealing its weight. However, when I drove it through some tighter corners I didn’t marvel at how well controlled it was, or how I could feel the torque pulling me through the corner via the outside wheels. I just thought that the car felt heavy and lethargic. In making this new TL they have added an extra 450 lbs – how is this progress? What was the thought process behind this?

I can’t think of any, which leaves just marketing. Which is a horrible reason to put a feature into a car if it is the only reason.

Is this a bad car? No. It is a good quality car made by a reliable company, has a quiet cosseting ride, and good materials. However, I have spent most of this review comparing it to its father and unfortunately, the father trumps his big-boned son this time. It just doesn’t seem better than the last one.

Maybe I am being a bit harsh, but Acura has proved to me that it can make quality cars. To me, this is a subpar effort from a company I think very highly of. I expect more from you, Acura.

Save your money and buy a good used example of the previous generation.

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