Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The best of both worlds? The refreshed Acura TL

As a little joke I keep an informal list of cars not to buy if you don't want to get shot. It comes from the uncomfortably regular shootings we get here in British Columbia. It’s a list of mostly nice cars including the Range Rover, Porsche Cayenne and Cadillac CTS. Three weeks ago the Acura TL was added to the list.

More specifically it was the third generation TL that graced us from 2004-2008. That car looked really good.  And unsurprisingly it seemed to appeal to those likely to get shot. To be honest I was kind of waiting for it to be added to the list.

In 2009 when Acura redesigned the TL, things took a turn for the worse. It had a hideous beak up front with odd angles and overchrome that continued all around. All that in mind, Acura did do one good thing, add All Wheel Drive. It’s something the increasingly more powerful TL needed. The problem is that with its looks you couldn’t get the best of both worlds.
Until now.

Joy of Joys the silver beak is gone! For 2012 Acura has finally made the TL into the car it should have been 3 years ago. The styling has been cleaned up and brought back down to earth. The front is much cleaner with a grille that is much more subtle. The headlights are black as opposed to silver. The excess garnish that plagued the old car has seen its last days. Even the door handles are one solid colour now. The tinsel has been removed from the Christmas tree.

So does this now mean that we actually have the best of both worlds? Well, in more ways than you may think. To drive, the TL is a bit like a butler. This is probably not the best simile but I'm going with it. It really does whatever you ask without any bit of drama or complaint.

“Would you like to accelerate quickly? Sure thing.” The 3.7 Litre V6 serves up 305 hp. It's a really wonderful engine that isn't too dramatic, but not boring either. It sounds like a butler that's a heavy smoker. Around town it grumbles about, but when given the berries it sings for you. There's also a brand new 6 speed automatic which brings the TL up to er... speed with the competition. Shifts are smooth and it seems to be in the right gear. And if it isn’t just pull a paddle.

“Oh, would you like to pootle around going the speed limit? No problem sir.” This was on astonishing thing about the TL. It is a quick car but it never demanded to be driven quickly. Going at exactly the speed limit, no matter how unnecessarily slow it is, the TL would just hold the speed. And it never felt slow either. It was almost calming especially since Acura have managed to make the TL slightly quieter.

“It's wet and slippery out but you'd like to go around this corner quickly. Alright sir” One of the best things for the TL is the inclusion of Honda's Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) or Shawd as I like to call it. The system is really special in that it micro manages the power to the wheels. I guess like a butler manages a dinner party. Shawd can put up to 100% of the rear power to the outboard wheel in a corner to help push the car further into it. It works. Cornering and accelerating are far less dramatic. And I know that sounds wrong but I'd take undramatic over Front Wheel Drive torque steer (FWD is still available on base models).

Inside the materials and fit and finish are top notch. But more amazingly, the electronic systems work a lot better than I was expecting. Yes the barrage of buttons still haunts the dash. But the Nav system is really special. I had always questioned Acura’s switch away from the touch screen unit. I now know why. The knob allows the system to help you make selections without distracting you while you drive. Highlight a selection and the woman reads out what you're on. I know it's not to be recommended, but you can set the Sat Nav while driving without needing to look down on the screen. There is also Voice activation if you prefer talking, but you need to know the computer's language. The seats are a different story. They're comfortable and supportive, but the front seat active head rests force me to have a posture my mother would highly disapprove of.

I had the blessing of driving the new top notch Elite model. It comes with cool new features like Ventilated front seats and a Blind spot warning system. My take? Don’t bother. Cooled seats are great for 4 months of the Canadian year, heated rear seats would have been a warmer idea. As for the blind spot warning system, well it was a bit patchy. Good mirror adjustment and shoulder checking will help you much more. I’ll admit I did almost change lanes into a car despite it being on.

This refresh of the TL is a really good thing. It makes it quite the contender. Priced between $41,000 and $51,000 it's also quite inexpensive in the luxury market. To give some perspective a BMW 335ix with the same power and All Wheel Drive starts at $52,000 and it's a considerably smaller car with less equipment. It's a mid sized car that's priced with the small ones. 

With the available manual transmission at just under $49,000 this is actually Honda/Acura’s sportiest car. The V6 is the most powerful production engine Honda has ever produced, and this is one of few cars at Honda to escape Front Wheel Drive. It shows, a friend of mine said that he prefers driving this to an M3. A bold claim even I would fear making.

Now does this all mean that the new TL will become the target for future shootings? I'd think not. Thankfully the car is much better, but to that end thankfully I don't think it will appeal to those who are magnetic to bullets. The best of both worlds.

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