First Drive

2012 Acura TL sports refined look

A very good car has been made better – and easier on the eyes.

2012 Acura TL
AT A GLANCE
PRICE
$39,400 base. $48,900 as tested.
FUEL CONSUMPTION
NR Canada (L/100 km): 11.0 city. 8.0 highway.
POWERTRAIN
Engine: 3.5 litre SOHC V6, 280 horsepower, 254 lb.ft of torque. 3.7-litre SOHC V6, 305 horsepower,
Pros & CONS
  • Well-engineered package.
  • Terrific all-wheel-drive system
  • Great long distance tourer
  • Looks dated, despite redo
  • Missing some features common at this price

CHARLOTTE, NC ·

While it will not admit that the schnoz on the outgoing Acura TL was a bit of an issue with dealers and consumers, the company has "softened" the look for the 2012 model. The somewhat prominent proboscis was meant to help lend some brand identity, and it certainly did. But,enough potential customers were turned off to make a makeover a good idea.

The 2012 Acura TL is a much more attractive vehicle to these eye · yes, count me among those who were not impressed with the previous design. I was a fan of the other end of the car but not the nose. The design team have shrunken the grille, altered the lower opening and added a number of horizontal lines both front and rear. The results are an almost complete alteration at both ends. Other changes included tweaks and upgrades to this fourth-generation TL, which accounts for 17% of the division·s sales.

Acura, the first Japanese luxury brand, is marking its 25th anniversary in Canada this year with a sharp refocus on its core product range, including big investments in new models. The company had applied ABS-level panic braking to ambitions to move into the premium luxury market following the economic car-crash of 2008.

This mid-cycle refresh of the TL, which last year accounted for almost 17 per cent of the 17,339 Acuras sold in Canada, plays to that trend and the brand plans to boost TL sales from 2,895 last year to 4,000 units.

Apart from the significantly altered styling for the 2012 model, which is itelf good news, the rest of the car is a very impressive piece of engineering.

Arguably the most overlooked feature of this Acura is the Super Handling All Wheel drive or SH-AWD system. Not only does it apportion power to all four wheels, varying it from front to rear according to grip, it actively sends more power to the outside rear wheel in cornering situations causing it to turn faster, pushing the car around the corner. Acura provided ample opportunity to demonstrate this feature during the introduction of the 2012 models, here in Charlotte,and mother nature co-operated.

There was ample drive time on public roads in both manual and automatic-equipped TLs leading to an afternoon of lapping the 2.38-mile road course at Carolina Motorsport Park, a private race facility located about an hour south of the city.

Mother nature stepped in at this point to sprinkle the track with some moisture. Not normally seen as a positive when tackling a new race course, in this case rain was welcome. The reason · the reduced and varying grip provided a perfect showcase for the SH-AWD system. You could feel it actually pulling into and out of a turn. Approach a corner at speed, turn the steering wheel aiming for the apex and the front end starts to lose grip and understeer sets in. Apply the throttle and voila · the car is actually pulled into the corner, understeer all but eliminated. It then powers out with all four wheels sharing the job of getting power to the pavement. Dramatic!

So that·s the biggest single attribute that separates the TL from other luxury cars. And now, with design no longer a factor, Acura hopes consumers will look beyond the face and at the whole vehicle. What they will find is a refined and well-executed piece.

Beyond the face-lift, other changes for 2012 include minor trim variations inside, available vented seats, upgraded audio and Bluetooth systems, available blind spot monitoring system and enhanced voice-recognition complete with ·Quebec·-French abilities.

The engineers also spent some time studying and blocking the source of road and wind noise resulting in a noticeable reduction in interior sound levels and an increase in refinement. While we are on then subject of refinement let·s look under the hood.

Honda is an engineering-led company that has earned global respect for its engines whether they be tiny little units on a grass trimmer or in an Indy car. Both the 3.5 and 3.7-litre V-6 engines in the TL are models of civility and refinement. Smooth and silent under all but sustained wide open throttle they are clean and fuel efficient. When pressed they are also capable of propelling this big sedan with vigour. Both engines remain relatively untouched for 2012 aside from some minor twiddling with the intake system and reductions in internal friction aimed at improving already-impressive fuel economy.

The 3.5-litre that accompanies the front-drive TLs produces 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque while the 3.7 litre used in the SH-AWD cars ups those numbers to 305 and 273 respectively. A six-speed manual is available and the automatic is a new six-speed unit, replacing the five-speed used previously. Both fuel economy and performance are enhanced by the extra gear in the automatic. A 40-kilo weight reduction and aerodynamic tweaks have helped too. The difference is more than two litres per 100 km.

The TLs are available in front-wheel-drive or SH-AWD versions starting at $39,400, unchanged from last year. The SH-AWD versions, which also get a larger and more powerful engine, start at $43,490. That latter number is a bargain in this field thanks to the amount of equipment and the SH-AWD system. You can boost the price to $49,000 by adding the ·Tech· and ·Elite· packages, neither of which is essential to enjoy the dynamic prowess of this car.

Acura hopes the revised TL will play its part in the 25th-anniversary celebration by selling 4,000 units, up from 2,900 last year, before the makeover.

A very good car has been made better · and easier on the eyes.

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