2009 Acura TL SH-AWDPosted on March 26th, 2009
Flagship sedan gets new styling and all-wheel drive
By Nina Russin
Acura’s flagship sedan is new from the inside out this year, with available all-wheel drive. The ‘SH’ in the model designation stands for ‘super handling.’ The all-wheel drive system can transfer torque from side to side, as well as between the front and rear axles.
There are two available engines: a 3.5-liter V6 in the front-wheel drive model, and a 3.7-liter V6 in the SH-AWD. The bigger engine is a bored out version of the 3.5-liter block. Aluminum cylinder liners in place of iron on the base engine are a weight-saving measure that also improves cooling.
Electronic throttle control saves weight over traditional mechanical systems. It also eliminates some parts that wear out over time. An electronic steering pump is lighter than hydraulically-actuated systems that can deteriorate and leak.
All cars share a five-speed manual transmission. F-1 style paddles on the steering wheel allow driving enthusiasts to manually select gears. A hill-start assist feature prevents the car from sliding backwards on steep hills. Software holds gears in the corners to prevent upshifting. Shift logic also eliminates hunting on hilly roads.
Both cars have dual exhausts: the all-wheel drive model has four exhaust tips. A high-flow exhaust system improves engine breathing. Engineers improved cold air intakes over the outgoing model. Since cold air is denser than warm air, it has more oxygen, and can produce more power.
The all-wheel drive sedan gets 18-inch wheels as opposed to 17-inch rims on the front-wheel drive TL. Driving enthusiasts can upgrade to 19-inch rims with Michelin summer tires.
The TL’s angular design is in character with other cars in the Acura line-up.
A new grille similar to the 2009 TSX and RL is framed by high-intensity discharge headlamps that wrap around the corners. The new model is bigger in every dimension than the car it replaces, including front and rear track. Aggressive wheel arches give the sedan the posture of a cat on the prowl.
A strong beltline defines the car in profile. In the back, the character lines come together in a pronounced V. The all-wheel drive car has a standard rear spoiler that houses the camera for the rearview assist feature.
Acoustic windshield glass consists of two layers of safety glass with an elastic membrane in between to reduce wind noise. Side windows are also thicker to minimize noise inside the car.
Since glass is heavy, engineers needed to reduce weight elsewhere. They did this through extensive use of high-strength steel, which now makes up 48 percent of the body. The high strength steel also boosts torsional rigidity fifteen percent over the outgoing model, for better steering feedback.
Acura’s ACE body structure makes the car compatible in collisions with vehicles of various heights. The TL is also designed to minimize pedestrian injury, with energy-absorbing supports under the hood
Available technology package adds navigation, real-time traffic and weather updates
A technology package on the test car adds keyless entry and start, premium leather seating, an upgraded audio system, and navigation with real-time traffic and weather. The system links the car with Acura, so owners can make appointments for vehicle service from their cars.
Getting behind the wheel
Acura’s high-tech wizardry sounds wonderful on paper, but I was anxious to see how the new TL performs. The test car is the SH-AWD model with the technology package that retails for $42,995. It was kismet that I had a trip to Tucson, Arizona scheduled for the week I had the car, giving me ample chance to evaluate its highway and around-town performance.
Keyless start makes me nervous when I valet cars, since the valet can forget to return the keys. But it’s a great convenience otherwise, enabling the driver to unlock and start the car without fumbling in his pockets.
The Acura system is very intuitive. The driver simply touches the driver’s side door handle to unlock the car, and touches a button on the handle to relock it. A start button next to the steering wheel fires the ignition.
A two-position memory allows multiple drivers to program seat and mirror position. The all-wheel drive model has more aggressive seat bolsters to keep the driver and passenger in place during hard cornering. But unlike some sport seats, the bolsters aren’t difficult to climb over. The seats are exceptionally comfortable, with a two-way adjustable lumbar support.
The three-spoke steering wheel is small enough to be comfortable for smaller-framed persons like myself, with redundant audio, information, cruise and Bluetooth controls.
An information display in the gauge cluster shows fuel economy, ambient temperature, tire inflation pressures, and shows a wrench when the car is due for service,
A 12-volt power point and USB port inside the center console bin interface with iPods, cell phones and other electronic devices. There are two large cupholders in front of the bin that will also hold water bottles.
The glovebox on the new car is considerably larger than the old TL, with a separate shelf to hold the owner’s manual and registration documents.
The new car is also more spacious inside, giving rear passengers more legroom. A fold-down armrest provides cupholders for back-seat passengers. Both rows of passengers get overhead reading lamps.
The electronic moonroof controls are in the overhead console. Since it was a nice spring day, I popped the sunroof open while I was driving around town and enjoyed the fresh air.
Seamless, quiet performance
The TL’s suspension, a double wishbone setup in front and multi-link in the rear, provides a buttery smooth ride. Engineers tuned spring damping and stabilizer bar rates to keep the chassis absolutely flat in the corners. When the driver corners hard, the outside wheel overdrives or spins faster, to improve traction.
The new TL comes with bigger brakes than the model it replaces. Cooling ducts on the all-wheel drive model improve hot weather performance. Braking on the test car is firm and linear.
Although I like cruising around town with the windows open, I keep them shut on the highway which seems to be in a perpetual state of construction. The car’s acoustic glass and enhanced aerodynamics eliminate outside noise, except for pleasing exhaust rumbles at high rpms.
About ten miles of the highway between Phoenix and Tucson is stripped for repaving. The TL’s steering makes it easy to stay in narrow lanes with uneven road surfaces.
Tinted side mirrors reduce glare: a common problem in the bright Arizona sun. Visibility is good all the way around the car. The rear backup camera helps the driver to parallel park, or back out of a vertical spot on a busy street. A grid superimposed over the image tells the driver how many meters the back of the car is from the nearest obstacle.
At night, the headlamps provide a long beam of light that makes it easy to see on poorly-lit roads. Because of the telescopes in the area, the city of Tucson has made a conscious effort to minimize light pollution. I had no problems seeing the road, even in areas where there were few if any streetlights.
I’m not a huge fan of onboard navigation systems because of their cost, but Honda makes good ones. They calculate and recalculate routes fast, and they’re very easy to read. The navigation system on the TL has the advantage of rerouting drivers around construction areas and traffic jams.
The weather maps not only show current conditions; they give 15-minute alerts for storms approaching the area. That would be a handy feature in these parts come the summer monsoon season.
Excellent highway fuel economy
Engineers increased the size of the fuel tank on the new TL to improve its range. While the EPA fuel economy statistics for city driving aren’t spectacular, I was impressed by the car’s highway mileage. I averaged considerably more than the 25 mile-per-gallon estimate. My round trip of 250 miles included 30 miles of city driving, and used about 5 gallons of gasoline.
Golf bag friendly
Luxury car manufacturers like to measure trunk space in terms of golf bags. The new TL, I’m told, holds four. Not being a golfer, I’ll have to take the PR folks on their word. I can say that the trunk is big enough for two people’s luggage. The TL is not a practical choice for cyclists who want to carry their bikes inside the vehicle. Acura’s sport-utility vehicles would be better suited for that.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, four-channel antilock brakes, stability control and active front head restraints.
Acura builds the TL at its assembly plant in Marysville, Ohio
Likes: A sport sedan with a spacious comfortable interior, exceptional ride and handling.
Dislikes: High-compression engine requires the use of premium fuel.
Model: TL SH-AWD TECH
Base price: $42,995
As tested: $42,995
Horsepower: 305 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 273 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: No
Fuel economy: 17/25 mpg city/highway
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