Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
The TL’s driver-focused interior features quality materials with many soft-touch surfaces and sturdy plastics. The center stack is thoughtfully angled toward the passengers, making every control easy to reach. A tilt/telescoping steering wheel and plenty of seat adjustments allow all kinds of drivers to tailor a comfortable driving position. Front head and leg room are plentiful, and the seats keep occupants from sliding around in turns, especially those in the SH-AWD model, which have more bolstering.
The rear seat has decent room, too, but tall passengers may want for head room. To maintain structural rigidity, Acura opted against a split-folding rear seat. Instead, there is a fold-down armrest with two cupholders and a center passthrough. The passthrough lets you carry skis, but some buyers may be turned off because it doesn’t offer the cargo flexibility of a folding rear seat.
Buyers who are afraid of technology may dislike some of the TL’s controls. At the top of the center stack is a black and white Multi-Information Display screen that can wash out in strong sunlight. It is controlled by an interface dial located below it. When the Technology Package is chosen, the display is replaced by a high-resolution VGA screen that is easy to see in any light. It is also controlled by an interface knob, but it adds more functions, controlling the navigation system and various audio, climate, and trip settings. The system is easier to use than those from BMW and Audi, but it can still complicate some simple tasks.
The navigation system can provide real-time traffic updates and suggest alternate routes. Added this year is XM NavWeather, which shows real-time weather information for 21 metropolitan areas, forecasts, severe weather alerts, and Doppler-style radar maps.
All TLs come with iPod connectivity, which is less distracting than looking down at a small iPod screen while driving. Music on a thumb drive can also be played through a standard USB interface, but music can only be loaded to the standard 12.7-gigabyte hard drive from CDs.
The audio system offered with the Technology Package can play DVD Audio discs through six discreet channels. It requires its own software, meaning audiophiles will want to buy their own DVD Audio discs, but it sounds like your favorite band is riding along in the car.
Both TL models have power in abundance. The base engine is a 280-hp 3.5-liter V6, up from 258 horsepower in the base 2008 TL. It has Acura’s VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) for the intake valves. The TL SH-AWD is powered by a 305-hp 3.7-liter V6 that is the most powerful Acura engine ever. The 3.7 adds VTEC for the exhaust valves, and it also comes with lower gear ratios for a sportier driving experience. Both engines are mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with a manual shiftgate and standard steering wheel shift paddles. Acura quotes fuel economy figures of 18 mpg in the city and 26 on the highway for the 3.5 and 17/24 for the 3.7.
While the SH-AWD has more power, it also has more weight, so it is only slightly quicker than the base TL. Acura won’t quote 0-60 mph times, but I expect both models are at 6.0 seconds or slightly below. The 3.7’s gearing may make it about a tenth or two quicker than the 3.5.
On the road, both models will get you get out in front of traffic easily and provide confident passing bunch at mid-range and highway speeds. Power comes on smooth and easily, and the steering wheel paddles are easy to use if you want to do the shifting. No manual transmission is available yet, but a six-speed manual is scheduled for 2010.
The 2009 TL also has larger brakes than the last model, with larger two-piston calipers (versus 1-piston for the 2008 model). While the 2008 TL Type S had Brembos, the new larger brakes may actually be better – and cheaper to replace. I found the brakes were easy to modulate and provided confident stopping power.
The 2009 Acura TL is amazingly nimble for such a large car. Improvements include a stronger body structure with better rigidity, a 13 mm lower center of gravity, and a new suspension. The base model, which comes with 17-inch tires, is a capable front-drive sport sedan, reacting well to quick changes of direction and driving smaller than its size. The new SH-AWD model adds Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system for the first time. Under normal conditions, SH-AWD sends 90 percent of the torque to the front wheels. Accelerate hard or drive on a slippery surface and SH-AWD can send up to 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels. Plus, the rear differential can apportion the power between the rear wheels. This allows the TL to send 100 percent of the power to the outside rear wheel in a curve, which helps rotate the car through the turn.
The SH-AWD model comes with standard 18-inch wheels and optional 19s. Stiffer shocks and different bushings offset the 250 pounds of extra weight. AWD eliminates any hint of torque steer and lets the TL take on more-predictable rear-wheel-drive handling characteristics. The SH-AWD model also has more grip in fast sweeping turns thanks to wider tires. Plus, AWD is the best choice for northern climates.
All those handling improvements haven’t come at the expense of ride quality. Compared to the last model, the new TL is more forgiving over bumps, no matter what size tires you pick. Bumps and ruts rarely affect passengers, there is no float or wallow, and bouncing motions are kept to a minimum.
Owners of previous TLs will immediately notice a difference in the way the new car steers. Acura has switched to electric instead of hydraulic power steering. The new system gives the TL a much lighter steering feel, which really helps at low speeds. It is also direct and fairly quick. While I generally like the new steering, I’d like it a little firmer, especially at highway speeds.
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