By Mark Elias
Monday, Mar 14th, 2011 @ 12:00 pm
 
"Taking performance to the next level." With that catch phrase, Acura officials introduced the newly refreshed and restyled 2012 Acura TL performance luxury sedan. Available now, it reloads the TL with more performance, technology and economy.

According to Acur's Jeff Conrad, the TL is slotted as the brand's highest volume car for luxury and performance. Designed in California and engineered and built in Ohio, "it takes the best of the old one and carefully improves on that," said Conrad. The TL is built for North American, Mexican and Chinese markets only, meaning it doesn't fit with parent company Honda's global strategies.

The Acura brand is celebrating its 25th anniversary in the United States as a stand-alone brand. In 2010, the brand's sales were up 27% over the previous model year.

For the cross-shopping set, customers will most likely compare the TL to Infiniti's G37 sedan, the BMW 3-series, the Lexus IS and the Audi A4. Secondary competitors might include the BMW 5-Series, the Mercedes-Benz E350, the Lexus GS and the Audi A6, as base models, but they quickly price themselves away from the TL once comparably equipped.

What's new?
What's most quickly apparent is the tidying up of the front-end. The can opener-like proboscis remains, but it appears as though it has undergone some rhinoplasty of sorts. The large expanse of brushed metal has been narrowed down to a more right-sized version, which does not scream out "look at me, look at me!" the way the old one did. The result is a wider appearance that cuts down on the bulkiness. Updated headlight surrounds feature a grayed-out look that makes the styling look more contemporary than before.

Other nips and tucks have been performed to the fog lamps and turn signals, while the overall overhang of the front end has been reduced.

A new sequential Sport-Shift six-speed automatic transmission comes with every automatic-equipped TL. A six speed manual transmission is also available, but Acura officials concede that the take rate for the do-it-yourself unit will be about 3 percent. We weep for enthusiasts.

Much of the design of the new TL will look familiar. Creased bulges over the front wheel wells have become a sort of trademark for the TL. So too, the swept-back roofline. The tightened-up rear-end features a smaller looking spoiler and taillamp housings that look similar to those found on a Mazda Mazda6. Overall we like the appearance of this 2012 Acura TL, but think a reduction in the front fender bulges could only add a new sense of sleekness to the overall design of the body.

In the cockpit
The interior of the TL has undergone minor changes since the last refresh, but that's not to say it was dated. In actuality, the interior features a handsome play on driver/passenger zones, which allow each their own personal space. On the business side of the equation, a two-gauge binnacle houses the tachometer and speedometer as well as minor fuel and temperature gauges. A driver information screen resides between the two main gauges and changes between the tire pressure monitoring system, fuel economy, mileage, and trip odometer, as needed. A leather-wrapped three spoke steering wheel with redundant controls and paddle shift levers allow for easy input without removing your hands from the wheel.

The perforated leather seats offered us great support while cruising along twisty roads in the Texas Hill Country outside of Austin. Our test vehicle featured available ventilated and heated front seats, which kept us from sticking to the black leather that covered our sport buckets. Sure, the seats are conservative in design with a minimal amount of adjustments but they offer great support, and still allowed us to arrive at our destinations without feeling beat up by the car.

The interior has undergone a bout with the body sealing engineers, whose work has resulted in a 2.7 dB reduction in cabin noise. This in the end is all the better to hear the 440-watt audio system. Refinements include Bluetooth streaming audio, dial-by-number, dial-by-voice tags, and faster USB connectivity. An available technology package offers the Acura navigation system with voice recognition, and AcuraLink real-time traffic with traffic rerouting and weather along with the 440-watt premium sound system. Curiously, there is no available OnStar-like system to help with turn-by-turn navigation or vehicle lockouts.

In the engine room
The 2012 TL is available with two engines and two drivetrains. The front wheel drive model is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with VTEC variable valve timing, which is unchanged from last year's model. It produces 280 horsepower, and 254 lb-ft. of torque. The SH-AWD version is equipped with a 3.7-liter VTEC V-6 that makes 305 horsepower and 273 lb-ft. of torque. As previously mentioned, both engines are available with either the six-speed manual or six-speed automatic transmissions. Both are also equipped with external transmission coolers.

A multi-clutch torque converter promotes more efficient driving, which in turn increases fuel economy. As a result, the TL now sees 20 city/29 highway on the mpg scale, which is a two-mile gain over city, and three-mpg gain over the highway mileage of the 2011 FWD model. The SH-AWD model shows a one-mpg increase to 18 city/26 highway.

Driving along the hills give us plenty of time and roads to demonstrate features like the double-kick-down from fifth to third gear which comes in handy while exiting slow turns. The Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive equips the TL with variable torque distribution which is a fancy-schmancy way of saying torque vectoring, which itself means power is sent to the wheels that need it during a turn or other maneuver. It felt as though the TL kept on wanting to grip through the turn and was almost egging us on to apply more power in a way that sounds like the car was asking us, "is that all you've got?"

The front drive version was equally adept. It's just that the SH-AWD version is mo-better.

Leftlane's bottom line
Acur's designs have never been about the motoring passion that other brands exhibit. But if technology and bulletproof engineering are some of the attributes you desire, the Acura TL should definitely be on your short list of contenders.

The 2012 model shows Acura's willingness to continuously improve its products even only part of the way through life cycles.

2012 Acura TL base price range, $35,605 to $45,085.

Words and photos by Mark Elias.