Acura TL SH-AWD
Text and Photography by Sammy Chan
When AJAC, the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada, released the list of vehicles qualified for 2012 Canadian Car of the Year Awards CCOTY sometime around the end of summer last year, I was surprised to see the 2012 Acura TL on the list. After all, this third generation of TL was introduced by Acura only about two and a half years ago. In terms of design, performance and technology, it was also a big leap ahead of the model it replaced. However, sales of the TL had dropped markedly from its peak of 6000 units in 2004-2005 to less than 3000 units last year. In an effort to restore former glory and to regain market share, Acura has instilled a lot of changes and revisions, albeit not drastic ones, to the 2012 TL line-up.
I am (present tense) also surprised that Acura entered its 2012 TL, in particular, the TL SH-AWD in the Luxury Car category of CCOTY. Not that the TL is not luxury enough, far from it, it is more luxurious than most of its competitors in that category. It just seemed more interested in carving corners than in cushioning occupants and in my view more appropriate to compete in the under $50K Sports-Performance category. The Acura TL SH-AWD would have easily outclassed the Buick regal GS, Dodge Charger SRT8, Honda Civic Si Coupe, Hyundai Veloster, Kia Optima SX, Mercedes-Benz C-Class coupe and the Volkswagen Jetta GLI if it was to go that route.
Actually, the most noticeable difference between the 2012 and the 2011 models is the price. Instead of inflating prices like Mercedes-Benz do with their products, Acura went the consumers way and lowered the 2012 pricing to figures even bettering its first model year of 2009. At that time, the 2009 TL started at $39,990 for the front-wheel-drive model, and $44,490 for the all-wheel-drive TL SH-AWD, now these two are priced at $39,490 and $43,490 respectively.
Styling is just as aggressive as well, but I am referring to how the 2009 model was when compared to the old. Though not a lot of people are warm to the “armour and shield” bold styling of the new TL, it does announce its presence and stance very loud and clear. In fact, it is probably the loudness of the design that Acura has now taken a sculpturing tool to make the 2012 model appear warmer and “friendlier”. Front fascia has been totally revised giving the car a more integrated and purposeful appearance. The front bumper has been made more aerodynamic, fog and turn-signal lights were lowered to create a mature sportier look. Changes to the rear include a whole new bumper with integrated reflectors, more upscale taillights, trunk-lid trim and exhaust outlets.
For 2012 model year, Acura continued to offer a “Technology” and an “ELITE” package with the latter only available to the TL SH-AWD trim. My test car is loaded with these two packages and as such carries a higher price tag of $48,990.
Two different powertrains remain in the 2012 line-up- a 3.5 litre V6 powering the TL and TL Tech and the stronger 3.7 litre V6 doing duty on all SH-AWD models. The base engine is already a power-horse on its own capable of delivering a maximum horsepower of 280 hp and at 5000 rpm a maximum torque of 254 lb-ft. My test car is equipped with the bigger engine with the increased displacement contributing to a horsepower gain of 25 and torque gain of 19 lb-ft resulting in 305 hp and 273 lb-ft respectively. Both engines were given a host of friction-reducing technologies to improve combustion efficiency and hence fuel consumption. But the most significant mechanical improvement seen in the 2012 TL has to be the all-new Sequential SportShift 6-speed automatic transmission that's fitted to all TL models.
Compared to the previous 5-speed box, overall performance and fuel economy have much improved with the new 6-speed transmission. Gear ratios are wide spread providing strong acceleration in low gears and relaxed highway cruising in higher gears. In fact the transmission is so smooth, responsive and efficient in its operation that I rarely used the F1-style steering wheel mounted shift paddles during a full week of testing. But if self-shifting is what you can't live without, I'm pleased to tell you Acura continues to offer the 6-speed manual transmission free of charge but is only applicable on SH-AWD models. Hats off to Acura for being persistent with this belief.
Pared with the new transmission, non SH-AWD model is rated 10.4 l/100 km city and 6.8 l/100 km highway according to EnerGuide of Government of Canada, bettering the previous year by 1.2 and 0.7 l/100 km respectively. Figures for SH-AWD models are 11.4 and 7.6 for city and highway, a sizeable drop from ratings of 12.3 and 8.1 of the 2011 model.
Ever since the introduction of SH-AWD, handling of the TL has gone from being mid-pack among its class to one that excels at the top. Besides governing the right amount of power between the front and rear wheels, the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system also actively alters the amount of power applied to the right or left rear wheel during cornering. The "yaw moment" it creates helps the car to turn-in quicker and also reduce the chance of understeer. Body roll around corners is minimal and there's an abundance of lateral grip from the Bridgestone Blizzak LM 60 snow tires equipped on the test car.
Inside the cabin, designers have revised a number of interior appointments and added a host of technology upgrades. Changes have been made to the instrument cluster, surface finishes for many interior appointments and best of all, the availability of "cooled" front seats that will save a lot of bums come the hot summer months.
The Acura TL will remain one of the best value and sought-after vehicle in the luxury mid-size sedan segment.