Such an event took place when I went to pick up a TL SH-AWD from Acura. I went through my usual ritual of getting to know a new car, in this case a shiny blue TL, which for me, is kind of like crossing a room to talk to a member of the fairer sex. You don’t quite know the outcome but you are certainly hoping for the best. After getting in and only a couple of miles down the road, I couldn’t help but notice for a car that has SUPER HANDLING ALL WHEEL DRIVE in the title, it sure drove just like a front wheel drive car. I figured it was all part of the deal – after all, it is based on a front drive car. But then I got it back to the office and the similarity to front drive bothered me so much I got underneath the car to see what the all wheel drive system looked like and got a bit of a surprise. Either Acura had figured out a way to telepathically transmit the power from the engine to the rear wheels or this was indeed a front wheel drive car. It was after a quick call to the Acura’s fleet people that I confirmed that I was given the wrong car. It is about now that I was thinking this is one of those mishaps that would be frustrating. That was until I was belted in behind the wheel of the real All Wheel Drive Acura TL. Simply put, the difference was night and day. I don’t really know how to put the feeling into words other than it simply has so much more confidence on the road. You feel more connected. Having the benefit of driving the two cars literally back to back made me realize one of the big benefits of the SH-AWD system: Little to no torque steer. A major accomplishment when considering this car has 305 hp to run through the front wheels most of the time. While the feeling is one of more confidence, there is a lot of pageantry by way of a lot of understeer and tire squealing when pushed to its limits.
The fact of the matter is this. A BMW 3 series the TL is not. But according to the little AWD display smack dab in the center of the instrument panel, it really is not trying to be. Acura has gone to great lengths to defy the rules of physics and geometry to get the basic front drive architecture to do what it does in this car. So much so that the car actually tells you how hard it is working for you. When you are driving down a straight road at normal speeds, the car tells you ‘no sweat, we are going to cruise around in front drive mode’, according to the pictograph of your little car with the power focused on the front. However, when you decide to take your skirt off and push a bit in corners, the pictograph shows a completely different story. Power is actually going to the rear of the car. In this case, mainly the outside rear wheel. The display even shows what percentage of power is going to the rear wheels. The car is highly capable but what is really missing here is the sharpness you get from a rear drive car. It is through this little display that you develop a newfound respect for what Acura has done here and you begin to think. ‘What could they do if they built a proper, purpose built rear drive car’?
And really it is not just the location of the drive wheels; it is the suspension as well. Once again, highly capable but when pushed to its limits you can’t help but notice it is a bit too softly sprung for heavy duty cornering.
But that is not its mission. This is a high technology sedan first that happens to handle well. I was actually kind of surprised there were not multiple modes for the suspension that are configured by the driver. Similar systems work wonders in cars like the Audi A5 and could open up new handling frontiers for the TL.
Where the TL stands out in its class is build quality. I have said it before and I will say it again, Honda screws together a damn good car. And at the end of the day, an Acura is an even better Honda. In this case there are details that really set this car apart from its competition.
NONE of its competitors can match the quality of materials and details inside the car. The plastics are soft to the touch but more importantly; they have an elegant feel to them. I know, elegant and plastic don’t normally go together but I have found a rare exception. The details even extend to contrasting stitching on the seats, steering wheel, shifter and hand brake. Even the backs of the front seats are something to behold. Probably not real leather on the backs of the seats but I would venture to say only the finest naugas gave their lives to grace the knees of TL back seat passengers. It doesn’t stop there, the best way to describe it is this: Other manufacturers should buy a TL and use it as comparison in this department.
I will say the buttons on the dash are small to the point of being a bit fussy. Moving outside, the gladiator grille treatment is not a face I would personally cross the room to talk to.