First, the good news about the 2012 Acura TL: the controversial chrome beak overlooking the front grille has been dealt with. It’s still there, but is less obtrusive than before and nowhere near as garish.
It’s doubtful any other manufacturer has caused as much of a stir with a grille re-do as Acura when it adopted this controversial corporate front grille treatment a few years ago. You can actually chart the company’s decline in sales from that fateful moment and even top-level executives at Honda Canada admit – off the record – that it hasn’t exactly been a rip-roaring success.
Pity, because the TL has plenty going for it otherwise. It’s fairly priced, light on its feet, comfortable and a pleasure to drive. The interior switchgear is still a little more complex and cryptic than I’d prefer, but reasonably easy to understand, once you sit down and spend some time figuring things out.
Power for the 2012 iteration of the TL is amply provided by a either a 3.5-litre or 3.7-litre V-6 that delivers 280 and 305 horsepower respectively, with a six-speed automatic transmission or six-speed manual, depending upon the model. The smaller V-6 comes with the non-SH-AWD models, while the larger is standard issue with this all-wheel-drive system. The manual gearbox is likewise offered only with SH-AWD versions.
A word about SH-AWD. Basically, this setup allows the rear wheels to “catch up” with the front driving wheels under certain driving conditions. Definitely not intended for off-road duty, SH-AWD is a handling aid and lets the rear wheels change their camber and “steer” the back of the car, to some extent. Theoretically, this gives the TL SH-AWD the edge through the twisties and has been used by Acura in various models for a few years now – the RDX, for one. It’s also a $4,000 option, adds 120 kilograms to the car’s weight, and is aimed more at enthusiasts than mainstream upscale customers. It’s nice to have, certainly, but virtually undetectable and really, only practical when you start to climb in speed and fling the car through the corners. Most people won’t even know it’s there.
And the TL is a nice package with or without this extra. The drivetrain is about as refined and linear as you can get in this price range, and the larger V-6, which is what I drove this time around, has more than enough snap and reserve power. No complaints here regarding the engine and transmission. That said, it requires premium gas.
Although the interior controls have been dumbed-down a little, the top-of-the-range Elite model still has all the bells and whistles and, inside, you’re met with a barrage of knobs and buttons. I found the navi system to be useable, for a change and, for once, it accepted my destination input when two letters were repeated (try entering Kananaskis or Kanaka on your navi system keyboard some time – see what happens).
This is one reason I don’t care for navi systems; that, plus the fact that they add to the cost of the car and take your attention away from the job at hand, which is driving the vehicle. If I need to find some place, I can pull over, stop the car, unfold a map and take it from there.
My TL also had the automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. I like this setup and used the paddles most of the time, but the manual gearbox version of this car, which I’ve also spent time in, is equally entertaining to drive.
One relatively minor, but potentially troublesome note. My car had an all-black leather interior, and any kind of sunshine resulted in an amplified greenhouse effect, which meant the a/c had to be switched on to keep things from getting uncomfortable. Acura isn’t the only company guilty of this and it’s getting harder to find an upscale car with decent flow-through ventilation that doesn’t involve the air conditioner.
The best fresh air system ever devised, in my opinion, came with GM products back in the 1950s and 1960s; a simple kick-panel fresh air port that could be opened or closed by pulling on a knob. It probably didn’t do much for aerodynamics or fuel economy, but it worked like a charm, even on the hottest days.
But I digress. Elsewhere, the TL SH-AWD Elite has a few extras that separate it from the rest of the herd: ventilated front seats (nice, considering the ambient heat temperature during warm weather), a blind-spot warning system (again, a good thing), 19-inch alloy wheels and larger P245/40R19 tires, and the usual roster of luxury and convenience goodies (climate control, Bluetooth, heated seats, power remote door locks, etc.), all of which bump the price tag up to just less than 50 large before taxes and extras.
Tech specs: 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite
Type: Five-passenger mid-size luxury sedan
Base Price: $48,990; as tested: $50,885
Engine: 3.7-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 305 hp/273 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/7.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Lincoln MKS, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Infiniti G37, Volvo S60, Toyota Avalon, Lexus ES, Hyundai Genesis