Was it my consummate driving skill, or the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system of Acura's 2012 TL that was the critical element in maintaining the just-about-perfect four-wheel-drift arcing through the neat double-apex corner on a rain-slick Caroline Motorsports Park track?
Well, I like to think I was helping, but Acura's SH-AWD system is just so wonderfully adept at unobtrusively enhancing your abilities (or saving your bacon) that it was hard to tell. And I needed enhanced skills as I was chasing - okay following - former Indy racing star Canadian Scott Goodyear at the time and later his 1992 Indy 500 nemesis Al Unser Jr., who beat him by less than an eye-blink that year.
What was abundantly clear, after driving North Carolina highways and back roads and time on the track, was that this TL is a better-looking and basically better all-round car.
It's an unfortunate foible of human nature that the face we show the world is often what we're judged by and any innate goodness masked by a visage deemed less than appealing often goes unrewarded.
Just ask Acura, which since 2009 has been trying to sell a fourth-generation TL that automobiling's style arbiters - that would be the auto journalist cadre - roundly condemned from first curled-lip glance as having a "face" only its designers, and apparently the senior executives who signed off on it, could love. The fact potential customers weren't keen on it, didn't help either.
The styling feature found so upsetting was the pronounced and pointy proboscis known as the "Power Plenum" grille, but the TL's flat-slabbed butt-end wasn't perceived as a thing of beauty, either.
Both have been deftly redefined by the styling equivalent of the cosmetic surgeon's knife as part of a TL rejuvenation for 2012 that includes mechanical, interior and equipment upgrades. All part of a sophistication- and image-polishing package designed to reverse a market slide even the TL's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive couldn't correct and return it to its "rightful place" as segment volume leader.
Acura, the first Japanese luxury brand, is marking its 25th anniversary this year with even-sharper refocusing on its core product range, and making big investments in new models to back this up. It had applied ABS-level panic braking to ambitions to move into the premium luxury market following the economic car-crash of 2008.
This should prove fortuitous, according to Acura executive vice-president Jerry Chenkin, who says that while the luxury market is growing he foresees buyers increasingly seeking value more than badge-focused ostentation.
This mid-cycle refresh of the TL, which last year accounted for almost 17 per cent of the 17,339 Acuras sold in Canada, plays to that trend and the brand plans to boost TL sales from 2,895 last year to 4,000 units.
The 2012 TLs - in showrooms now - are available in front-drive form starting at $39,490 (matching 2011 prices) with a 3.5-litre V-6. The 3.7-litre, V-6-powered SH-AWD models are priced from $43,490, stepping up to $46,990 for the Tech and $48,990 for the Elite.
There are mainly only minor details changed inside, tiddly touches to trim garnishes and control knobs, etc., but the entertainment and Bluetooth systems have been upgraded, as has voice recognition, the info screen is brighter, ventilated seats that keep you cool are available, as is a blind spot monitoring system and cabin noise levels have been cut 2.7 decibels.
The engines remain essentially the same, a 3.5-litre V-6 rated at 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque and a 3.7 litre V-6 that makes 305 hp and 273 lb-ft. A new cold-air system, internal friction reductions and other arcane touches make both more efficient, but the big news is the new six-speed automatic (replacing a five-speed) for both engines. A six-speed manual is still available.
The automatic improves performance and drivability and, along with improved aerodynamics and a 40-kilogram weight reduction, significantly boosts fuel economy for both models - by more than 2 litres/100 km in city and highway driving. The 3.7-litre with automatic, for example, is now rated at 11.4 city and 7.6 highway compared with 12.3 city/8.1 highway for the 2011 versions.
Changes were also made to the dampers (shocks) with new valving designed to reduce harshness and better balance the compromise between handling and ride.
Not a major overhaul, but worthwhile improvements to an already very good car.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWS Tech
Type: Sports sedan
Base Price: $43,490; as tested, $46,990
Engine: 3.7-litre, DOHC, V-6
Horsepower/torque: 305 hp/273 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.4 city/ 7.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi A4 Quattro, BMW 328i Xdrive, Cadillac CTS AWD, Lexus IS350 AWD, Mercedes-Benz C350 4Matic, Saab 9-5 AWD
Correction: The 3.7-litre engine with automatic transmission in the current 2011 Acura TL is rated at 12.3 litres/100 km city and 8.1 highway. Incorrect information supplied by the company appeared in an earlier online version, overstating the improvement in fuel economy the 2012 model achieves.