- The Washington Times - Friday, September 26, 2008

Acura’s new TL is guilty of encroachment.

But there won’t be a penalty because it’s encroaching on a member of its own team. So it could be a good or bad thing, depending.

The TL is Acura’s mid-size luxury sports sedan and its most important car. In the words of Dan Bonawitz, Acura’s vice president for corporate planning and logistics, “No car has played a bigger role in shaping the Acura brand than the TL.”

For 2009, the TL gets an extensive re-design, a new and more powerful engine and, for the first time, all-wheel drive.

It’s not just any all-wheel drive. It’s Acura’s so-called super handling all-wheel drive, or SH-AWD, first introduced on the company’s flagship car, the RL.

The TL’s version differs slightly from the system on the RL, but the effect is the same. In ordinary driving, the SH-AWD sends 90 percent of the power to the front wheels and 10 percent to the rear wheels. But as conditions change it automatically sends as much as 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels.

Superb handling also means the system can shift the power side to side as well as front to rear. Fully 100 percent of the power can go to one side or the other to help the TL maintain control on tight turns.

So the TL is encroaching on an Acura automobile territory that, until now, was the exclusive domain of the RL, which at the top of the line has price tags that range from more than $47,000 to more than $54,000. The new TL, on the other hand, sells for $35,715 to $43,995.

The two cars are about the same size, with similar performance and fuel economy. So the big encroachment question is whether the new TL will siphon sales from the RL. Acura officials say nay, arguing that the RL has a lot of classy ambiance and features that set it apart. Still, even without the new TL competition, RL sales have been underwhelming at 6,262 in 2007.

Regardless, there’s no denying that the new TL has achieved a cachet with its SH-AWD model. It’s there because, in surveying customer preferences, Acura researchers found that although luxury brand sales totaled about 18 percent of all passenger cars, they accounted for 61 percent of cars with all-wheel drive.Moreover, with the rise in gasoline prices, even luxury buyers are trending away from V8 engines and toward V6 engines. Acura does not offer a V8, either in the RL or the TL.

There are two 2009 models: the TL, with front-wheel drive and a 280-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine, and the TL SH-AWD, with the new 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V6 and all-wheel drive. The latter replaces the 2008 Type S.

Both are more powerful than their predecessors. The 2008 TL had a 258-horsepower, 3.2-liter V6 and the 2008 Type S had a 286-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6. The latter was available with a six-speed manual gearbox, as well as the five-speed automatic. The manual has been dropped for 2009, though Acura officials say it will return.

The 2009 TL continues with the five-speed automatic, although with steering-wheel mounted paddle shifters for the manual-shift mode. It is well-matched to the power characteristics of both engines, but may suffer from a perception problem with some buyers because competing cars have six- and seven-speed automatics.

Acura also has succumbed to the current fad of pushbutton starting linked to sensor-operated remote locking, though it’s an option. TL models without the technology package still use the trusty ignition key.

Styling changes on the 2009 TL are both subtle and slick. It bears a strong resemblance to its predecessor, and will not be mistaken for anything other than a TL. But the designers have reshaped the lines to give them a mercury-like flow and infused the TL with a more substantial grille that is anything but humble.

Both models exhibit handling and performance characteristics that have attracted a steady stream of customers. The ride is firm but not choppy, and the TL negotiates curving roads with aplomb. With the SH-AWD and its more powerful engine, the performance clicks up a notch to an even higher level. This is a car that easily competes with the mid-size best from Europe and Japan.

The base TL, with a starting price tag of $35,715, comes with the expected luxury equipment: stability and traction control, antilock brakes, brake assist, side air bags and side-curtain air bags, automatic climate control, leather upholstery, motorized glass sunroof, Bluetooth communications, and an audio system with XM satellite radio and connections for iPods and other devices.

The SH-AWD model, which has a base price of $39,265, adds the more powerful engine, all-wheel drive, and larger wheels and performance tires.

Both models are available with the $3,730 technology package, which adds a navigation system, real-time traffic and weather information, a DVD-based sound system designed by famed audio artist Elliott Scheiner, a hard-disc drive that can hold 2,500 songs, the pushbutton starting system and upgraded leather upholstery.

The SH-AWD model also is available with 19-inch wheels with high-performance tires.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide