Staying a step or two ahead of the competition can be a risky move, especially if you manufacture cars for a living. Sign off on a decidedly different design and the distance between success and failure can be just a nip, tuck, or crease away.
Take the TL, for example. Acura’s sporty sedan has always ranked high with buyers for its combination of spaciousness, styling and performance, all at an attractive price point. However, the car’s 2009-model-year makeover for the upscale-Honda-division’s top-selling sedan garnered less-than-favorable reviews, particularly for the oddly shaped shield-like grille and a bumper that resembled a ship’s prow.
So, for the 2012 model year, the stylists have taken a scalpel to that bit of frontal daring-do and completed numerous other modifications throughout the vehicle.
The new nose is a case of less is more. It’s undeniably more attractive and aerodynamic (by 5.4 percent, claims Acura) and seems more in sync with the rest of the sheetmetal. The graceful new grille has shed its tacked-on look and the twin chrome-ringed air intakes containing auxiliary fog and turn-signal lights are set beneath a more aerodynamic bumper. In total, the surgical procedure was subtle, but significant enough to bring the TL back into the mainstream.
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In behind, there’s a new bumper with built-in reflectors along with fresh taillights, trunk-lid trim and exhaust outlets.
The rest of the TL’s physical presence remains pretty much static, save for a new selection of standard and optional multi-spoke wheels.
Further refinements can be found inside the passenger area with upgraded trim, available ventilated front seats and an optional voice-recognition sound system that can store up to 3,500 songs on a 15-gigabyte hard drive. As well, the cabin has been made quieter, thanks to improved door seals and added insulation.
Continuing on is the base 280-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 (which sports new friction-reducing pistons for 2012) and the optional 305-horsepower 3.7-liter V6.
However, Acura has swapped out the previous standard five-speed automatic transmission for a six-speed. The name of the game here is fuel economy and Acura reports that the 3.5 is now rated at 20 mpg in the city and 29 on the highway, up from 18 and 26, respectively, which is more than 10 percent.
Meanwhile, the 3.7-liter V8 that’s mandatory with the all-wheel-drive models has improved its city/highway numbers by one mile per gallon (now 18/26).
A six-speed manual gearbox-is offered exclusively with the 3.7, but its 17/25 mpg rating makes it the least efficient of the group, although by far the most fun to drive.
As usual, the TL, even in base form, arrives as a well-turned-out vehicle, but there are a number of significant extra-cost features on the menu. The Technology Package includes a navigation system with traffic and weather updates, 440-watt ELS-brand sound system, premium leather-covered seats and keyless push-button start. In addition, a new Advance Package adds ventilated front seats, upgraded wheels and a Blind Spot Information system that advises the driver when another vehicle is closing in on the TL from either side.
On the road, the TL, which starts at about $36,500 including destination charges, rides and drives pretty much like the previous edition and exhibits the same excellent road manners and interior refinement that has made it such a popular choice over the years. Now with a host of subtle, but significant, improvements in design and content, the TL will no doubt have broader appeal.