Full Test: 2004 Acura TL

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Jan 21, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    More Than Pulling its Weight

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    By John DiPietro
    Date posted: 01-20-2004

    When it comes to sport sedans, for all-out handling, purists tend to prefer rear-wheel drive to front. The chief reasons are a better weight balance between the front and rear wheels (which gives the car a more neutral attitude when being pushed) and less work for the front wheels, (which are already charged with the tasks of steering and providing around 70 percent of the braking). Also, less weight on the nose means less understeer, which means that the car turns more eagerly into a turn. And when accelerating out of said turn, a powerful front-driver may exhibit torque steer (the tendency to pull to one side under hard acceleration). Lastly, and of admittedly little value in the real world, a rear-driver allows an expert driver to "hang the tail out" a bit when going 'round a corner, adding to the thrill of piloting a high-performance vehicle.

    Acura has been a proponent of front-wheel drive since the company's inception in 1986. All of its cars, save the exotic NSX sports car, have put the power to the pavement through the front wheels. This is not surprising when one considers that its parent company, Honda, has always preferred pulling, rather than pushing, its cars' weight around (with the exception of the S2000). Because a front-drive car has more weight over the drive wheels, it affords better traction on slippery roads. For this reason, front-wheel-drive cars grew extremely popular during the 1970s and 1980s in regions of the country where negotiating rain, snow, slush and ice-covered roads was part of life every winter and spring. Now, with the advent of traction control, rear-drive cars fitted with snow tires have become nearly as adept at traversing slick pavement. Still, traction control can only make the best of the available grip, and a front-drive car, with more weight over the drive wheels, will usually have greater potential grip than an equivalent rear-driver.

    Although the previous TL — particularly the higher-performance, 260-horse Type-S version — was a car that attempted to offer equal measures of sporty driving dynamics and luxury, many critics felt it just didn't offer enough sport. With the newest iteration, Acura engineers made a concerted effort to up the athletic ante. Their goal was to make the "standard" TL a better-performing car than last year's Type-S, and to that end the new car not only has more power, but firmer suspension settings and recalibrated steering.

    In TL tradition, the 2004 model comes loaded, even more so than before. Beyond including standard luxury features such as leather seating, a 10-way power driver seat, a power moonroof and heated front seats, the new TL has bi-xenon headlamps, XM Satellite Radio and an exclusive 5.1 DVD-Audio system that sends out the sound through six channels, as opposed to the typical two. Even Bluetooth (hands-free cell phone technology that allows you to use the TL's voice command system to operate your phone) is standard. To better illustrate the value quotient of the TL, consider this: to make a $45,000 base price BMW 530i equal in terms of features would require adding $5,000 in option packages to the Bimmer, putting its sticker $15,000 over the Acura's.

    All the state-of-the-art safety features are included as well, such as stability control, BrakeAssist and side curtain airbags. As of this writing, the TL had yet to be crash tested, though Acura is confident of top marks across the board.

    Unlike some carmakers that dazzle the potential buyer with numerous trim levels and option packages, Acura makes the purchase simple. One need only make three or four decisions (beyond color) when considering a new TL: whether to go with a five-speed automatic or six-speed manual transmission, whether to opt for the navigation system, whether (on manual-gearbox TLs) to spring for high-performance "summer tires" and, for ultraserious driving enthusiasts, whether to spring for the dealer-installed "A-Spec" package, which we detail later in this test. Our six-speed TL test car had both the nav system and the performance tires.

    Taking a closer look at the '04 TL, it's apparent that Acura is trying hard to have its own "face." The five-point grille design that the company has been using for years is heavily emphasized, maybe because a few other carmakers (such as Mazda) have adopted that look. In profile, the TL is most attractive, with a chiseled, BMW-ish crease running along the body and pronounced wheel arches that give this 3,500-pound sedan a taut, muscular persona. The side marker lights are cleverly incorporated into the body side character line, and the rear of the car features angular exhaust outlets that emphasize the power under the hood.

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    Inside the spacious cabin, high-quality fit and finish abound. Everything is tightly assembled and the various textures and materials are pleasing to the eye and fingertips alike. Indicative of the TL's sporting intentions is the hefty side bolstering on the front seats; lateral support even extends up to the shoulder area. None of our staff had any complaints about front-seat comfort, and the backseat offered plenty of legroom and an ideal seat back angle for a pair of adults. Although the rear seat doesn't fold down, there is a pass-through that will allow long items, such as skis, to be transported inside the car.

    Taking center stage, literally and figuratively, on our TL was the (mostly) user-friendly navigation system. With a big eight-inch screen, intuitive controls and more than seven million points of interest in its database, it took no time at all for us to indulge our penchant for the Olive Garden. But the system still had a few quirks; when we did a search earlier in the day for Quizno's, it pulled up branches that were a few thousand miles away, as opposed to just showing us the ones in close proximity. As a safety precaution, one can only operate the system when the car is stopped — a good idea generally, as we don't think a driver should be messing with a touchscreen keyboard while driving. But what if a passenger acting as co-pilot were available to run the nav system? On second thought, here in America, where "common" sense is actually uncommon, perhaps Acura thought it best to play it safe.

    The climate control is also simple to operate, with its various buttons arranged along the left side of the nav screen. There is a display at the top of the center stack (essentially at eye level) that shows climate and audio settings as well as the time. Seems like a good idea, right? But like the similar setup in the Mazda 6, it's a case of too much information for one to read at a glance. We'd suggest putting the clock elsewhere so that there is more space between the climate and audio readouts. Making this gripe almost a nonissue is the fact that the climate and audio functions (in greater detail, to boot) can be displayed in the nav screen. And we all felt that the actual performance of the audio system was incredible, as you'll discover in our stereo review.

    On paper, the TL's 3.2-liter V6 is very impressive: 11-to-1 compression ratio, variable valve timing and intake system, 270 horsepower and 238 pound-feet of torque. Compared to last year's standard TL, these are increases of 45 horsepower and 22 lb-ft. And its 10 horses and 6 lb-ft over last year's performance-oriented Type-S. And in practice, it works pretty darn well, too. The engine is a model of refinement; even when taken to redline there is no discernable increase in vibration, and the power is generous, fluid and linear…once you're moving, that is.

    Taking off from a stop was sometimes a challenge, even for our most seasoned car jockeys. In spite of the V6's generally muscle-bound nature, there's not much torque at low rpm, so when you pull away you have to give it more gas than you'd think, making for somewhat jerky starts until you acclimate. Once you're rolling, it moves out cleanly and the party really gets going when the tach needle swings past 2,500 rpm, as a wave of power sends the TL down the road in a hurry.

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    Gear changing is what we'd expect of an Acura (or Honda, for that matter) manual transmission, meaning smooth and precise, with a satisfying heft and "click-click" action from gear to gear. When put to the test at the track, the TL ran to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds and posted a sub-15-second (14.96) quarter-mile. Against EPA mileage ratings of 20 mpg city and 30 mpg highway, our team of leadfoots averaged 21 mpg in mixed driving.

    As the six-speed TL is fitted with Brembo brakes (with four-piston calipers) up front as standard issue, we expected our TL to stop as well as it goes. During everyday driving, the brakes, although squeaky at times, felt progressive and reassuringly strong. And at the track, a trio of stopping distances (from 60 mph) of less than 116 feet confirmed our initial positive impressions of the TL's binders.

    The TL comes with an independent, double-wishbone suspension all 'round, anti-roll bars fore and aft (with slightly thicker bars on manual-shift models) and four-channel Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA, a stability control system). The improved VSA has the ability to modulate the throttle and all four brakes (as opposed to last year's system that modulated the throttle and just the front brakes), making for smoother control when the system kicks in to help save the driver's butt. Five-spoke, 17-inch alloys are standard as well, and come wrapped in 235/45 all-season Bridgestone Turanzas. Our car had the optional "summer" tires, meaning high-performance rubber that's geared toward dry pavement use only. We found these Bridgestone Potenzas grippy and, combined with the solid chassis and precise steering, they allowed the TL to weave through the 600-foot slalom in a very quick 6.1 seconds — an average speed of 67.5 mph. This makes the TL one of the fastest cars we've ever taken through the cones; the fact that Acura can attain this with a front-drive platform makes this feat doubly impressive. Ride comfort is right there, too, firm and controlled.

    Should this not be enough performance, Acura offers TL zealots the dealer-installed A-Spec package. Priced at $5,200, plus installation (around $700), the A-Spec kit includes track-tuned shocks and springs, lightweight 18-inch alloy wheels shod with 235/40VR18 Yokohamas (that were designed specifically for the A-Spec), an aero kit that includes subtle side skirting and a choice of rear spoiler (either a small lip or a wing-style) and a special steering wheel. Automatic A-Spec cars also get high-performance brake pads to help make up for the fact that they don't get the Brembo front brakes like the six-speed TLs do (due to packaging constraints).

    In addition to our week with the standard TL, we also got in a few hours behind the wheel of an A-Spec, which included track time. In everyday driving, the A-Spec version rides more firmly than the standard TL, though it's certainly not harsh and feels a bit more buttoned down in the corners. But honestly, it's only when you really push it, like we were able to on the Streets of Willow racetrack in Rosamond, Calif., that the benefits of the A-Spec package are realized. Cornering is even flatter, and the car reacts more sharply to steering inputs. But like other TLs, when you really lay into it coming out of a corner the V6's brawny output makes itself known in the form of torque steer, as the limited-slip differential tries its best to manage the 270 horses let loose through the front wheels.

    In short, we think the standard TL will be more than enough for most folks, but applaud Acura for providing the option of a comprehensive performance upgrade that offers the benefit of matched components along with coverage under the TL's standard 4-year/50,000-mile warranty.

    In our last entry-level luxury/sport sedan comparison test, the previous-generation TL finished a commendable second, bested by the perennial benchmark, BMW's 3 Series. We compared the value-packed Acura to an Olympic decathlete — good at nearly everything, though maybe not the best at any one thing. The few shortcomings that the last TL did have were effectively addressed for 2004, as the new model offers higher-quality materials and more luxury features in the cabin, along with more performance (that includes the availability of a six-speed manual gearbox) in the chassis. With a price tag that virtually mirrors that of last year's Type-S, we don't see how Acura could miss with the superior 2004 TL.

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    Stereo Evaluation

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    You'd expect a sound system developed by a music engineer who's worked with the likes of Sting to sound awesome. It does.

    System Score: 9.0

    Components: The TL comes standard with a rather unconventional 225-watt audio system. The system includes an AM/FM/XM Satellite Radio tuner; an in-dash, six-disc CD changer; a cassette deck; and eight speakers, including a subwoofer behind the rear seat and a pair of tweeters mounted on the top corners of the dash. It also includes an industry first — DVD-Audio capability with six-channel sound. Developed by Panasonic in concert with Elliot Scheiner, a Grammy-winning music producer who has worked with Sting, Queen and the Eagles, this system draws upon DVD-A technology to deliver sound resolution said to be 500 times greater than that of a conventional CD system. Controls are tried and true: two large knobs on either end of the faceplate for volume and tuning, six medium-size dual-function buttons for radio station presets and tape deck/CD changer operation and smaller, round buttons for functions such as seek and scan.

    Performance: Acura offers the first true 5.1 surround sound system to be obtainable as factory equipment in a production vehicle. Though its 225 watts and eight speakers might sound ordinary by today's standards, the fact that it can play sound through six separate channels is not. Most "Premium" systems funnel the tunes through just two channels. With the TL's system, the sound is more lifelike, as instruments and vocals have more separation thanks to the six-channel capability.

    But in order to enjoy the new technology, you need to feed DVD-Audio discs into the in-dash changer.
    DVD-A discs can hold a lot more than a CD, allowing them to house the six-channel recordings that provide higher-resolution sound. When we popped in the DVD-A version of REM's Automatic for the People, we felt as if Michael Stipe was warbling to us from the right rear passenger's seat; it was almost surreal. Although DVD-A discs are becoming more widely available, those with expansive CD libraries will be heartened to know that regular CDs also sound great in this system. The stereo does not accommodate MP3s, because Acura and Panasonic felt that these recordings don't offer high enough sound quality to be worthy of this superior system.

    Beyond DVD-A technology, the TL also comes standard with XM Satellite Radio, which requires a nominal monthly subscription fee but provides the listener with 100 channels of mostly commercial-free stations that offer coast-to-coast reception and many themes, such as 1950s or hip-hop, to choose from. Satellite radio is one of those things that, once you've experienced it, you find hard to live without. Being able to listen to '60s, '70s or '80s music, virtually without commercial interruptions, kept this channel-surfer happy.

    In terms of overall sound quality, we really had no complaints. Highs were crisp without being tinny, mids were full and warm and the bass was thumping yet tight. When playing classical scores, strings sounded vibrant, and when playing U2's Achtung Baby, the heavy riffs of "Until the End of the World" came through as the Edge intended. Even at high-school level volume, distortion was notably absent, making this one of the cleanest systems we've experienced.

    One rather small annoyance was the time it took for the system to "boot up."
    Oftentimes, we could actually count "one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand" before it kicked on and sound poured out of the speakers.

    Best Feature: DVD-A capability with six-channel sound.

    Worst Feature: Annoying delay after switching system on.


    Conclusion: With its combination of lifelike six-channel surround sound, user-friendly controls and standard XM Satellite Radio, it's no wonder this system made it on our "Top 10 Sound Systems" list.

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    Second Opinions

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    Editor in Chief Karl Brauer says:
    In our recent Family Sedan Comparison Text, I remember driving the Honda Accord and thinking, "Anyone who has purchased an Acura TL should not drive this car, or they'll feel like they got hoodwinked." The Accord is so refined, comfortable and well executed that I feel the extra money spent on a TL is a waste. The fact that the Accord won that particular test goes a long way toward confirming my opinion.

    The new TL has a 30-horsepower advantage over the Accord's V6, and its chassis tuning and sublime six-speed manual are light-years ahead of the Accord sedan's (you can get the six-speed tranny only in the Accord coupe). Still, my favorite TL features — refined drivetrain, comfortable seating, intelligent control layout — are all part and parcel of any Accord, even the base models. Plus the automatic-only Accord sedan never displays the type of torque steer that occurred regularly with our six-speed TL. For me, if I'm after a truly sporty sedan, I have to go with the BMW 3 Series; if I want a roomy, comfortable and luxurious four-door (with excellent value), I'll take an Accord EX V6. The TL falls somewhere in-between, which is perfect for many, but doesn't quite do it for me.

    Road Test Editor Brian Moody says:
    I've never thought much of Acura cars since the first two Integras. To me, they have always lacked pizzazz especially when compared to competitors like BMW and my personal favorite, Audi. That was then; the new TL is really awesome. It looks great and the quality and style of the interior is better than even my beloved Audis.

    What a super engine this thing has. Free-revving, smooth and with tons of power — the car just keeps pulling right through the first five gears. Sixth is obviously a cruising gear, so there's not as much snap when you accelerate while in that gear. Still, this is a wonderfully fun car and is exactly what Acura needs. The shifter is precise and the throws are perfectly spaced. I also like the clutch weighting; it's heavy but not cumbersome. My only complaint is that the clutch was very hard to engage smoothly when starting in first gear. I felt like I had to concentrate too much, and half the time I wouldn't do it right. In a 24-hour period, I probably stalled the car six times. I don't think I've stalled a car since my wife and I began dating and I was befuddled with anxiety.

    Other than the clutch, the car is simply terrific and offers plenty of sport sedan fun for those who just can't live without a rear seat. My personal preference would be for a bit softer ride, but then again I have been known to choose a Buick as a rental car.

    The bottom line is that this car is a huge improvement over the previous version and is now a top-notch entry in the luxury sport segment. Oh, and the twin chrome exhaust outlets are really cool, too.

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    Consumer Commentary

    "I purchased this car on the release date and have been extremely happy. It is beautiful with lines that draw a lot of attention (especially from older TL drivers). It handles great and has so much technology and features that you have to study the manual so you don't miss them. The surround sound is fantastic and the voice commands with the Bluetooth capability make it very functional. I am very glad I got this car as I looked at BMW, Mercedes, Infiniti, Lexus and several other cars and I believe it is by far the best. In short, I am satisfied." — chuckieTL, Oct. 20, 2003

    "I was the first one to purchase off the dealer's lot a 2004 TL in October. Mine is Nighthawk Black Pearl with Nav. This car is head and shoulders above previous 2001 TL which I owned and Acura is more than on the right track with this redesign. Car handling is outstanding and the car is quieter than previous models. This car is extremely solid and for the money deserves a very, very serious look in relationship to other vehicles in its class. My favorite features are the lighted controls in the steering wheel and the large DVD navigation screen." — TRSLBS, Oct. 24, 2003

    "I upgraded to the 2004 TL from a 2002 TL (non-S) and have been amazed. Compared to the previous model, the interior is truly luxurious. The seats are firm but comfortable. Driving this car is much more fun than with the old model because of the increase in power and the improvement in ride control. In all, this car stands head and shoulders above the old model in looks, interior and driving. It's my favorite car yet. The top features are the new interior, 270 hp V6 and FWD for those icy winter days. The TL is fun to drive, the nav system is easy to use and I love the XM radio — I had it for a year on my old car and I won't go back to OTA radio. I would like to see all-wheel drive as an option, and the door pockets and seat backs feel a little cheap, other than that, no gripes." — Bobbo, Oct. 16, 2003

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    Ups: Plenty of motor, plenty of standard features, slick gearshift, fine handling and ride balance, great stereo.

    Downs: Fussy at launch, some torque steer when driven aggressively.

    The Bottom Line: A well-built, high-performing, feature-laden luxury sport sedan that should please most folks shopping in this segment.

    Base MSRP of Test Vehicle: $35,395

    MSRP of Test Vehicle: $35,395

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  2. ragnarok

    ragnarok nuclear launch detected

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    :bowdown:


    definition of a perfect fwd
     
  3. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    Who says FWD can't handle?
     
  4. Slimmy

    Slimmy Get Richt or Die Trying

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    IBhaters
     
  5. twofaze

    twofaze H.N.I.C.

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  6. HoVa

    HoVa New Member

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    i love the interior..

    best grocery getter evah!!
    :bowdown:
     
  7. bioyuki

    bioyuki Ich habe Angst

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    60-0 in 116 :wtf:

    Didn't C&D or something get really poor performance?
     
  8. SimpleMan

    SimpleMan Yeti is watching you post

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    Awesome car, aside from that crease running along the side. EWW.
     
  9. SimpleMan

    SimpleMan Yeti is watching you post

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    Maybe their test was with the all season tires.
     
  10. Jonny Chimpo

    Jonny Chimpo OT Supporter

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    Damn nice car, it's in my top 3 candidates next time I'm car shopping. (2 years from now)
     
  11. mucky

    mucky .

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  12. Confused

    Confused OT Supporter

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    sessy bitch
     
  13. Omega366i

    Omega366i We Riding Dirty

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    wheres your GTO pics
     
  14. Nyce

    Nyce .

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    that is a very nice car.


    i'm truly impressed..


    it's so nicely loaded as it is,
    just get the aero kit and optional 18s and it's good to go:


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    :wackit: :wackit: :wackit: :wackit:
     
  15. JizJizJiz

    JizJizJiz I love hot girls.

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  16. SenenCito

    SenenCito OT Supporter

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    only honda I would buy, its defintly a sweet car
     
  17. Snowman

    Snowman I know the Benzes. OT Supporter

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    Sweet. Though that A spec package is expensive. :ugh:
     
  18. Nyce

    Nyce .

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    don't know

    but i heard it clocked in at 14.2 in the 1/4 mile which is damn impressive to me.. plenty fast for a daily commuter/grocery getter/sport luxury car...

    one of the quickest cars in it's class and priced pretty good... i don't even mind that it's FWD..
    G35 and the TL are the best bargains.. BMW might be nicer quality and looks cool but it's too expensive. If you want a 330 with the same options you're going to shell out 45k+ TL and G35 with navigation and all the stuff are both 10 grand cheaper.. quite a difference..
     
  19. cunninglinguist

    cunninglinguist RAEPERQUICKING

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    I'd ditch the door handles and the crease, but otherwise it's an incredible car for what it is.

    Puts last years to shame :sad2:
     
  20. Nyce

    Nyce .

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    quick chop.. with/without crease..

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    i think the crease is cool,
    door handles are alright too :dunno:
     
  21. mucky

    mucky .

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    That's interesting. IMO, the crease actually looks better. I thought it would've been the opposite.
     
  22. Nyce

    Nyce .

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    no handles

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  23. HoVa

    HoVa New Member

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  24. CrazyQuattro

    CrazyQuattro New Member

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    :StillmadeInOhio:
     
  25. Un-Kut

    Un-Kut Guest

    Ib 6 speed TL's are rarer than dodo birds
     

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