R&T Road Test - 2004 Acura TL

Discussion in 'OT Driven' started by TriShield, Apr 20, 2004.

  1. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    From Q-ship to destroyer.

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    By Douglas Kott • Photos by Ron Perry
    April 2004

    Prefer something sneaky, yet luxurious, for the daily commute? It's been said that the 1999-2003 Acura TL, especially in 260-bhp Type-S guise, is something of a Q-ship. Dusting off our World War I history books for a moment, we're reminded that the term was coined to describe a British countermeasure to German U-boats that were choking their shipping lanes. An ordinary merchant vessel was fortified with hidden guns and torpedoes, then loaded with wooden caskets, cork — anything for buoyancy — so it could survive (or at least limp through) a submarine's attack. The U-boat, torpedoes away and sensing a kill, would surface to finish its business at close range with its deck gun. Surprise! The harmless-looking Q-ship would then unload its ordnance on Das Boot, sending its periscope down for the final time.

    And so it is with the TL, stalking the unsuspecting with performance that belies a tidy, if not especially aggressive exterior shape...an ordinary merchant vessel for the road with a little something extra under the hood.

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    That's well and good, but many of us like some stylistic fervor to go with the acceleration and creature comforts. Here the 2004 Acura TL scores big, with rakish lines that drew near-unanimous praise around the R&T offices. Plus, its 270-bhp 3.2-liter V-6 gives the base car all the performance of last year's Type-S model. To sweeten the deal, the new TL comes packed to the gunwales with a couple of automotive firsts as standard equipment: a premium sound system that plays DVD audio and DTS discs as well as CDs, and a Bluetooth wireless link to transfer calls from so-equipped cell phones to the car's hands-free, voice-controlled system. XM satellite radio is also standard, along with an included 3-month trial subscription. All this, in addition to all the technologies we tend to take for granted these days, such as anti-lock brakes, traction control and yaw control.

    It's the body you see first, and Acura's stylists have outdone themselves with a new shape said to draw on the Bauhaus "form follows function" sensibility, but we suspect they may have strolled through a Milanese piazza and studied a nearby Alfa 156 to set the tone of the TL's high waist and bold, wraparound headlight clusters. Seventeen-in. wheels and tires are a nice snug fit within well-defined flares, overhangs are cleanly clipped, and a high-set rear deck pairs with a tall, forward-sloping beltline to give the car a sense of forward motion. Where the previous TL had rather featureless sides, the new version has a stylish groove, running from the front turn-signal repeater to the rear side-marker light, that's also a nesting place for the door handles. Down low, rocker panels protrude just enough to balance the appearance. Looks fast standing still, as the brochures like to say.

    VTEC-enhanced 3.2-liter sohc V-6 revs freely and makes a stout 270 bhp, delivered through the no-cost-option 6-speed manual whose short-throw action is among the best in class.

    The view from the driver's seat is wholly consistent with the exterior changes. The dash, door panels and center console are all accented with aluminum and fake carbon fiber good enough to fool Gordon Murray, with enough sweep and flair to look sporty without being overdone. Instruments carry over the three-dial theme from the previous TL, but their markings are LED-backlit with an appealing electric-blue light, circles of which also illuminate the primary knobs of the audio system. Leather-covered seats with perforated inserts are the best chairs fitted to an Acura short of the NSX, and there's generous room for splayed knees, tall torsos and wayward elbows, as the new TL is 1.9 in. wider and incrementally taller than the previous car, despite an overall length that's 3.7 in. shorter, mostly due to the shaved overhangs.

    Good ergonomics are a given in Hondas and Acuras, and the TL disappoints only slightly. Reaching for the handbrake lever almost always puts your hand in contact with the passenger's left thigh (an ice-breaker on that first date, perhaps?) and the steeply angled cutline of the rear doors prevents a charm-school entry to the rear seats. Once back there, it's about as roomy as the last TL — a snug but not uncomfortable fit for 6-footers.

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    Engines don't come much more torquey-feeling, or with snappier throttle response, than the TL's. The 3.2-liter sohc 24-valve V-6 is a satin-smooth sweetheart that pulls impressively right off idle and revs, turbine-like, to its soft limiter slightly north of the 6800-rpm redline. Essentially an updated version of the 2003 Type-S engine, it retains the triple-lobe camshaft trickery of VTEC to alter the timing and lift of the intake valves at the transition point of 4700 rpm for better breathing. More peak power (270 bhp vs. 260) and torque (238 lb.-ft. vs. 232) are on tap, by virtue of slightly higher compression, a new cold-air induction system and a less-restrictive exhaust that has its manifolds essentially cast into the cylinder heads.

    Putting power to the front wheels of our test car is a close-ratio 6-speed manual gearbox (making this the first TL you can shift manually), though a 5-speed automatic with a sequential-shift mode is the default transmission. Go for the 6-speed, though. It's a no-cost option, and ordering it also brings a helical-gear limited slip and choice brake hardware in the form of Brembo 4-piston front calipers.

    In full battle mode, we were able to wring a 6.3-second 0-60 time and 14.8-sec. quarter-mile posting from the new TL...that's a tenth or two quicker than the Type-S, and the Nissan Maxima, for that matter. We found grip to be pretty satisfying at 0.87g
    , aided no doubt by the optional ($200) 235/45R-17 Bridgestone Potenza RE 030 tires (Turanzas of the same size are standard), and those Italian binders offered repeatable, firm-pedal stops that encourage postponing your normal braking points just to feel their bite.

    In the real world, the TL is good but by no means perfect.

    The good: The structure feels extremely rigid
    , a great foundation for the suspension — double wishbones fore/multilink aft — to take a predictable set. One look at the mammoth tubular brace connecting the front shock towers shows the effort taken to achieve this. The ride is taut and nicely controlled, with a slightly more rubber-isolated feel than a 3 Series BMW, for example, but less road noise and a little less impact harshness than the Bavarian import too. The 6-speed's ratios are ideal for extracting the most from the V-6, and the lever moves through its gates with rewarding precision and economy of movement. And the steering rack has quick gearing, aiding the TL's reasonably snappy turn-in.

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    The bad: torque steer on anything other than a pristine road. Punch it in the first couple of gears on a pock-marked or lumpy-surfaced street, and the wheel writhes in your hands and the nose darts around noticeably. If you hit a mid-corner bump while turning sharply and accelerating, the steering will tighten the radius for you, without asking. It's a little disconcerting, and makes us wish the driven wheels were behind the back seat. While we're carping, a more positive clutch engagement would do wonders to increase the TL's sporting quotient. It's difficult to find its friction "sweet spot," and it never feels like it grabs completely on a quick shift, a double shame because it takes some of the joy out of the excellent linkage.

    Oh well, the perfect car has not and never will be made, but to us the new TL is a hit on the aesthetic front and in most dynamic areas. It's agreeably priced too, at $32,650, the only major option being a navigation system with voice recognition for $2000. That compares favorably with the 2003 TL Type-S at $31,330, especially considering the new car's additional boat-load of standard equipment. It seems that nearly everything is included here, except, perhaps, the element of surprise.

    Acura TL A-Spec

    So Acura's stylists have broken the mold of blandness for the TL and, one hopes, severely reprimanded the mold-maker. They've also endowed it with sharper handling and improved on a seemingly unimprovable engine.

    What, then, for an encore?

    That would be the TL A-Spec package, that moniker replacing the Acura Factory Performance label throughout the model line. The idea here is to have a lower, better-handling, aero-enhanced TL, with all parts installed by the dealer without affecting the factory warranty one iota. For the reasonable sum of $5200, not including labor.

    That money buys a deeper chin spoiler, side skirts and a choice of either a decklid spoiler or Lancer Evo-esque wing. A-Spec wheels are 18-in. 5-spoke alloys, painted a menacing gunmetal gray and mounting Yokohama AVS ES100 tires, size 235/40VR-18. Inside, a steering wheel with a thicker rim section and silver accents around the thumb positions enhances an already excellent interior.

    The dynamic changes lie within the wheel wells — careful tweaking of shock compression and rebound rates liven up the chassis and improve adhesion.
    New springs lower the car nearly an inch and help reduce understeer, as the fronts are 7 percent softer and the rears, 20 percent stiffer. Stock anti-roll bars are retained, as are alignment settings.

    The result was a joy to lap around Streets of Willow in Rosamond, California. Turn-in was slightly quicker, the car rotated with lift-throttle suggestions and overall the chassis felt more secure and better planted to the asphalt — all without unduly increasing the ride harshness.

    Certainly, the TL A-Spec wasn't designed for the time trialer, but for the enthusiast who wants a more precise, entertaining package for the street. — DK

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  2. Shiva Chaos

    Shiva Chaos i see boobies!

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    that is the only honda i will ever buy.



    needs more RWD though
     
  3. guru

    guru Active Member

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    Meh. FWD
     
  4. HoVa

    HoVa New Member

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    that car is so sweet. makes my rsx look like a child's toy.


    if that thing had RWD, then it'd be the PERFECT car..
     
  5. ZoominRex

    ZoominRex New Member

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    If it were RWD I'd choose it over the 3-series...and I LOVE the 3-series!
     
  6. BlazinBlazer Guy

    BlazinBlazer Guy Witness to The De-Evolution of Mankind.

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    RWD or bust!
     
  7. N8

    N8 This fucking guy.

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    If it was RWD, I probably would have bought it instead of my RX-8. :eek3:
     
  8. ace3

    ace3 mouthify my wang.

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    that car makes my dong hard. i'd love one of these to DD
     
  9. legendary91l

    legendary91l DP Ownz Yoo!

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    Yea, such a great car, but FWD with that much power definitely kills the fun factor...
     
  10. TriShield

    TriShield Super Moderator® Super Moderator

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    I really liked the car based on what I've read until I drove a few.

    The suspension could use a bit more refinement, as it's not particularly sporty, nor is it particularly comfortable. The cockpit is trimmed in plastic faux aluminum too, not real metal.
     
  11. 2DR Vette

    2DR Vette We don't freestyle the Eyes of Texas, Big Boy.

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  12. Blindsight

    Blindsight Guest

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    sexy. as. hell.
     
  13. twofaze

    twofaze H.N.I.C.

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  14. sexy but it needs RWD
     
  15. technogeeky

    technogeeky It just turned his world upsidedownface.

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    RWD that > *.car under 50k.
     
  16. dunski

    dunski Guest

    nice, tough pick over an rx-8
     
  17. Zak8022

    Zak8022 New Member

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    you guys are right.. the FWD kinda kills it... but thats why honda is making a 4wd Acura RL in 2005 (or somewhere around there).

    although i havent driven the new TL, i do like what it looks like on paper. :)
     

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