Auto Market Review
The 2004 Acura TL was to replace a great car that was, well, completely forgettable, even in the Type-S trim. That's a bad position to be in when you're going up against performers like the BMW 3 series, Infiniti G35, Mercedes C class and others. Of course, if you haven't noticed, the previous TL seemed to hold its own as it can be seen everywhere in droves. Still, Honda engineers are not known for resting on their laurels, and, in my opinion, have truly outdone themselves here.
After a week, I noticed a few things that truly shone, a few that could be better, though that might be subjective, and a couple that I think are true short comings regardless of personal taste. I'll review these issues.
Most reviews also talk about the amazing ELS audio system, the first of its kind in a car. It can play audio DVDs, and has great sound. Also, the radio and XM reception was amazing. I've only experienced XM in aftermarket set ups, and have seen it drop the signal from time to time. The TL held the signal consistently (though I did not go through any big tunnels). FM reception was very impressive as it was able to get and hold the signal for a small station in the Boston-area that most cars cannot receive. The CD changer, a 6 disc in dash unit, can play DVD-A discs, and is easy to use, but I noticed two things about it, as discussed below.
The handling is very nice. I personally would like a slightly tighter or sportier suspension, but do not take that to mean that there's slop or roll in the suspension. I drive a car with a stiff suspension right now, so it's a question of to what one is accustomed. My brother, who is waiting for his TL to come in at the dealer, thought it was harsh. He said he can feel all of the bumps. I would disagree as to the 'all' part, but you do feel many bumps. The thing is how you feel them. They are felt smoothly as the car simply blows over them, and the car hits them uniformly and solidly, with no reverberations in the car. Thinking back to my mother's first generation Dodge Intrepid, or the 2003 Mustang I drove for a week, those cars rolled and rumbled over every crack in the road in a cacaphone of shimmies, shakes and skips through their entire structures. There was nothing solid or refined about how they handled the terrible New England roads. The TL is clearly a well engineered touring sedan, and this, to me, is especially clear when I hit a rough spot in the road. To me, a firmer suspension, such as that offered in the A-Spec package, would make the steering a bit crisper and the cornering a bit more aggressive. Again, personal taste in how a car drives. I don't think most people would notice anything lacking in the stock set up.
What you do notice is an interior that is perfect, literally, in location of controls, lighting (with cool blue spotlights overhead), and rich textured materials. The leather is great, the plastics feel good, and there is not a single rattle or creaking to be heard, as is often the case with cars these days as plastic rubs on plastic. Acura was wise enough to use a perforated plastic on the top of the dash, which completely cuts out glare or reflection of the dash into the windshield. I have a little reflection of my center air vents on my Passat, and, while not a serious issue, it gets annoying, so I was very glad to see this attention to detail on the Acura.
The steering wheel feels perfect in terms of overall size and thickness. Having driven with a racing wheel for the past year, I did feel that the rim was too thin at first, but I'm used to it now, and it's certainly not too thin when compared to other wheels out there. The controls on it are very well laid out, and intuitive. I used the phone controls to set up the HandsFreeLink to connect to my SonyEricsson phone via BlueTooth. The system walked me through it step by step, and connected automatically when I got a call, and turned off the stereo. My one complaint in this area is that there seems to be no way to turn up the audio on the phone. I tried the stereo volume knob and the steering wheel control for volume, both to no avail. If there really is no way to adjust this, that would be a flaw, but I cannot verify this to be the case.
A word on the nav. That word is amazing. I've used the nav in the Honda Pilot, which seems to be the same as in the TL, but perhaps a generation older, and the navs in the Lexus RX330 and Mercedes ML500. The TL's is easier to use, faster, and far more accurate. Coming home in the Pilot one day, it failed to tell me to make a turn either vocally or on the screen. It failed to tell me to make a turn once before, also, both times adding at least 5 minutes to my commute. The TL was flawless. Sometimes, I know better than it does, but it was still sending me on a very sound route, and never missed a beat. The screen is large, easily readable (even in most sunlight situations), and the voice is clearly audible and gives directions in plain English. If you are looking at this car and can afford it, the nav is worth it. It's a great system.
The (Not Terribly) Bad
The other minor issue, as I alluded to above, was with the DVD/CD player. First, the tuning dial should allow you to scroll through tracks, either in a FF/RW fashion or by skipping to the next track. My Passat features this functionality in its Monsoon stereo, and it makes it great for advancing to that song you have had on your mind all day. the FF/RW feature is not one I've seen in any car, but it is something my iPod has, and is really a great feature. If you've never had this functionality, you probably won't miss it. What I did find to be an issue was the speed, or lack thereof, of the changer. Changing discs is very slow, as is loading and ejecting. This is often the case with elevator/single feed changers such as this, but it would perhaps drive you crazy if you were someone who changes discs regularly or need to eject a disc in a hurry (as I had to). Several of today's imported hard-top convertibles will go topless or shield you from the rain in less time than it takes the TL to eject CD...literally.
The (Slightly) Ugly
The second issue is visibility at the corners of the car. The A-pillar is a bit thicker than that of most cars. It's not terrible, as I have definitely seen worse, but it was an issue on my first day in the car. I adjusted fairly quickly, though. What I still have not adjusted to is the C-pillar. It's massive. You can see in the pictures in this review how big the metal area of the C-pillar is. It makes for a very nice looking shape, but, unfortunately, does limit visibility. That said, these types of things are usually only issues for the first few weeks or months one owns a car for. I went through the same thing with my Passat (though to a lesser extent), and I adjusted completely. I worry that this C-pillar is so thick that it will always be an issue to some degree, it's just a question of to what degree.
Lastly, the rearview mirror isn't wide enough to cover the entire backlight. This isn't the end of the world, and I can think of several other cars in the same boat. However, given the limited visibility out of the rear corner afforded by the thick C-pillar, this issue is of more importance than in most cars. Again, it's something you can adjust to, but it would seem logical for Acura to make the mirror perhaps a half-inch to full inch wider on either end.
The Final Review