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2004 Acura TL—Benchmark of Value, Performance and Craftsmanship
    Managing Editor

Sedate: Serenely Deliberate, Composed, & Dignified in Character or Manner
"Sedate" is also a good descriptor for Acura's past efforts in the mid-size segment. While Acura has always given the consumer an excellent bargain in the near-luxury segment with its TL series, it never gave the enthusiast something to really get excited about. Sure, there was the Type-S version introduced in 2001, but Acura only offered it with a 5-Speed "manumatic" transmission. While an extremely smooth unit, the automatic could never match the fun-quotient of driving a fully manual transmission—even though the manual-shift mode does its best to please you.

Acura TLWhile the last version of the 3.2TL had a veritable plethora of standard features that were not so standard on the competition's cars when it was first introduced, that advantage waned as the years passed. Suddenly, Acura was offering nice incentives and bargain basement prices on their TL-line to try and move them off the show room floor. At the same time, the buying public was teased with sketches and spy photos of a redesigned TL, due to appear late 2003. If those sketches were to be any indication, we were expecting something big from Acura with the new TL. A car that would sustain the last TL's virtues while giving the consumer even more for their money.

Introduction of a New Benchmark
Magazines, consumers and more importantly, the competition were caught off guard when Acura dropped the bomb that was the 2004 TL. It was everything the old TL was and most of what it wasn't. For starters, the new sheet metal didn't scream vanilla anymore. Many felt that this could play into Acura's favor or work against them. In this writer's opinion, it is certainly working for them. The new body definitely evokes much more passion and enthusiasm while still appearing dignified and relaxed. It's a nice balance that is hard to achieve. Most manufacturers either go too far, and play to a much smaller audience or they don't go far enough, and the new car is barely distinguishable - to the untrained eye - from the old version. The 2004 TL is clearly identifiable as an Acura, while distancing itself enough from the old 3.2TL to make a clear dividing line between the two models.

The interior is typical Honda/Acura, and certainly lives up to this writer's expectations. Good material choices, along with excellent fit and finish leave you feeling like you got your money's worth in this vehicle. Everything that moves does so with a smooth damped action. Pseudo-aluminum trim is used throughout the interior as well, but thankfully Acura didn't go overboard with its application. Every button and dial is close at hand, except for the mirror adjustment, which, for some drivers, requires you to lean forward to reach. When you are in park, this is not a problem, but executing on the fly adjustments might be a bit trying. I must say I was glad to see the TL finally had an overhead sunroof switch. In the previous model it was buried behind the steering wheel, now it has a logical placement right behind the rear-view mirror.

Options? We Don't Need No Stinkin' Options!
By now, many of you know of what the new TL has to offer. First and foremost, it offers pretty much an option-less car. The only big decisions left up to the buyer are whether he/she desires an automatic or manual and if they want a navigation system or not. Beyond that, you have more aggressive "summer" tires, and the A-Spec package, which includes a sportier suspension, 18" wheels (to replace the stock TL's 17's), an aggressive body kit and A-Spec specific badging. So, you have four options total. Many people view this as a selling point for Acura—the fact that everything you could want is standard. Personally, I see it doing two things for Acura. First, it most definitely is a selling point - it keeps the choices for the consumer simple, but along the same lines, it makes production simple. Producing less variations of a specific car cuts manufacturing costs and allows Acura to offer said car at a significant savings over comparably equipped vehicles from the competition. While this doesn't allow the consumer to order specific options (like nixing the sunroof for taller drivers), for most of the general buying public and Acura alike, it is a win-win situation.

What many people like about Acura is that they don't penalize the consumer for not ordering every option package and they never make you feel like you skimped out and had to settle for the base model. Every big feature (save for the navigation system) is included at no extra cost. Including two features that are being offered for the first time on a mass-produced mainstream sedan: a surround sound stereo system and blue tooth connectivity technology. Both of these features are a nod to techno-savvy market they hope to capture with this car. In my opinion, I think they are interesting features, and while the blue tooth technology is compatible with many cell phones currently on the market, the surround sound requires DVD-Audio discs which just aren't very common yet. However, rest assured, your standard stereo-encoded CD's will also play very well in this system. If you own a new TL though, you'll be set when DVD-Audio eventually becomes more popular. Features like the two aforementioned ones are examples of things that either cannot be had with, or are an option on the competition's vehicles, even ones costing thousands more than a fully optioned (again, only 4 options) TL.

Honda/Acura has always sold itself on giving you more for your money. The new TL certainly backs this up, but there have to some things that could be improved, right? Lacking an AWD (All Wheel Drive) option is something that is becoming more and more apparent every year on the TL. Especially now that Infiniti offers it on their G35, albeit with only an automatic transmission. There's really no excuse, since Acura already has an excellent system employed in the MDX. So we know the technology and know-how is available, so I see no reason for Acura to give it greater consideration. Some of you are probably quoting me on what I said earlier about keeping production simple and cost effective. Well, while offering AWD as an option might increase production costs, the TL is already offered at a price that severely undercuts the competition in features per dollar. So even adding a few thousand to the price of the AWD TL model would still place it favorably in the market. Another pet peeve of mine is crush-arm trunk hinges. Sure, the ones in the TL are prettied up with plastic and felt covers, but those covers still eat up space that could be used for storing more stuff. Especially considering the trunk in the TL shrunk from the previous model as it is. Cantilever hinges would have simply been more appropriate in a car of this caliber.

The Final Review
While those gripes are certainly valid, they do not take away from the overall experience that the TL gives its owner. While opinions may vary on the styling of the vehicle, both inside and out, it does not take away the fact that the TL is a value-minded, expertly executed luxury car that has much to offer and has very little left out.

In Other Words
Week Peek: Acura TL


Fix The Torque Steer, and You've Got a Winner


I want one...but only if they add all-wheel-drive. Why? Torque steer on this thing is the focal point of most reviews of it, and there's no way around that unless you switch it to rear or all-wheel-drive. You just can't put that much power through the driving wheels, and not expect serious torque steer. Second, I live in the Northeast. I have a Passat, which is heavy and has traction control, yet still stinks in the snow. I want AWD for piece of mind in the Winter. Now, while Tim seems to make it out to be as simple as taking the system from the MDX (or, more likely, from the upcoming AWD 2005 RL), there is much more at play here. The chasis may not support AWD, which I think is likely the case. The G35 was designed with this ability in it's amazingly flexible FM platform from the start.

I have 2 other qualms with the car. One, while very trivial, is the steering wheel. It's ugly. Sorry, I'm picky, but I think a steering wheel should never look bulbous or bloated, and I think this looks that way. Such a sleek and slick car design needn't be spoiled by something like the steering wheel. I know, you all think I'm mad, and don't think it spoils the car, but why not have a nice steering wheel if you have a nice car? Even some of the print magazines complain about Acura steering wheels (the TSX, specifically), so I'm not as mad as you think I am! The second qualm is much more substantial. The back seats do not fold down. You get a pass-through for skis, but no 60/40 split rear bench. This is a really useful feature to have, and it's a shame that Acura omitted it. There is, of course, a benefit to this omission, though, in that structural rigidity is higher as the rear seat can act as a structural cross-member adding torsional rigidity. You win some, you lose some.

Lastly, I can't necessarily agree with Tim about the price being so great here. While the TL is not over-priced, it's not a bargain per se. The G35 comes in noticeably cheaper. Then again, the Acura is more refined, but the G35 drives better. You can also get a G35x for about the same money as a FWD TL. The TL is certainly a better bargain than the TSX, which starts at about $27k, and offers much less. You can get an A4 1.8T Quattro for that money, or less, making the TSX's value quite questionable. Luckily for the TL, most of its competition (namely, from Germany), comes in a tad more expensive, especially with similar equipment levels.