It's been out since last November, so if you haven't had a chance to test drive or at least check out Acura's new top dog-the TL SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive)-shame on you. Like the name implies, SH-AWD models are equipped with all-wheel drive configurations, a first for the TL. And this is no wussy part-time AWD setup that only engages once the tires lose traction. Nope, this is a real-deal, full-time design, one that transmits torque to all four wheels, under almost all conditions. Sorry Subaru, Audi, and Mitsubishi; the AWD monopoly is no longer yours.
Mouthwatering technological upgrades, an abundance of new gadgets, and a complete interior and exterior redesign are what gives the '09 TL the edge that it has over competitors like the Audi A4, BMW 3 series, Cadillac CTS, and Mercedes-Benz C-class. And the TL does all of this without coming off as snooty or pretentious...and it'll probably last years longer.
Acura says that the new TL is "by far the most technologically advanced sedan in Acura's history," and that they haven't missed a beat, making sure that the new brute of a four-door is fully stocked with all of the latest gadgetry, including a multi-link navigation system and optional 10-speaker sound system. But while technology abounds inside the TL, the real innovations lie elsewhere.
Under the hood lies the most powerful engine Honda has ever built. Period. No, the NSX's C30A and C32B do not even come close. The new 60-degree J-series is accurately tweaked and tuned to provide an explosive amount of power. The aluminum alloy V-6 engine displaces 3.7 liters, 305 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque at 6200 rpm. Featuring PGM-FI multi-point fuel injection with VTEC on the intake and exhaust valves (a first for a SOHC engine, mind you), the TL destroys its competition with its impressive 0-60 sprint of only 5.5 seconds. The 3.7-liter J gets Honda's patented VTEC applied to both cam lobes, which we all know means top-end power is no longer had at the expense of low-end response and emissions. But this is all a bunch of babble; the real story begins once you drive it.
On the road, the TL is immediately impressive with its quiet cabin; almost no wind noise intrudes, which incidentally makes going very fast less noticeable than you'd imagine. Steering feel is also improved, thanks to a new variable-assist electric power steering (EPS) similar to that found on later NSXs. That's about all it shares with the NSX though. A front independent double-wishbone suspension with a rear independent multi-link give the TL a sense of handling that you might not expect from such a large car, while the larger body allows for a 1.4-inch longer wheelbase, helping to generate even better turning capabilities than before. And boy does it turn. The AWD drivetrain helps keep the TL's meats stuck to the highway in ways you wouldn't expect from such a car. Traction is no longer an issue. The TL SH-AWD also features a five-speed automatic that not only includes steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but also the widest gear ratio of any in its class. Its overdriven top gear gives the TL strong acceleration in lower gears, as well as an increase in fuel efficiency. Want a six-speed? Too bad. Only paddle-shifted, automatic models will be offered until the release of the 2010 model. We're waiting.
With all of its increased speed capabilities, power, and torque, the TL requires an impressive braking system, given that stopping is such a crucial part of driving. Thankfully, Acura didn't overlook such things, including dual-diagonal, power-assisted, four-wheel disc brakes with electronic anti-lock features as well as brake assist. The TL's ability to distribute power to the rear outside wheel makes cornering easier than you'd imagine. The suspension has been stiffened to minimize body roll, and the wider track makes the sedan feel more planted and secure during aggressive driving. The down side is a less comfortable ride than the base model, as bumps and other road minutia are absorbed less. But who cares about any of that, really?