The 2012 Acura TL has been restyled since the new generation hit showrooms in 2009. That generation’s styling was controversial, as Acura attempted to give it an Acura “family” look. That made the “face” large for the car. It was fine on the MDX, but was too prominent for this sedan, in many people’s view. This time around Acura changed the looks without changing the sheet metal; most evident in the nose and tail. Now the TL is smoother and more sophisticated. It gives the impression the vehicle is lower and wider, without really being so.
Now the grille is more proportional. Acura lengthened the hood visually, making the grille smaller and lower. The intent was to make the TL less muscular and more refined. So on the 2012 model there are dark headlight housings and the grille has mesh and gloss black bars running across the bottom half, but top is still the brushed metal bar.
In the rear, wide is the style focus, to make the TL less tall and narrow looking. Acura accomplished this by raising the license plate a couple of inches and using more subdued garnish on the rear. There’s now a long diffuser at the bottom of the bumper. There are also shorter overhangs in both the front and back. There are new 19 inch wheels, and even a new all-season tire designed specifically for the TL.
There is little change in driving the TL as the only noticeable mechanical change is the six-speed transmission replacing the 2011 model’s five-speed automatic. The new gearbox shifts smoothly and I guess if you keep count you’ll notice there’s another gear.
The engines remain the same two from the previous model, beginning with the 3.5-liter VTEC engine mostly unchanged at 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. This engine is used in the Front-Wheel Drive (FWD) models, while the Super Handling-All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) model sports a very nice 3.7-liter that generates 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. This is still the most powerful Acura ever.
Fuel mileage, thanks to slightly better aerodynamics and some changes inside the engine, is slightly improved. The FWD version gets 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway, which is two mpg better in city and three on the highway and AWD version gets 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway, one mpg better than 2011 model.
Driving in the Hill Country of Texas, the new transmission’s Sport mode did a good job keeping the engine in a useful power range. It frankly did a better job than I did when using the manual paddle shifters.
With the more-powerful SW-AWD model, it is quite easy to pretend this is a sports car as it performs well when pushed. The AWD system is good at adding in power to the wheel that needs it, making the car more stable when cornering.
The SH-AWD system can transfer 70 percent power to the rear when it feels more need for acceleration, but hammer it and you can send 100 percent of the power to the rear, making for the best performance balance.
The FWD version is no slouch, but the extra horsepower and more aggressive ability of the power-to-wheels process in the SH-AWD model just makes it more fun.
The interior got a few touches to make it softer and more refined. Most of this was visual, such as brushed metal and color changes. Now, much of the garnish is muted.
The car already had leather and many nice features, as it’s clearly an entry-level luxury car. But now the front seats have heat and cooling. The Bluetooth connectivity is improved, actively searching for Bluetooth devices, and lets you easily switch between Bluetooth phones, a nice touch when two people share a car. The phone can automatically load contacts and phone history into the car’s system.
The audio system has 15 gigs of storage on the hard drive and will control an iPod or hard disk with voice commands. I’ve always been a fan of the ELS premium system and would urge everyone getting this car to order this option.
The car is quieter, as engineers got a 2.7 decibel noise reduction inside. This mostly impacts higher frequency and wind noise. While this may not seem like a big reduction, every small improvement is an improvement. The car was quiet in operation. One thing I noticed, though, is that the dashboard and instrument panel is quite busy.
I’m wondering if my view of luxury car interiors has changed. Does luxury imply simplicity now? That certainly wasn’t the case when this car was designed, but have perceptions changed in just a short three years? Acura officials think the luxury market is moving towards them, with the collapse of the “look at me” attitude being eaten alive by the recession.
There are three models of the Acura TL, the Standard, the Technology Package – the best seller with 65 percent of sales – and the Advance Package which has all the bells and whistles. Prices range from $35,600 for the base model to $45,000 for a fully loaded SH-AWD model.
The Acura TL is aimed at, and bought by younger Baby Boomers and older GenX families. Statistically these are folks with two cars and are making $140,000 between them a year. The primary competition is the Infiniti G37 and the Lexus ES 350.
Acura’s research says they tend to be people who go back and forth between the two cars, rather than each having their own car they drive all the time. That’s interesting to me, although I’m not sure if it is because they are a different kind of people, or if it is the things they have to do with their cars that controls the choice.