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Bob McHugh
The Province

Friday, October 24, 2003

Last month, I fell in love with the new Acura TSX. And there were lots of TSX reminders in the all-new, third-generation 2004 Acura TL, which I drove for the first time last week.

The TL is a step up in size and luxury appointments, comes with a potent V6 engine, and is already a top seller in a highly competitive market segment.

The TL was originally introduced in 1995, replacing the Acura Vigor. The major change on the second-generation TL, launched in the autumn of '98, was a switch to the Honda Accord platform.

A new more-for-less price strategy was a big hit with consumers and quickly established TL as a market leader in its class.

The '04, third-generation TL continues on this path, as it offers better performance than the current high-performance version of TL, called the Type S, for less money.

Although extremely well equipped in its base form, the new TL can also be ordered with either a "Dynamic" or a "NAVI" optional package, but not both.

A six-speed, close-ratio manual transmission is only available on the TL with the "Dynamic" package. This option is obviously aimed at driving enthusiasts as it also includes a limited-slip differential, Brembo brakes, and high-performance summer tires (an interesting offering in Canada).

The high-tech "NAVI" package is primarily (as the name suggests) a satellite-guided navigational system with an eight-inch, centre-dash display screen.

An additional high-tech feature of this package is voice recognition in either French (Quebec dialect) or English.

It obeys up to 180 voice commands that can also control the audio, climate-control and phone-system functions.

The TL also claims the first application of "Bluetooth" phone technology in a production vehicle, which allows a wireless interface with a personal cellphone.

It's a super-convenient system that eliminates the need for a separate car phone or a hands-free hook-up to a personal cellphone.

Another high-tech first for the TL is a DVD-audio system. Although similar to a CD player, DVD-A offers even better sound clarity and incredibly realistic surround-sound reproduction.

You can also play regular audio CD's on this system -- and no, it doesn't play movies.

The Looks:

Apart from a deep side crease and a different trunk/tail-lamp design, the overall shape of the TL is quite similar to that of the TSX, which is not a bad thing.

The TL's body is longer and wider than the TSX, its wheels track a considerably wider path and its front and rear axles are set 70-mm (three inches) farther apart.

A 24-per-cent improvement in rigidity has been achieved through the use of high-tensile steel in 48 per cent of the TL's redesigned body, and it also has a new front sub-frame, made from a light but strong aluminium alloy.

Improved interior quietness was also made possible through the use of a new sound-deadening product called Thinsulate (made by 3M) plus thicker window glass.

The narrow-profile headlights are bi-functional high-intensity-discharge high/low beams.

A shutter device mechanically controls the light output of each HID unit.

You can also mix and match the interior and exterior colour schemes, when you order a new TL -- something Acura has not offered in the past.

The Works:

The new-generation, aluminum-alloy, 3.2-litre V6 produces 270 h.p. and 238 lb.-ft. of torque, which even surpasses the current TL Type S engine(260 h.p. and 232 lb.-ft.). There's no change in fuel economy and it also meets ULEV (ultra-low emissions vehicle) requirements.

The short-throw, six-speed manual transmission is the same as offered in the current 3.2CL Type S coupe, a model which has been discontinued. It also comes with a helical-gear-type limited-slip differential, which reduces wheel spin on acceleration.

The automatic transmission has a new, simplified five-position shift gate (replacing the current eight-position gate).

In addition to a "D" (Drive) position in the automatic mode, it now just has an "L" (Low) position (instead of 1,2,3 and 4).

Used for descending steep hills, the "L" position downshifts the transmission to the lowest possible gear ratio to provide engine braking. This transmission also offers a semi-manual mode of operation.

The Inside:

The TSX connection is even more apparent on the inside. The instrument panel, steering wheel and cockpit layout are almost identical, which is a good thing as it was a highlight of the TSX.

The TL has a larger cabin, compared with its predecessor, and is fitted with soft-leather upholstery and tastefully trimmed with aluminum, wood or carbon-fibre-look accents.

The extra 28 litres (one cubic foot) of interior space allows more headroom front and rear, plus extra front leg and shoulder room. Contoured front seat backs also allow an additional 30 mm (1.2 inches) of knee room for rear passengers.

Lots of adjustments allow you to find that perfect driving position. The leather-wrapped, four-spoke steering wheel has a telescope adjustment in addition to a tilt feature. The driver's bucket-style seat is eight-way adjustable, and includes a power lumbar support.

The Drive:

The TL quickly makes you feel at home behind the wheel. The learning period is short as most controls are where you expect them to be, there are no "fiddly" little switches to figure out, the instrument panel is easy to read, and there are lots of places to put your stuff.

Other than a soft growl on hard acceleration, the V6 engine is normally super quiet and pulls well from low engine speeds. Acura claims a commendable 0-to-60-m.p.h. (96 km/h) acceleration time of 6.3 seconds with the manual transmission.

Both transmissions were a treat to use and, for a change, the automatic impressed me more. The revised shift gate is easier to use and its speedy reaction to driver throttle inputs in the "D" (or Drive) mode is outstanding.

Some drivers may not like the manual's light clutch, which has a relatively short amount of pedal travel.

In addition to engine power and calmness, the TL driving experience is also subtly different than that of the TSX.

Both have excellent handling characteristics, but the TL is heavier and my initial impression is that it's not as well balanced for a twisty stuff.

On the other hand, the TL has a more comfortable ride and, at higher speeds, is a more stable cruiser.

The Score:

Improvements and new high-tech features on the 2004 Acura TL take this accomplished sports sedan another step up the performance ladder.

The good news for consumers is that the new TL offers even better value, in addition to reaching a new level of auto affluence.


2004 Acura TL

Trim levels:

TL $40,800

TL Dynamic Package $41,800

TL NAVI Package $44,000

Base engine: 3.2-litre 24-valve VTEC V6

Power: 270 h.p. @ 6,200 r.p.m.

Fuel consumption: 11.6/7.6 L/100 km (city/highway)

The Competition:

BMW 3-Series: $42,000 to $63,800

Cadillac CTS: $39,000 to $53,835

Chrysler 300M: $40,910 to $44,385

Infiniti G35: $39,400 to $42,500

Jaguar X-Type: $41,095 to $48,095

Lincoln LS: $43,750 to $57,105

Saab 9-5: $42,000 to $55,000

Volvo V60: $36,495 to $60,495

On the web:

Acura Canada:

B.C. Automobile Association:

The Province:

Bob McHugh is the senior technical adviser for BCAA.

* The narrow-profile headlights are bi-functional HID high/low beams.

*The Acura TL has a different trunk/tail-lamp design from its predecessor.

*The TL has a larger cabin, compared withthe TSX, and is fitted with soft-leather upholstery.

*The TL's wheels track a considerably wider path than those of the TSX.

*A high-tech first for the Acura TL is a DVD-audio system.

*Apart from some small differences, the overall shape of TL is quite similar to that of the TSX.

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