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Until now, Acura has made a reputation in a quiet, convincing way -- on the performance track. Never a company to stand out in styling, Acura always went for the subtle, the understated, in its design statements.

No more.

The 2004 Acura TL takes a dramatic turn for the spotlight with styling and ambiance that makes it pretty emphatic that it now comes down heavily on the performance side of the equation.

TLs have always been understated, elegant sedans with reasonable performance characteristics. But the new TL takes a more muscled approach with a lower-profile, blockier-looking styling cues, and smoother, less sculptured flanks. Overall, it gets a wider, more aggressive stance and look.

To back up that muscular look, the TL features a much bigger engine, a 3.2-liter, 270-horsepower powerplant that should catapult it to the front of the performance race for sports sedans of its size. You will even be able to get a close ratio 6-speed manual transmission on it, with Brembo brakes -- some of the best brakes around.

The innovation behind this car also will be clear once you're behind the wheel. It has the first automotive application of DVD Audio 5.1 surround sound, HandsFree Link wireless phone capability and an XM Satellite radio.

The emphasis on strong performance continues with two other cars, the TSX and the RSX. I've driven both, and I can tell you that they are just about as much driving fun as you're going to find at the price. They both come with high revving engines that seem to want to climb up in performance endlessly, and they corner aggressively as well.

The TSX is designed to compete with the Audi A4, Lexus IS 300 and BMW 328I, and it does so admirably, giving you plenty of driving excitement -- at a price that is much lower than any of those makes. You can get a six-speed manual or five-speed automatic, and the engine is a 200-horsepower, 2.4-liter four cylinder. Perforated leather seats, rack and pinion steering, alloy wheels, vehicle stability assist with traction control and other features round out the package.

Meanwhile, the RSX Sport Coupe, another hot, affordable performer, gets new colors and heated side view mirrors for 2004. There are two versions of this car, a 160-horsepower RSX and a 200-horsepower RSX Type-S. Other equipment includes an automatic climate control system, five-speed manual or sequential five-speed automatic transmission on the RSX, and a six-speed manual on the Type-S.

The 3.5 RL sedan is Acura's super luxury model, and it's been substantially updated for the 2004 model year. Changes include an Acura Navigation System with voice recognition, chrome interior accents, wood pattern shifter knob, driver's seat power lumbar support and an XM Satellite radio, all standard equipment.

The Acura MDX is roomy, elegant and understated, and as I found out during a snowstorm, quite capable of getting you where you need to go safely. Mine just plowed right on through while everyone around me was stuck.

For 2004, the MDX has more horsepower -- 265 -- and redesigned front fascia, taillights, rear wing spoiler and chin spoiler. There are some new colors, too -- Aspen Pearl White and Burnished Bronze Metallic. A power lumbar support on the driver's seat, brushed metal on the center stack, a better Acura/Bose music system, leather armrests., auto-on/off headlights, ambient foot lights and welcome illumination and more functionality to the second-row seat are all part of the changes for the 2004 model year.

You may not see the NSX super sports car very often, but when you do, you won't soon forget it. It's a futuristic, low slung sports coupe that features mid-engine design and aluminum construction, and it has a reputation for being one of the more pleasant exotic sports cars on the market. For this year, changes include a trunk mounted six-disc CD changer, keyless entry system, redesigned shifter knob, and a redesigned meter panel surround.

http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/03302/234659.stm
 
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