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I'm not suggesting you do this, mind you, but you could close your eyes while behind the wheel of the new Acura TL and think you're driving a BMW.

Although the TL's variable-assist steering is a bit lighter than a BMW's, the Acura rides with the same firmness and handles with the same authority.

Redesigned for '04 and based on the Accord, which itself was redesigned for '03, the new TL is a fun-to-drive sedan right out of the box -- no need to opt for a performance version. It's a supremely quiet highway cruiser, too, with an impressive 270 hp. and a price that's reasonable considering the level of equipment and Acura's excellent reputation for quality.

The TL's modified V-6 offers 10 more horsepower than that of the "Type S" version of the previous TL, which delivered 260 hp. Other TLs had 225-hp. versions of that engine.

The TL is not to be confused with the smaller Acura TSX, which is based on a version of the Accord sold in Japan and Europe. The TSX costs about $6,000 less than the TL, and it has a four- .cylinder engine.

On sale since October, the TL now has a sport-tuned suspension in all versions. If it's not enough for you, though, Acura dealers will sell you an "A-SPEC" package for $5,200 plus installation that includes track-tuned shocks and springs, high-performance low-profile Yokohama tires on larger wheels and a variety of cosmetics.

Acura says the TL's steering has been refined for '04 for improved road "feel" and reduced kickback.

Except for the A-SPEC package, the TL comes in six basic versions -- with stick shift or automatic, with and without a navigation system and with or without Bridgestone Potenza high-performance tires. The tester had the basic all-season tires -- P235/45R17 Bridgestone Turanzas. Given the TL's firm suspension, you might want to think twice about the performance tires, which are sure to ride harder. I doubt you'll need their extra capabil.ity.

Base prices for the TL range from $33,195 to $35,395, both including freight. There are no other factory installed, stand-alone options.

The TL managed to lose 6.7 inches in the redesign -- to make it sportier- .looking, Acura says, but it gained about 2 inches in width. Every key measure of interior room is either the same or improved from those of the '03 model. Except trunk space, which is down by almost 2 cubic feet.

The shorter exterior is becoming, I think, and so are the deep character lines down each side, the latter helping differentiate the TL from its Honda cousin.

The 3.2-liter V-6 engine is as smooth as they come, and has Honda's much- vaunted "VTEC" variable valve timing and lift system, with four valves per cylinder. Performance enthusiasts might wish for a stronger exhaust tone. This engine needs premium gas.

Unfortunately, the front-wheel- drive layout takes some of the fun out of stretching the TL's legs -- one area where a rear-drive BMW excels -- because 270 is a lot of horsepower to push through tires that also have to steer and which will tend to lose their grip under hard acceleration. Still, Car and Driver said zero to 60mph took a quick 5.7 seconds in its tests.

The five-speed automatic transmission, which my tester had, allows clutchless manual shifting. A new six-speed stick shift is available as a no-cost option.

Suspension is fully independent, with gas-charged shocks and stabilizer bars front and rear.

Stick shift versions come with thicker stabilizer bars, firmer spring rates, higher performing front Brembo brakes and a limited-slip differential. Only stick shift models are available with the performance tires.

Complaints: only a couple. The drive-by-wire throttle system is touchy; it's difficult to start off smoothly. The rear seatback does not fold down to increase cargo room, although there is a pass-through.

All TL versions come quite well equipped, with seat-mounted side-impact air bags up front and curtain-type air bags covering front and rear seaters; antilock brakes with electronic brake force distribution, brake assist and stability and traction control; power everything with a two-driver memory covering the seat, outside mirrors and climate system; leather seats; moon roof, manually operated tilt and telescoping wheel; dual-zone A/C; and connectivity with Bluetooth-capable cell phones.

Honda says the stability system now controls the brakes at all four wheels, not just the fronts as did that in the previous TL. The brakes' electronic-force distribution and brake assist also are new features for '04.

The TL's cabin is typical of Hondas -- bright and airy, with controls that have a feel and look of high-tech equipment. The tester's two-tone black and saddle interior had just four wood inserts -- one on each door -- and was .otherwise trimmed in brushed aluminum. Very nice.

In models with the nav system, certain stereo adjustments require wiping the map off the screen, but the important controls, thankfully, are independent of the nav system, as are all of the climate .controls.

Though oil pressure and voltage gauges are absent, those that are there are attractive and easily readable day or night, with white lettering on a black background all backlit in blue.

Overall, the TL is an appealing .package.

But there's lots of competition also worth considering, and the best of it is rear drive, such as the Cadillac CTS. All-wheel drive is available in some, including the Audi A4, .Infiniti G35 sedan and BMW 325i and 330i. In raw horsepower, though, the TL pulls ahead. Its 270 bests the G35's 260, the 330i's 225, the A4 V-6's 220, the Lexus ES 330's 225 and the Cadillac CTS' 220 (although the .Infiniti's larger- .displacement 3.5-liter engine delivers higher torque).

The longest car in this group, the CTS, offers the most rear seat legroom, but it beats the TL by only slightly more than an inch.

As noted, Acuras tend to do well in surveys of quality and customer satisfaction, such as those published by Consumer Reports and J.D. Power and Associates. So, while there's risk in any new model, it should be small here.

Federal auto safety officials have no crash test rating yet for the new TL. The previous model scored well, though not perfect.

2004 Acura TL

Engine: 270-hp., 3.2-liter V-6.

Transmission: Five-speed automatic, front-wheel drive.

Safety: Dual front, side and curtain-type air bags; 4-wheel disc brakes with antilock, brake assist, electronic brake force distribution and stability control; fog lamps.

Place of Assembly: Marysville, Ohio.

Weight: 3,582 pounds.

Trunk: 12.3 cubic feet.

EPA Mileage Rating: 20 mpg city, 28 highway

Price as Driven: $35,195, including destination charge.

http://www.newsday.com/business/columnists/ny-sstom0130,0,4319786.column?coll=ny-business-columnists
 

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Good review. Only thing I would take notice with is his comment about the high performance tires possibly being harsher. THey're not. It's just a different compound with a different tread (less siping really). The aspect ratio is the same and the feel is the same. It makes sense to get the HPT version if you're already going for the 6MT because the Turanzas can get overwhelmed when paired with the brembo calipers up front.
 
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