HFC Test Drive: 2009 Acura TL

I have a special place in my heart for the Acura TL. Back in 2001, I laid my hands on a brand new 2002 Acura TL Type S. The regular TL had been around for years, but Honda decided to pump up the engine, throw on some different wheels and seats, and call is Type S (for “Screaming”). I got an Aegean Blue Pearl with black leather interior, which I still think is the best color option to-date on the TL.

After 4 years of racing around local roads and highways, I had to hang up the driving gloves and sunglasses and trade in the TL for a pickup. I was a homeowner now, with grand visions of hauling tons of stuff for home improvements. And now 2.5 years into being a truck driver, and with an entire version of the TL come and gone, I felt it was time to check out the newest offering from Acura: the 2009 Acura TL.

Our Test Model

For kicks, I entered the dealer showroom just to check out the car, and found myself driving one on the local roads in short time (and the wife didn’t stop me). The salesman grabbed a key for a brand new 2009 Acura TL with Technology Package. The base TL runs $34,955, and the tech package brings it up to $38,685. With the Technology Package, you get:

  • Navigation System with Voice Recognition
  • AcuraLink real-time traffic and weather radar mapping
  • Backup camera
  • Acura/ELS Surround premium audio system (10-speaker, 440-watt premium sound system with DVD-Audio, CD, DTS™, AM/FM radio, XM® Satellite Radio and 12.7 GB hard disk drive (HDD) media storage)
  • Keyless Access System with pushbutton ignition
  • Premium Milano leather seating surface (perforated leather)

Pricing for the base TL SH-AWD is $38,505. Add the tech package and the price bumps to $42,235. Want 19″ rims and “performance tires”? Add on another $1,000.

2009 Acura Styling

For Acura loyalists, the new styling was rather polarizing when first revealed. The profile was sharp and sleek and most everyone loved it. But the grille and butt offered the most room for criticism. First, the grill looks like a big chrome bucktooth in pictures. It’s like Acura wants to compete with Cadillac in the bling department, but didn’t quite understand proper placement.

Next, the butt. As you can see from the photo, the new Acura has gone very, um, “edgy” with its styling. The trunk has a spoiler lip coupled with a sharp bump in the middle. Join that with the multi-cornered trunk seam (where the lid meets the bumper) and it gets pretty busy looking back there.

But all that discussion was over photographs of the car. It’s not until you see it in person that you can truly appreciate the design changes.

In the photos, the chrome bucktooth looks totally flat, but in person, you realize it’s actually contoured. It’s still an eyesore, but not nearly as bad as in photos. And the tail is still busy, but aggressive and intimidating. Sort of like a rhino; You know it should go forward, but God forbid that thing ever backs up toward you!

Overall, the more seamless integration of headlamps, turn signals, air ducts and tailpipes make this Acura a beauty to behold in the showroom. There are certainly going to be people who hate the look of it, but you can’t please everyone.

2009 Acura Models, Engines and Power

Currently on the lot is the basic TL, but soon to follow is the Acura TL SH-AWD (short for “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive”. When the SH-AWD model arrives, it will be the most powerful Acura every built. But the basic TL is no slouch. With a 3.5 liter engine pushing out 280hp and 254lbs-ft of torque, the TL will scorch your pants off. But keep in mind that this car is front-wheel drive, and FWD cars aren’t made to channel that much power through the front wheels. You get something called “torque steer”. For now, just know that torque steer means your steering wheel pulls to the left or right when you accelerate. The car is trying to get a grip on the road, and it causes the wheels to move.

Using a new 3.7 liter engine, the SH-AWD model will blast off the starting line with 305hp and 273lb-ft of torque, but all that power will push through all 4 wheels when needed to reduce torque steer or get traction. Thanks to the VTEC engine, you don’t hit the redline until 6,700 (SH-AWD) or 6,800 (base) RPMs. That means you get more power for longer periods.

2009 Acura TL Interior

Since I sat in a black-interiored TL, it was hard to distinguish all of the design features, whether in the showroom or out in the parking lot (at night, mind you). The first thing I noticed, though, was that entry (and exit) was easy compared to previous TLs. There wasn’t as much of a lip at the door, so you shouldn’t have to worry about banging your shoes or scuffing the paint as you enter the cabin.

Next up, I found the seats fit my bum perfectly (as I carry 220lbs on a 5’10” frame), with room to spare. Compared to sitting in my wife’s MINI Cooper, I felt like I was riding in a Rolls. No overhanging hips here. For my petite wife, she noted that the passenger seat was comfortable and supported her legs the whole way out to the knees, like sitting on a sofa. And once you’re seated and comfortable in the cockpit, the next thing you notice is…

the wall of buttons!

Seriously, there were more buttons than I have fingers and toes, which is both good and bad. While many of the functions could be duplicated through the navigation system (our ride was equipped with the technology package), it was nice to have a physical button to change menu functions from radio to map, back out of screens, connect to your Bluetooth phone or shampoo your neighbor’s dog.

As far as the navigation system, if you live in a big city, the restaurant finder is a big help. You can even search based on Zagat ratings! And having a hard-drive-based nav system is great since you don’t need to mess with map DVDs. Speaking of the hard-drive, it also allows you to place your music in the car’s memory via a USB port so you don’t need to bring your iPod. And you can even rip music directly from your CDs onto the HD. In my opinion, it’s a great idea, but I would like to see a much larger hard-drive as I already have over 30gb of music, and I’m sure buyers will have much more. But if you fill up the hard-drive, the car comes with an auxilliary jack for your MP3 player, and it can even play music off your bluetooth-enabled phone!

To sum up the interior, it has all of the features found in any luxury model, plus some. From the rear parking camera to the driver’s heated, 10-way adjustable memory seat, you won’t be disappointed with toys and buttons to keep you busy for your whole ride.

Driving the 2009 Acura TL

Since my fingers are numb from typing, I’ll get right to it. The TL met my expectations of driving based on previous models. It was quieter than my 2002 TL-S, but not whisper-quiet. I expect as a sport-luxury model, they want some driving noise to come through so you feel “connected to the road”, but I would have wanted less tire noise.

Speaking of tires, the car came with the Michelin Pilot MXM-4, even though the spec sheet says it should have Bridgestone Turanzas. I’m bringing this up because I vowed I would never buy another Michelin Pilot MXM-4 tire again. They wear too quickly, they’re loud and they cost a fortune. You can get much better tires for half the $200 per tire cost of these Michelins. I’d suggest asking the dealer to replace the tires before you drive it off the lot.

So getting back to the drive, there was more than enough OOMPH! to get onto the highway. It was almost anti-climactic though. You just punch it and you’re at your destination before you can even appreciate the thrill of acceleration! The steering provided good feedback without being too stiff or loose. But one thing still lingers…

Torque Steer

I already mentioned that any front-wheel drive (FWD) vehicle with significant amounts of torque and horsepower will pull to the left or right on launch (and even when accelerating while cruising). This TL is absolutely no exception. While Acura plugged in computerized traction control to limit the torque steer, I still found myself needing to grip the wheel more tightly at red lights and stop signs, and even when accelerating from 55mph to 70mph on the highway. But when you have close to 300hp in a FWD car, it comes with the territory.

That’s why, if you want more controlled acceleration and more of the engine’s power being put to the asphalt, I recommend waiting until the 2009 Acura SH-AWD model arrives (very soon). Tack on a few grand to the price tag, but know that you’re getting even more power and, hopefully, no torque steer. But you can get a lot of gas for your regular TL with that extra $3,500 premium for the SH-AWD model.

Warranty and Service

One complaint I still have with Acura is that they don’t cover your regular maintenance costs. Sure, the new TL is supposed to go 100,000 miles before the first major service (spark plugs, etc.), but from experience, it’s those little service trips for oil changes, lubes, inspections, etc. that add up to big bucks. In my mind, if Acura really wants to compete with BMW, then add on 3 yr/36k mile maintenance coverage.

As for the rest of the warranties, Acura still has the bumper-to-bumper 4 yr/50k mile warranty, but they boosted their powertrain warranty up to 6 years or 70,000 miles. I know they’ve had so many transmission problems that this helps ease my fears. But then again, the salesman assured me these issues have been resolved and won’t crop up in the 2009 model. We’ll see.

Final Verdict: 2009 Acura TL

Ok, should you buy this car? Well, in general I’ll tell people to wait to get any car used, but I understand that many people just want their cars to smell new. I guess one thing about buying the TL used is that Acura holds its value very well compared to other cars, so you won’t get a huge discount on the price unless you wait 2-3 years after it’s released.

So in my opinion, the new 2009 Acura TL has all the gadgets, comfort, speed, handling (except some torque steer) and edgy styling you would want in a “luxury sports sedan”. I was very tempted to buy one myself, but luckily my wife has placed me on the “No New Car in 2008” list. It’s a good thing because I don’t think I can justify spending $40,000 on a new car when I take public transportation to work every day. Maybe I should look for a new job so I have a reason to buy the Acura TL? Hmm…

Dealer Recommendation

As a footnote, if you’re shopping in the Washington D.C. area, I recommend trying Rosenthal Acura in Gaithersburg, MD. They’re the #3 dealer by sales volume in the nation, and I was always pleased with their service when I owned an Acura. And if you do stop by, talk to salesman Roger Briceno and tell him “Help FInd a Car sent me” (I don’t get any kickbacks though). My wife hates car dealerships, but Roger was so nice that she left the dealership actually smiling. Thanks Roger!

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