Acura TL: Long Term Test 1 (5,000 Miles In)
Having managed to rack up around 5,000 miles on my UA6 since it joined my squadron this summer, I’m ready to drop a deep report on it’s real-world performance.
Honda’s UA6 (Acura TL) is a tidy, unassuming sport sedan. That’s right, I said sport sedan. FWD or no, LSD and big-ass Brembos take this car from mild to… well… let’s say “moderate”. Anyway, the thing’s got enough gadgets, LEDs, and carbon fiber (albeit, faux) to allow you convince yourself you’re in an M car if you squint hard enough. Which you should never do while driving.
Whatever your thoughts on car branding, the third-gen TL has a niceness-to-affordability ratio that anyone can get behind; fuel efficient as an Accord and quick enough to keep up with your friend’s M3… as long as you’re both stuck in Newbury Street traffic.
What can I say, it’s the first thing you notice. And on this car that’s a good thing. Honda has a great track record of designing handsome vehicles that compliment their overall product, and this might be one of the marquee’s most elegant to date. Those sharp angles give it the chisled face of a Spartan warrior, while the smooth creases across the back put a suit on him. The A-Spec body kit on mine give it just enough sass to appeal to my inner Paul Walker, but are subtle enough to remain cool long after those F&F style wings have fallen out of fashion. As for the wheels, you really can’t argue with the OEM stocky five’s. Though the gunmetal-colored BBS-style rims featured on the TL Type-S are hot enough to melt tires; even before they start rolling.
Comfort & Convenience
This is where it becomes obvious how poor I am… as I’m blown away by seven-year-old ergonomic technology. One-touch control for both front windows and the sunroof, not to mention rear windows that go all the way down, was enough for me to brag about to my racecar-driving friends for the first couple weeks. But then I discovered the voice-command button on the left side of the steering wheel.
Push this button, say something like; “set temperature; sixty nine degrees” and not only does car perform the task, but it repeats the command in a sultry-lady-computer voice. Which is far and away the coolest part.
The gigantic touch-screen navigation/infotainment screen seemed a little less impressive since my phone is about twice as advanced and ten times more accurate, but it is worth noting that the Acura deck (made by Alpine) absolutely crushes the diminutive interface in my grandfather’s 05 E-Class. The comparable-era Mercedes-Benz nav screen is much smaller, is not touch screen, and does not have nearly as sexy a voice for driving directions.
The TL’s seating arrangement is more than acceptable, though I have to admit this is one department where the Japanese brands generally fall short of the Germans. Front seats are heated, easy to adjust and quite aggressive looking. Back seats have ample room for sex or fatter passengers (hey you want both, get an SUV).
Why, was there something else you needed a back seat for?
As far as road noise and suspension, I’m amazed to report that the shocks and bushings on this 160,000 mile car are more solid than those on my mum’s one-year-old cute ‘ute.
On my last trip to the wildlands of North New England I had an opportunity to get a second opinion on the vehicle’s straight-line stability, so while my friend and I made our way down US-91 I walked the car deep into the third quarter of the big clock and pinned it for about five minutes. Not only did my passenger not an eyebrow… but she was surprised at our pace when I disclosed it later.
Drag racer? No. Canyon carver? Neither.
While the TL is extremely light for a vehicle in the E-Class/5-Series/A6 size strata (just 3,500 pounds) it’s still massive, and it’s still front-wheel drive. This is a dangerous pairing when trying to hustle a vehicle off the line or through hairpins.
Mashing the gas off a stoplight quickly overwhelms the tires, and once the rubber finally does hook up; oversteer rears its ugly head and the car tries to put itself into the curb.
Of course, that’s wearing “okay” Nankang tires, and usually wet conditions.
In aggressive cornering this Acura is rigid enough to inspire confidence (with front and rear strut braces, it should be) but the FWD layout lets it down once again. With the front wheels doing the pulling and steering, it’s difficult to find that prime float-speed at which the weight of the car is exactly where you want it.
Where a skilled pilot could lay out a beautiful and pants-shitting yaw in a BMW, or a razor-sharp assault of the apex in an Audi, the TL just has to back off. This problem is significantly more apparent on a wet road.
The möbius-strip of nonsense that encircles the Boston Sand & Gravel facility is great for finding the limits of a car’s cornering speed …so I’m told… and apparently the tail of this era of TL only starts to wash out a little shy of twice the speed limit. Right around the time all but the least squeamish passengers will start to verbalize their terror.
This car comes into its own on the highway, and can be driven extremely aggressively from 2nd through 5th gear with smile-widening results. Hold VTEC open a little above four-and-a-half grand and the TL can surge through tiny cracks of traffic, or blast your ass into the back of the heated seat in a clear merge situation.
Acura claims the car’s good for up to 150 MPH, which is righteous, though I wouldn’t attempt it with anything less than exceptional tires and fresh brake pads.
FWD finally starts to redeem itself with weight savings, and as a result fuel economy. I track my MPG everyday, and on a normal first-on to last-off (about 3.5 hours on the road, averaging speeds in the mid 30’s) I see between 25 and 28 depending on how many Bimmers I’ve antagonized on the Pike.
The TL may get left looking at taillights in dogfights with the German Armada, but for the difference in ownership costs and real-world useable performance, the Acura decidedly earns its seat at the table of premium sport sedans. And when you consider how many times an M5 would get keyed in my neighborhood, this Japanese four-slammer is really the only viable option in this market.
When I can afford a few garage bays in Belmont I may switch my DD to something a little more pretentious, overpriced, and RWD. Until then, it’s Acura all the way.