2012 Acura TL SH-AWD with Advance Package
Engine: 3.7 liter V6
Drivetrain: Front engine/All wheel drive
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating Capacity: 5 passengers
EPA Fuel Economy: 18 city/26 highway
Base MSRP: $45,085 + $885 destination charge
As Tested: $45,970
The current body Acura TL debuted in 2008 as a 2009 model. Although the TL wasn’t the first Acura model to wear the infamous and gaudy chrome tooth-shield, it was the first Acura model that most people didn’t like. And to be perfectly honest, we are not fans of the new Acura design either.
Interestingly enough, the Acura brass listened to its customer base and redesigned the front and rear fascia. Reducing the size of the chrome tooth-shield and smoothing out the rear end. Also, they gave the TL some needed attention elsewhere – like a quieter interior, a faster processing computer unit for the audio/nav system, and an all-new 6-speed automatic transmission.
Mechanically, the Acura TL is based on the Honda Accord platform; however, the similarities end there. If you put the two side-by-side, you will see two completely different vehicles.
So, how did our Test Drive Team like the new 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD? Let’s find out…
Lows: Exterior styling, high MSRP, busy interior
Similar Vehicles: Infiniti G37/M37, BMW 3-series/5-series, Lexus ES 350/GS 350, Audi A4/A6
A big upgrade from the 2009 model, when the new body first came out. Now the chrome tooth-shield looks more like a grill insert. I would have given the 2009-2011 models a score of 3 or 4. Yet the overall styling is still so-so for me. It’s no longer offensive and polarizing (although my colleagues will disagree on that) but the TL’s exterior styling is still average at best.
Front end looks much better than 2009-2011; however the shield on the trunk still needs to be removed, or at least changed to the body color. Our test vehicle had a rear spoiler, which helped the overall look of the back end. Side profile of the TL is very nice, and the upgraded wheels received compliments from friends and family.
Yes, the 2012 Acura TL’s styling is better than the 2009 model’s, but it’s far from good. That tooth-shield/grill insert (or whatever you’d like to call it) is still gaudy. Not only that, it looks cheap. I can’t find one flattering part of the car from the tail lights to the headlights to bumpers and side skirts. The design theme just doesn’t make any sense. The only reason I gave it a 4.0 is the fact that there are much worse looking cars on the market.
When they refreshed the exterior design, they should have overhauled the center console as well. The ‘button-porn’ is still very prominent – it’s buttons galore. With the plethora of buttons, one might think that the TL’s controls are intuitive… but I had some trouble finding the clock. Also, I had to resort to the owner’s manual to get to the map zoom controls after Bhawin changed the zoom settings when he took the keys to the TL for a few days. Even with my complaints, the TL’s interior is a very nice environment to settle in. The interior fit-and-finish is just superb and the noise level is almost library silent.
The interior, starting with seats, is very comfortable. Heated and ventilated seats added to the comfort. Rear leg room was appreciated by passengers who also complimented the head room. As far as the dash and the buttons go, as Tae mentioned, they are very prominent! The amount of buttons makes it extremely challenging to make adjustments or changes while driving. There are a few handy shortcuts via the steering wheel controls; however, they too can be challenging without looking at them. The center stack looks too similar to the Accord’s and buttons such as the one for the sunroof are made of very cheap plastic. An overall score of 7.0 is due to the seats and fit-and-finish.
The TL’s interior was rather strange to me; not in styling, but in quality. The leather is very nice while the plastics used for the trim and center-console are rather, well, Honda-ish. The buttons feel solid and the overall design and fit-and-finish is definitely becoming of a luxury car. But I can’t get over the strange plastic faux carbon trim. It’s out of place. The rest of the interior screams luxury, but the trim squawks wannabe sports sedan. It’s not a bad place to be. Just the opposite actually. Even with its minor faults, it’s pleasing to the eye, quiet, and relaxing.
The 2009-2011 models came with the 5-speed automatic transmission, and the added sixth gear in the 2012 was much, much needed. Now the car feels on par with the rest of the luxury marques. The 3.7-liter V6 engine is just fantastic. It is very smooth and sounds like a refined sports car when you put the foot down. Although the TL is rated at 305HP, the car feels heavy (the TL is listed at 4,001lbs). Even at full throttle, the TL doesn’t jump and pounce. Rather, the car scoots along nicely – albeit, at a very fast pace.
Driving the SH-AWD version of the TL was a pleasure. Off the line, with and without the paddle shifters was good; not exhilarating like a Porsche 911, but still fun! The TL responds very well around town and at freeway speeds. The TL has a surprisingly small turning radius, and the steering was crisp on the freeway. Brakes were good and fade free during my time with the TL.
I’ve always loved Honda’s V6s. The TL is no exception. Rev-happy, snarly, and powerful, the 3.7-liter engine has torque aplenty (unusual for a Honda) and loads of high end power to keep you grinning. Like Tae said, it won’t pin you in your seat, but it’s plenty quick and it sounds fantastic. The 6-speed automatic isn’t the smoothest shifting, but Honda did place the paddles in the correct position and, miraculously, if you don’t click the upshift paddle, you’ll smash the rev-limiter. First gear, however, is off limits unless you stop and it will shift out of first gear without your permission. The responsiveness of the paddles is a little lackluster but I don’t think Acura really had shaving tenths off your lap-time at Laguna Seca on their minds when they made the TL.
One of the TL’s best traits is its handling capabilities, which are near the top of the class. Due to its brilliant SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) system, the TL will corner with the best in the world. Without going too deep into tech speak, when going into a corner, the TL’s SH-AWD will send more power to the outside rear wheel to gently guide the front-heavy car into your intended target. The suspension soaks up bumps in a very composed manner and when pushed, the TL becomes a very capable handler.
Very good handling is why this category is getting this score. Steering is very good, and the TL immediately goes where you point it! The SH-AWD screen shows the driver how the power is being distributed to the wheels at any given time. Front wheels get most of the power off the line and the TL feels like a typical front-wheel drive vehicle, which was a surprise considering our test vehicle was an AWD. During sharp turns the outside rear wheel (left or right depending on which direction you are turning) will receive more power and push the vehicle through the turn; this is an exhilarating feeling! Ride quality was a little stiff and sporty, but not to the point that comfort is sacrificed.
The TL’s suspension is very well sorted. Smaller bumps will jar the car around a little, but larger bumps are neatly absorbed. Even while cornering hard the bumps, undulations, changes in camber, don’t upset the car. The composure and confidence of the manner, in which it takes car of business, is nothing short of impressive. It’s a sleeper. Some might call it an identity crisis, but this is one of the few cars that can handle both Dr. Jekyll’s and Mr. Hyde’s personalities.
I wanted to devote a special section to TL’s AWD system. I used to laugh at the seemingly pretentious acronym (especially the first two letters) SH-AWD – Super Handling All Wheel Drive. As I experienced the SH-AWD system for the first time, I realized that there really isn’t a better name for it. While riding a bit of understeer through a freeway on-ramp I stomped the gas and to my surprise, the TL turns in harder and the back end began to rotate. The only other car that exhibits this behavior is a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution. I literally exclaimed while I was alone in the car, “WHAT?!” SH-AWD is this car’s secret weapon. No longer is the TL just a glorified Accord. It’s got moves that would impress even the most extreme BMW fanboy.
Acura would like you to believe that they are the technology leader, but at this price point, all the equipment in the TL should be a given. All the safety equipment and the electronic driver nannies (ABS,EBD, TCS, VSA, ESC, etc) are standard. Some of the menus and control buttons for the electronics are not very intuitive; for example the center control knob for the menu system could be mistaken for the volume knob for the audio system. One note: The ELS audio system is almost excellent. The channel separation and the audio imaging are great. However, the bass is a bit lacking.
The TL is a techie’s playground! The gadgets were numerous, however they were not intuitive. Navigation, backup camera, XM radio, heated and ventilated seats, Bluetooth, etc. were all included in our test vehicle. Having a “techie” background I was able to figure out all of the capabilities, but I cannot imagine this would be easy for most buyers. The sound system was very good after making adjustments to bass, treble, and subwoofer settings. Bluetooth connectivity was simple, once you find the menu.
The alphabet soup, as Tae mentioned, is aplenty. Yes, some of it is a little clunky to use, but when it does work, it works well. The ELS audio system is incredible. Its greatest feature is also its Achilles’ Heel. I’ve never been one to believe that more channels equal more sound quality. But in this case it’s true. Not because it feels like there’s band playing in your car, but by separating the channels you can distribute the sound so that the not every speaker has to share all the work. But when you play standard stereo tracks, this fault becomes obvious especially with the bass notes. When listening to a 5.1 DVD-Audio track, the sound is much more complete. You can only enjoy ELS fully with a DVD-Audio.
The TL is meant for 4 large adults and a small child in the rear center seat, or just 4 large adults. For a vehicle this big, the seating arrangement is not as accommodating as one might think. And the trunk is a bit too small.
The TL will provide four adults a very comfortable ride. The trunk is large enough to carry three golf bags horizontally.
The TL will carry what you need. The transmission tunnel and sound insulation do take some interior room away, but there is enough room for 4 adults even though it might be a bit on the tight side.
This is another of the interesting quandaries of the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD. It is bigger than most of its entry-level luxury-sport competitors, yet it is less expensive than the competition above it. For example, you can fetch a similarly equipped Infiniti G37x (AWD) or a Lexus ES 350 for about $42k. Yet, it is inversely cheaper than the cars one step higher, like the M37x (AWD) or a GS 350 AWD.
At $46k (as tested) there are many other choices on the market. Power, handling, interior, and comfort are the highlights of the TL SH-AWD. Dependability, fit and finish, and the enjoyment one will get makes this a worthwhile vehicle to consider.
The TL we tested is the most expensive trim level. Its $45,000+ price tag is quite heavy even though you do get a lot. I’d say better styling and a little nicer interior trim material would really give this a higher score. While looking at Acura’s website, I noticed the 6-Speed manual with SH-AWD and Technology Package was $43,000 and some change. That seems more like it. It still has all of what I loved in the car with a manual transmission. While I haven’t driven it, Honda has never disappointed me with their manuals.
The Acura TL SH-AWD… what a dilemma, a quandary. I’m really having a hard time scoring this vehicle. If I were to measure the TL against its smaller competitors, the score would come out low. But if I put it up against the larger premium cars, the TL scores very high. It’s a ‘tweener’ in every sense of the word – bigger than a midsize car, but smaller than a large car. On one hand, you have a ‘blah’ looking car with a high MSRP. On the other, you have a fantastic, solidly built, great handling, large and comfortable car. But at the end of the day, the combination of the superb SH-AWD and the wonderful suspension calibration edges out the shortcomings of the Acura TL.
When I put the front and rear shields out of my mind, I would buy a TL SH-AWD. Handling was fun! Power seems to be better than the past three years. The gadgets were nice to have and can be learned over time (even though it was a challenge to maneuver through them while driving). Cost is still high considering a few areas of the interior are made of cheap materials. Based on comments from friends and family, the overall opinion was the same… Nice vehicle, a little pricey, however reputation for fit-and-finish and reliability will draw most buyers to Acura vs. other rivals.
I was totally not expecting myself to give the TL a score of 8.0, but I was so flabbergasted by some of its features that, I can overlook its shortcomings. The engine, SH-AWD, and suspension make this car. If it wasn’t for the styling, this car could be a 9.5. I expected the TL to be floaty and roly-poly through the turns and have a muffled engine note. But it completely threw me for a loop. All that Acura needs to do is seriously step it up in the styling department, like Kia and Hyundai, and they’d be nearly unstoppable.
photo credit: Roger Iu