A guide to the Acura TL luxury sport sedan, including model history, specs and buying advice on new and used TL models.
The Acura TL has traditionally been one of the better choices available for a midsize luxury sport sedan. Though the TL typically does not deliver the excitement or prestige of competing European sedans, it counters with exceptional value and above-average durability and reliability.
The current (fourth) generation may have upped the ante, but cutting-edge technology and bracing performance are nothing new for the TL. Older TLs are still known for their engaging handling and plentiful amenities and should make a fine choice for a used luxury sport sedan.
Current Acura TL As Acura's midsize sedan offering, the TL offers a roomy interior, a powerful V6 engine and available all-wheel drive. It also boasts a host of gadgets and gizmos that should keep most luxury shoppers satisfied.
There are two trim levels: a base model and the sportier SH-AWD. Base cars (which are front-wheel drive) are motivated by a 3.5-liter V6 that kicks out 280 horsepower. As its name suggests, the SH-AWD version is all-wheel drive, and it's powered by a 3.7-liter V6 good for 305 hp. A six-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters is standard on both trims and a six-speed manual is available on the SH-AWD.
Base models are pretty well equipped, offering standard features such as 17-inch wheels, xenon headlights, a sunroof, leather upholstery and an eight-speaker stereo with an in-dash six-CD changer. In addition to all-wheel drive and a more powerful engine, the SH-AWD adds upgraded brakes, 18-inch alloy wheels, a sport-tuned suspension, sportier steering feel and performance-themed upholstery and metallic trim.
TL enthusiasts cherish the car for its cutting-edge gadgetry, and the current model does not disappoint. Standard features on base models include Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, a USB port and a dedicated iPod interface. Optional tech treats include a navigation system that offers real-time traffic and weather updates and a sound system with digital music storage capability.
In reviews of the Acura TL, our editors hailed its abundance of high-tech amenities, its roomy cabin and its sophisticated stereo system. They called out a few missteps as well, such as the car's bland interior and the fact that base models are hampered by uncommunicative steering and unremarkable brakes. Thanks to its much crisper handling and braking, the SH-AWD TL is a more compelling choice than the base model. The current TL is also one of just a few vehicles to earn a top grade in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's revised crash test standards.
Used Acura TL Models The current (fourth)-generation TL debuted for the 2009 model year. Compared to earlier TLs, the current model boasts a brasher look, highlighted by aggressive lines and a dramatic-looking front grille. The current model offers more interior room than the third-generation TL, as well as more power under the hood, and its ride is more compliant than that of its predecessor. There have been only a few changes since. Most notably, 2009-'11 TLs had a five-speed automatic transmission (compared to the newer six-speed auto) and a more controversial-looking grille.
The third-generation TL was available for model years 2004-'08. This TL was distinguished by its chiseled exterior styling, firm suspension tuning, powerful V6 and impressive level of standard equipment. Both a six-speed manual transmission and a five-speed automatic with shift paddles were available.
Two versions of the TL were offered in this era: base and Type-S. Base-model TLs built in model years 2004 and '05 were rated at 270 hp, while 2006 and later models were rated at 258. Note that this revision merely reflected a change in the standard horsepower rating system -- the TL's engine was unchanged.
Type-S Acuras were equipped with a 286-hp 3.5-liter V6. They also featured a sport-tuned suspension, Brembo high-performance brakes and unique styling elements that included quad tailpipes. Unfortunately for enthusiasts, the Type-S was on hiatus for the first part of the TL's model cycle and didn't hit the market until 2007.
Both versions of the TL came with an attractive, well-built interior designed with a more sporting intent in mind. In road tests, we were impressed with this Acura TL's comfort and dynamic abilities but ultimately found that its front-wheel-drive setup hampered its ability to match the handling dynamics offered by top rear-drive sport sedans. The Type-S upped the performance ante somewhat, boosting power while adding crisper handling.
For a majority of shoppers, a used TL from this era will provide a good mix of fun, comfort and convenience at a reasonable price. Changes during the model cycle were few, but the TL received a midlife freshening for 2007, including minor exterior and interior styling tweaks and an upgraded navigation system.
The second-generation Acura TL was built from 1999-2003. Though it was less exciting than more recent models, our editors gave this TL very positive reviews during its run. Improvements were made throughout this period, and the car had a number of TL firsts, including Honda's VTEC variable valve timing and an optional navigation system. The powerful Type-S version, which debuted in 2002, should be strongly considered by buyers interested in increased performance. Regardless of specific trim level, just about any used second-generation model should serve the used-sedan shopper well.
The original Acura TL debuted in 1995 as a replacement for the unloved Acura Vigor. Two versions were offered: a 2.5 TL with a 2.5-liter inline-5 engine and a 3.2 TL with a 3.2-liter V6. Both models were available throughout the first generation's run, which lasted pretty much unchanged through 1998. As there is now little price difference between the two, we suggest consumers interested in a first-generation used TL go for the more powerful 3.2.