2012 Acura TL Review

“Well-balanced” is a term that’s bandied about with remarkable frequency among new-car reviewers, but it’s indeed apropos in describing the just-released 2012 Acura TL midsize luxury sedan. It’s ideal for those wanting an athletic and aggressive car that nonetheless treats its occupants to a reasonably smooth ride and an accommodating interior with a generous assortment of high-tech features.

While not fully redesigned, the 2012 Acura TL receives assorted cosmetic and mechanical improvements for what the industry calls a mid-cycle update (the TL was last redesigned for the 2009 model year).

As is the case with aging celebrities, it’s amazing how having “a little work done” can improve a car’s outward appearance. The 2012 Acura TL didn’t exactly get the Joan Rivers treatment, but a few well-placed nips and tucks to the car’s styling have gone a long way toward bringing the car back into the mainstream. Nowhere is this more apparent than with the car’s revised front-end treatment. It no longer resembles some errant Pok©mon character thanks to a less-pronounced grille with smoother-integrated headlamps and turn signal lights and a more aggressive lower fascia.

It’s still a bit more outlandish looking than what are typically sedate-looking cars in its class, however. Acura still has a long way to go to establish an iconic identifying look for its what has always been an exceptionally engineered upscale models, but it’s a classier and far less polarizing design, overall.

Of course motorists spend most of their time inside the car looking out, not the other way around, and the 2012 Acura TL remains rewarding in this regard. The base 3.5-liter V6 engine receives a number of friction-reducing enhancements for 2012 and generates a lively 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. We tested the all-wheel-drive version that upgrades the V6 to a 3.7-liter version with a nominally quicker 305 horses and 273 pound feet. Both are competitive among sixes in the midsize luxury class in terms of power, smoothness and responsiveness.

A smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission is newly standard on the 2012 Acura TL. It includes a selectable “sport” mode for more aggressive shift points and can be operated manually via steering wheel-mounted paddles (it even allows double downshifts with automatic rev matching for authoritative passing power). The new gearbox helps boost the car’s fuel economy slightly, to 20-city/29-highway mpg with the 3.5-liter and 18/26 with the 3.7-liter V6.

As before, the 2012 Acura TL remains one of the few cars in its class to offer a manual transmission as a no-cost option on the all-wheel-drive version with the larger V6. While this gives the car added credibility among the enthusiast crowd, we suspect the majority of motorists will choose convenience over control and stick with the automatic. Still, we found the manual in our tester to be a welcome partner in both aggressive and passive motoring. It’s reasonably effortless to operate, even in traffic, with a light clutch and a precise shifter that’s never balky. With the 3.7-liter engine and manual transmission this version is rated at 17/25 mpg.

We quickly came to appreciate Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system, which is engineered to benefit both wet and dry-road traction. It not only automatically distributes engine power between the front and rear axles as needed, but also between the left and right rear wheels to provide a sporty feel few AWD vehicles can match. This so-called torque vectoring technology makes the 2012 Acura TL’s already quick and nimble handling feel like it’s on a turntable while making sharp turns at speed. Purists could argue the more-organic cornering virtues of pure rear-drive car, but AWD won’t buzz-kill a good time by giving up control to the car’s stability control system as easily, either, particularly on slick pavement.

The 2012 Acura TL’s ride qualities are likewise well-balanced ‘” there’s that word again ‘” with the car’s double wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension adeptly taking the edge off even the deepest potholes and pockmarked pavement and allows the car to keep its poise over extended rough patches. Seventeen-inch wheels and tires are standard on the base model, with 18-inch rims and rubber optional there and standard with AWD, where 19 inchers are alternately offered.

Inside, the 2012 Acura TL’s modestly redesigned interior is roomy, attractive and functional. There’s large and legible backlit LED gauges on the instrument panel and while the center stack of controls is cluttered with buttons and dials, this makes the car’s various systems easier to operate than the ersatz multimedia control systems that threaten the sanity of non-technical motorists in most luxury cars these days. Standard features are plentiful and include leather upholstery, heated front seats, a power moonroof and a Bluetooth hands-free cell-phone interface.

Our press-fleet 2012 Acura TL came with the aptly named Technology Package that includes a voice-activated navigation system with rear-time traffic and weather information, a solar-sensing climate control system with air filtration and humidity control, a rearview backup camera, keyless push button entry/start and an upgraded leather treatment. It also included the top-notch 440-watt Acura/ELS surround sound audio system that ­'” for the few that ever bought them ‘” plays top-quality DVD audio discs; it does nearly as good a job with those lossy MP3 files off an iPod or copied to the unit’s built-in 15 GB hard drive. A new Song By Voice feature allows the driver to select audio choices via voice activation.

Those choosing the Advance Package also get ventilated front seats and a blind-spot warning system for added safety while changing lanes on the highway, which is a feature we think should be standard across the line.

We found the front seats to be comfortable and supportive, with sufficient travel to suit long-legged motorists. Rear seat room is plentiful for two adult riders ‘” three in a pinch ‘” with a maximum 36.2 inches of legroom. Trunk space is adequate with 13.1 cubic feet of space (12.5 with AWD), though the rear seatbacks do not fold flat to expand its cargo-carrying abilities.

While the 2012 Acura TL may not be as flat-out sporty as a BMW 5 Series or as posh as a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, it’s certainly not as passive as competitors like the Lexus ES 350 or Lincoln MKZ. Like its closest rival, the Infiniti G37, the TL deftly balances elements of raciness and comfort that’s sure to engage a wide range of buyers.

You might even call it well balanced.

MSRP: $35,605-$39,155, not including $860 destination charge.