- Abundant user-friendly high-tech features
- Spacious cabin
- Smart all-wheel-drive system
- Superb optional sound system
- Solid construction
- Excellent crash test scores
- Base model's numb steering
- Polarizing styling
There's no getting around the fact that widely admired styling can sell cars and overcome glaring faults. At the same time, questionable design can sully an otherwise appealing car.
Take the 2011 Acura TL, a midsize luxury sedan that's difficult to fault. It has compelling performance, perfect crash scores, a spacious interior, solid build quality and plenty of the latest technologies. Even so, since being completely redesigned two years ago, the once top-selling TL has taken a steep nose dive in sales compared to similarly priced luxury cars. You would think that a car renowned for its reliability and strong value would do relatively well in tough economic times, yet the current TL has floundered. For most buyers, one look at its bloated bodywork and big metallic beak of a grille will be all the explanation necessary for this decline from one generation to the next.
Styling is subjective, though, so if you can put aside (or appreciate) the TL's looks, then you should welcome its many positive attributes. Available in two distinct flavors, the TL consequently caters to two distinct type of buyers. For those interested primarily in a refined ride, a spacious cabin and a full helping of bells and whistles, the base model TL is a smart alternative to luxury sedans like the Buick LaCrosse, Hyundai Genesis or Lexus ES 350. The sport-oriented TL SH-AWD, meanwhile, can keep pace around corners with sport sedans like the 2011 Audi A4, 2011 BMW 3 Series or Infiniti G37 thanks to its high-tech Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (hence SH-AWD).
Luxury cars and sport sedans must strike an emotional connection with their buyers, but if that emotion is a negative one, then those cars are unlikely to win many takers. As much as we like the 2011 Acura TL and find it to be a compelling value with few objective faults, it's easy to understand why buyers aren't flocking to Acura showrooms to pick one up.
WHAT'S NEW FOR 2011
The Acura TL is unchanged for 2011.
TRIMS & EQUIPMENT
The 2011 Acura TL is a midsize luxury sedan available in TL and TL SH-AWD trim levels. The standard TL comes with 17-inch wheels, automatic xenon headlamps, foglamps, a sunroof, dual-zone automatic climate control, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated eight-way power front seats (with driver lumbar adjustment and memory functions), leather upholstery, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, and an eight-speaker sound system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and an iPod/USB audio interface. The TL SH-AWD adds a more powerful engine, all-wheel drive, more aggressive suspension and steering tuning, upgraded brakes, 18-inch wheels, deep-bolstered front seats and contrasting leather stitching.
The Technology package available on both trims adds upgraded tires, a rear spoiler, a rearview camera, keyless ignition/entry, GPS-linked and solar-sensing climate control, upgraded leather upholstery, upgraded interior metal trim, a navigation system, real-time traffic and weather, voice control and a 10-speaker Acura/ELS surround-sound audio system with digital music storage. This package can also be augmented with 18-inch wheels on the base TL or 19-inch wheels on the SH-AWD.
INTERIOR & SAFETY
The 2011 Acura TL's interior features a more contemporary design language than some of its competitors. Aluminum trim adorns the cabin instead of the glossy wood treatments found in the Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis or Lexus ES 350. Overall, the surroundings have a more austere look and feel, much like an Audi. Materials quality is top-notch, with plenty of soft-touch surfaces. Some have commented that the base aluminum trim has a cheap look about it, but upgraded metallic trim included with the Technology package is of a higher quality and the available two-tone color scheme helps to dress things up.
In terms of comfort, the TL's cabin is roomy and quiet, with more space than similarly priced European sedans. The driver seat offers plenty of adjustment and side bolstering, while the rear seats can easily accommodate taller passengers. Large flip-up headrests provide comfort and protection for those seated in the rear and, when not in use, slide down flush with the seatbacks for an unobstructed view. The 13.1 cubic feet of trunk capacity is a bit less than other cars in this class, but the wide opening makes loading a few golf bags and suitcases easy.
Every 2011 Acura TL comes with antilock disc brakes with brake assist, stability and traction control, front-seat side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front restraints. In Edmunds brake testing, a base TL came to a stop from 60 mph in a distance of 122 feet -- average for the class. The TL SH-AWD used its upgraded brakes to record a stop in a very impressive 106 feet.
The Acura TL has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash testing procedure. Its 2010 rating (which isn't comparable to 2011 ratings) shows that the TL receives the top five-star rating in all categories. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the TL its top rating of "Good" in the frontal-offset and side impact tests.
PERFORMANCE & HANDLING
The base model 2011 Acura TL is front-wheel drive and is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 280 horsepower and 254 pound-feet of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard. In Edmunds performance testing, the base TL went from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds -- on par with most base model luxury sedans. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway and 21 mpg combined.
The TL SH-AWD model features Acura's Super Handling-All-Wheel-Drive system, which transfers different levels of power to individual wheels to maximize traction and grip through turns and in inclement weather. It also gets a 3.7-liter V6 good for 305 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. A five-speed automatic is standard, but a six-speed manual is optional and includes hill start assist. With the automatic, the TL SH-AWD goes from zero to 60 mph in 6.7 seconds and with the manual, it does it in 5.6 seconds. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17/25/20 with either transmission.
Given the divergent handling characteristics of the 2011 Acura TL models, they can almost be thought of as two distinctly different cars. The base TL should appeal to drivers with more comfort and luxury in mind. Ride quality is excellent -- bumps, potholes and expansion joints are dismissed with a reassuring, almost Germanic thump that befits a luxury car with the TL's price tag. The 280-hp V6 should prove more than adequate for daily drives, while the steering, though lacking in feel, has plenty of assist to make parking easy.
For those with more sporting intentions, the SH-AWD lives up to its "Super Handling" label by delivering considerably more grip and control than the base car. The complex all-wheel-drive system directs more power to the outside wheels when cornering for improved handling dynamics, while the communicative and well-weighted steering makes for a more confident driving experience.
The 2011 Acura TL is a strong choice among midsize luxury sedans, but its controversial styling may be tough to overcome.