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2009 Acura TL ReviewThe Good
Blending luxury and performance, the 2009 Acura TL offers a quiet and comfortable ride and a new all-wheel-drive trim that exhibits top-notch handling dynamics, and gadget fans will love playing with all its new technological features.The Bad
The '09 TL's new front end detracts from its otherwise refined personality, and costly new updates might price it out of the entry-level luxury sedan segment.
The CarGurus View
With the reliability and high resale value associated with the Acura name, the 2009 TL continues to excel as a solid and safe high-end entry-level sedan. Extensive updates this year significantly improve handling, interior convenience and comfort, and passenger space, and a more powerful engine makes the TL an interesting, if not overly competitive contender in the performance-oriented luxury sedan market. Cool gadgets raise the fun level, but come with expensive pricetags.
At a Glance
Total Luxury? Maybe. True Leather? Yeah, it's got that. Tech Lover? There you go. Whatever TL stands for, the 2009 Acura TL luxury sedan grows this year, in both size and power, knocking it nearly out of its entry-level midsize position and closer to the full-size Acura RL. As the competition increases in the luxury sedan segment, automakers must strive harder to distinguish their brands. For 2009, the Acura TL gets an overall redesign, with a stiffer, more rigid body, a new love-it-or-hate-it front grille, a reworked rear fascia, and larger dimensions to increase cabin size and passenger legroom. The added size barely increases its overall weight, however, thanks to the use of lightweight aluminum and high-strength steel. The smiling front grille is flanked by narrow angular headlamps and earns mixed reviews from both critics and owners.
The 2009 TL comes in front-wheel-drive Base and SH-AWD trims. The latter stands for Super Handling all-wheel drive, a first for the TL, and replaces the outgoing Type-S performance trim. This new trim features larger 18-inch wheels (the Base gets 17-inchers), larger dual-piston Brembo brakes, stiffer damping force, and stronger shocks. The SH-AWD also gets the most powerful Acura engine available – the 3.7-liter V6 from the RL. The Base stays content with the 3.5-liter V6, but does raise horsepower by 22 points. New paddle shifters are available with the slightly revised transmission.
A retooled interior adds more upscale features and a new cockpit design up front, while tech heads will be in heaven with the well-thought-out optional Tech Package. The '09 TL is nothing if not gadget-oriented, all of it aimed at improving passenger comfort and driver ease. The updated sedan gives the RL some competition in terms of size, and the new updates make it stronger, roomier, and smoother than last year's model.
The TL offers luxury comfort and a trouble-free ride for small families or single drivers looking for an upscale business car. Drivers looking for more direct road interaction and power, as well as the security of all-wheel drive, will appreciate the new SH-AWD trim, which boosts the fun quotient without sacrificing too much in terms of fuel economy. However, the improvements have significantly raised the pricetag on the '09 TL, threatening to take it out of its entry-level position and into the more high-end, full-size market segment.
Under the hood of the Base '09 TL lies a 3.5-liter VTEC V6, which now delivers 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 RPM, the same engine found in the dropped Type-S trim. Its 0-60 times average a satisfying 6.8 seconds, and fuel economy hovers around 18/26 mpg. Borrowing the RL's powerplant, the more powerful, sturdy, and fun-to-drive SH-AWD uses a 3.7-liter V6 to put out a road-burning 305 hp and 275 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 RPM, reducing 0-60 times to 5.3 seconds. Despite the extra punch, this engine's variable valve timing on both the intake and dual exhaust valves keeps fuel economy acceptable for a midsize sport sedan, averaging 17/24 mpg. Both engines require premium gas.
The only transmission remains a 5-speed sequential-shift automatic, which has been tweaked somewhat for 2009, but still tends to exhibit some lag time between shifts. It links to a shorter final drive ratio in the AWD to improve acceleration response. Many owners continue to make pleas for a 6-speed version, and Acura has been hinting at releasing a manual transmission option for 2010.
Ride & Handling
Despite an increase in dimensions, Acura keeps the weight down in the 2009 TL by using high-strength steel and aluminum. Though some feel the extra bit of weight takes a toll on the Base V6 engine, the TL still performs smoothly and powerfully, and the new 3.7-liter V6 in the heavier AWD trim adds the extra punch needed for confident highway acceleration.
A revised and stiffer chassis improves handling, with tighter and more precise cornering overall. The SH-AWD takes that one step further by tweaking the suspension, springs, and shocks even harder for more controlled dynamics and a more satisfying driving experience. Even with the optional 19-inch wheels and performance tires, the ride never feels uncomfortably harsh, and little wind, road, or tire noise invades the quiet cabin. Bolstered seats in the AWD trim could be more supportive, according to some test drives, but generally offer good body grip when taking winding roads at high speeds.
The automatic AWD system defaults to front-wheel drive, but can deliver up to 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels when it senses slippage. The Super Handling part distributes torque not only front to back, but also between the inner and outer parts of the wheel, as well as actively speeding up the rear wheels to help achieve more stability and balance when taking tight turns quickly. With the added benefit of yaw control, taken from both the RDX and RL, this trim wows both critics and owners with its expert, confident, and secure handling in any road situation, from practical utility to free-wheeling fun.
Another big and much desired improvement over last year's model is the lack of annoying torque steer, an oft-heard complaint in past years, which Acura has virtually eliminated in the 2009 TL. Performance overall has been smoothed out in both the front- and all-wheel-drive trims. Braking remains responsive, and the stiffer chassis helps limit body roll this year. A common complaint among both critics and owners remains the vague and floaty electric power steering, lacking much in the way of driver feedback even on the SH-AWD trim.
Cabin & Comfort
The 2009 Acura TL got bigger this year. Adding 2 inches in width, 6 inches in length, and 1.4 inches in wheelbase, the TL increases cabin volume by 1 cubic foot, giving most of that extra space to rear legroom, which comes in at a decent, but not great 36 inches, compared to the front row's spacious 42.5. Headroom suffers, with only 38 inches up front and 36.7 in the back. These coupe-like dimensions will have tall adults feeling slightly cramped and bent over.
While some owners find the trunk suitably large, its 13 cubic feet seems rather small for a midsize sedan, and the lack of split-folding rear seats to expand cargo space remains an oversight. The rear seat does offer a fold-down armrest that doubles as a pass-through to the trunk. The SH-AWD trim cuts trunk space down to 12.5, due to the presence of the rear differential. The cabin provides plenty of storage compartments designed to hold cups, bottles, and iPods.
The '09 TL gets a new dual-cockpit design up front overloaded with an abundance of buttons and controls to operate the extensive list of gadgetry in the sedan. Most critics find the controls to be overkill and the layout non-intuitive, but techno geeks love to play with their new toys. Cars equipped with the optional navigation system get a clear 8-inch LCD screen and all-in-one joystick controller that can be ignored if the driver prefers to use more convenient individual buttons. The system comes with real-time traffic, weather updates, and Doppler radar, and features a 13GB hard drive to which you can rip and store music from the CD player.
Driver comfort gets a boost with tilt and telescopic steering, wheel-mounted controls for cruise, audio, and the transmission, and standard 8-way power front seats with both power lumbar and height adjustments and memory settings for the driver. Leather upholstery and the leather and alloy trim look and feel high-quality. Bolstered seats in the AWD trim provide a bit more support, but some critics find it inadequate and too flat to accommodate the SH-AWD's tighter cornering and stiffer suspension.
Along with the previously mentioned features, the Base trim of the 2009 TL offers a 6-CD changer with satellite radio and a new MP3 jack with USB port, Bluetooth, heated front seats, a sunroof, a trip computer, and a temperature display and compass. The SH-AWD adds a cooling feature for the front seats.
The 2009 TL fulfills every tech-head's dream with its optional Tech Package. Among its offerings are the hard-drive-based navigation system, a 10-speaker Panasonic surround-sound system, iPod integration, keyless push-button start, and a climate control system that uses information from GPS sensors to sets the ideal cabin temperature.
Remaining a safe and solid sedan, the '09 TL lands five stars in every single category of the NHTSA crash tests, and the solid feel and confident grip of the AWD trim adds extra security without detracting from the fun factor behind the wheel. The sedan comes fully equipped with four-wheel disc and ABS brakes, backed with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. The Base features traction and stability control and 17-inch wheels, while the AWD adds larger Brembo brakes and 18-inch wheels for even better traction. Dual front-side airbags and side curtain airbags for both rows come with front passenger deactivation sensors. Other safety equipment includes a tire monitor, automatic headlights, xenon HID lamps, foglights, and mirrors with turn signals.
What Owners Think
Reviews of the 2009 Acura TL from users on other websites rave about the Tech package and abundance of convenience gadgets that are both standard and optional for this luxury sedan. With all the available features, drivers feel you get good value for your money in the TL. They also like its sharp handling and smooth ride, and many comment on its extremely quiet and comfortable cabin. Lots of room and an upscale luxury interior get high marks, with particular mention going to the premium sound system, new paddle shifter option, and easy-to-use navigation system. Owners also appreciate the extra power in the SH-AWD, which, combined with this trim's tight cornering, makes the TL fun to drive. For most, the fuel economy rates well for a sedan of this size and type.
The redesigned front end gets mixed reviews. Some owners love the unique styling, while others say it represents the biggest drawback of the '09 TL. The number one complaint, however, goes to the inadequate wheel size on Base trims. Drivers think the 18-inch wheels on the AWD should be standard across the line, with the 17-inchers both looking too small and not feeling sturdy enough for the size of the car. Other negatives point out the lack of a 6-speed transmission, the lack of rear-wheel drive, and the need for ventilated seats.
CarGurus owners have no complaints about their wonderful Acura TL. They heap praise on the sedan's acceleration power, solid handling, and high-end interior comfort. Like other owners, they find the TL fun to drive, especially the SH-AWD trim, which one owner calls “amazing.”
by Ann Jackman
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