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2012 Acura TL ReviewThe Good
Acura wisely gives its TL midsize luxury sedan an exterior update for 2012, erasing some of the design errors of the past few years, and adds a new 6-speed automatic transmission and a number of interior improvements, as well as a new Advance Package.The Bad
While the 2012 TL's cabin provides plenty of room for passengers, cargo space in the trunk remains tight, and some owners report a number of problems with the vehicle's interior technology gear, including its navigation system.
The CarGurus View
With sales of the TL dropping over the past few years, Acura improves the sport sedan for 2012 to help make it a little more competitive in its automotive segment. Exterior styling remains a controversial point for some reviewers, but overall owners like the TL's good balance of features, performance and sporty styling. However, some have reported tech problems with the car, as well as issues with the new transmission. On the positive side, Acura seems to be making deals to boost sales, which might be good news for savvy buyers looking for an upscale commuter vehicle.
At a Glance
Three years into its controversial fourth-generation redesign, the Acura TL midsize sedan receives a number of updates and improvements for 2012, starting with its exterior styling. The TL's fourth-generation design, especially the shield-shaped, beak-like front-end grille, drew very mixed reviews, and some observers say the inelegant design negatively impacted TL sales. So the automaker responds for 2012 with a course correction, outfitting the '12 TL with a more sedate version of the shield grille, as well as a shorter front overhang and a restyled rear bumper with smaller reflectors. The TL also displays new headlights, foglights and turn signals. Other improvements for 2012, all part of a mid-generation refresh, include a new Sequential SportShift 6-speed automatic transmission and a number of interior updates.
Exterior changes to the 2012 TL's front and rear fascias result in a slightly shorter overall length, by 1.5 inches to 194 inches. In addition, the chrome trim around the hood and windows has been changed to body color, and door handles are now body color as well, which eases some of the sedan's aggressive exterior look. The changes up front help improve aerodynamics, Acura notes, and allow the more sophisticated aspects of the exterior design, such as the clean side lines, subtle arches over the front wheels and sporty sweptback roofline, to shine through. Standard exterior features for all trims include HID headlights, heated power side mirrors with integrated turn signals, new LED taillights and dual exhaust outlets.
Acura offers the 5-passenger TL in Base and SH-AWD trim levels, with Technology and new Advance Packages available at each level. The Technology Package includes navigation, upgraded audio and climate control systems, premium leather seating and a rear spoiler, while the new Advance Package also includes heated and ventilated front seats, a blind-spot system and unique wheels.
Overall, the 2012 Acura TL delivers a winning balance of sportiness, performance and interior amenities, and many reviewers place it at or near the top of its class, which includes such upscale competitors as the BMW 3 Series, the Cadillac CTS, the Mercedes-Benz C-Class and the Audi A4.
A 3.5-liter V6 engine, which powers the base TL through the front wheels, produces 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque. For 2012, Acura tweaks the engine to reduce friction between the pistons and cylinder walls, which helps improve efficiency. Similarly, variable valve timing and electronic lift control improve airflow and engine efficiency. As a result, the TL posts relatively decent fuel economy numbers of 20/29 mpg, an increase of 3 mpg on the highway over the previous year. However, prospective buyers should note that premium fuel is required.
For 2012, Acura pairs the V6 with a new Sequential SportShift 6-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, which enable drivers to shift gears manually. The new transmission includes a double-kick-down feature, giving drivers the ability to downshift 2 gears at once, and a Sport mode, which allows higher revs before upshifting for a sportier driving experience.
TL SH-AWD trims get a 3.7-liter VTEC V6 engine, which puts out 305 hp and 273 lb-ft of torque. The larger V6 also features variable valve timing and electronic lift control, as well as a high-flow exhaust system. It links to the new 6-speed automatic in all SH-AWD trims except the SH-AWD with Technology Package, which replaces the automatic with a 6-speed close-ratio manual transmission. The EPA estimates fuel economy numbers of 18/26 mpg for SH-AWD trims with the automatic transmission (an increase of 1 mpg over the previous year) and 17/25 with the manual shifter.
The SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system sends up to 90 percent of power to the front wheels under typical driving conditions, but transfers up to 45 percent of power to the rear wheels under hard acceleration to improve rear-wheel traction and up to 70 percent of power to the outside wheels when cornering to reduce understeer and improve overall stability.
Both engines are quiet when idling and responsive when pushed, delivering plenty of power for all types of maneuvers. Testers especially single out the base V6 for its performance and competence. The new 6-speed automatic does a better job of channeling power from both engines, reviewers say, but they like the automatic transmission's manual-shift feature via paddle shifters better than its automatic mode, which can sometimes make shifts feel harsh. Still, reviewers say the TL's performance helps put it near the top of its class.
Ride & Handling
The Acura TL's well-tuned suspension delivers a smooth, sporty ride, especially on twisty roads and in tight corners. The lighter base TL remains slightly more nimble than the heavier SH-AWD trims, but testers give high praise to the AWD system for shifting power not only to the rear wheels when needed, but to the side wheels as well, resulting in a highly competent, road-hugging ride. The only downside, according to some testers, remains the electric variable power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering, which receives mixed reviews. Some find the steering system responsive, with good feedback, while others say it feels too light for a sport-oriented vehicle.
The TL rides on a 4-wheel independent suspension with a double-wishbone system with coil springs and a stabilizer bar in the front, and a multi-link configuration, also with coil springs and a stabilizer bar, in the rear. The SH-AWD trims receive larger stabilizer bars in both the front and rear, as well as unique damper and brake tuning designed to improve performance. In addition, the AWD system integrates with the vehicle's antilock braking and Vehicle Stability Assist systems to deliver optimal handling and stability.
Acura equips the TL with new 17-inch, 7-spoke aluminum wheels for 2012, with all-season tires. The SH-AWD trims receive new 18-inch, 5-spoke aluminum wheels with low-profile tires, which provide more agile handling. The Advance Package adds unique 18-inch aluminum wheels on front-wheel-drive trims and unique 19-inch aluminum wheels with performance all-season tires on AWD trims.
Cabin & Comfort
The cabin of the 5-passenger TL features a dual-cockpit design, which gives the driver and front passenger their own personal spaces, separated by a central information center in the center stack and a swooping center console. The design puts all important controls and readouts within easy reach of both front occupants, including the dual-zone, dual-mode automatic climate control system, which allows the driver and front passenger to set specific temperatures via voice commands. Taller passengers will find plenty of room in both the first and second row, and the front sport seats are comfortable and supportive enough for long trips.
Acura updated the TL's instrument cluster and interior surfaces for 2012 and adds available ventilated front seats as part of the Advance Package. In addition, the Bluetooth system now includes added functionality, and the USB port offers a faster connection speed. The automaker also uses new body sealing techniques and weatherstripping to ensure a quieter cabin.
Leather upholstery comes standard on all trims, along with 2-level heated front seats, 10-way power adjustment for the driver's seat and 8-way power adjustment for the passenger. The SH-AWD trims add high-performance front seats with additional side bolstering, while the Technology Package adds perforated Milano premium leather upholstery. The rear seat includes adjustable climate-control vents and a fold-down center armrest with a pass-through to the trunk.
A power tilt/slide moonroof, remote keyless entry, memory settings for the driver's seat, a trip computer and steering-wheel-mounted controls for audio, cruise, phone and a multi-information display are among the other standard features. In addition, the base TL trim and TL SH-AWD trims get an 8-speaker, 276-watt audio system with a 6-CD changer and SiriusXM satellite radio, while the Technology Package adds navigation with real-time traffic and weather, as well as a 10-speaker, 440-watt Surround Sound audio system with a CD/DVD player and a 60GB hard drive. The Technology Package also adds push-button start, a rear-view camera and a GPS-linked automatic climate control system, which monitors the sun's position and intensity and makes interior climate adjustments accordingly.
Cargo space remains tight in the 2012 TL, and cargo-carrying capabilities remain limited, since the rear seats do not fold down. In addition, a number of reviewers complain about the odd shape of the trunk, which further inhibits storage capacity. The trunk offers 13.1 cubic feet of storage space in the base TL, and 12.5 cubic feet in SH-AWD trims. That's better than the Audi A4 (12.4 cubic feet) and comparable to the Cadillac CTS (13.6) but behind the BMW 3 Series (17).
The IIHS awarded the 2012 Acura TL a top rating of Good, since it achieved the highest scores possible for protecting passengers during frontal, side-impact and rollover crashes. The NHTSA gave the TL 5 out of 5 stars for protecting passengers during rollovers, but 4 stars for protecting passengers during side-impact crashes and only 2 stars for protecting passengers during frontal crashes.
Standard safety features include 6 airbags and daytime running lights in addition to the antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist. The Vehicle Stability Assist system incorporates electronic stability control and traction control.
What Owners Think
While overall owners like their Acura TLs, many of them also have suggestions for improvement, such as more adjustability for the front seats or an available backup camera without having to purchase the navigation system. A number of owners also have complaints about the navigation system, and a few have reported problems with the new transmission. However, owners generally like the TL's exterior design, with some calling it sophisticated and sporty. Owners also say the front seats are comfortable for long distances, and they like the vehicle's handling and performance. For many owners, the buying decision hinged on a matter of value, with pricing that made the TL a good choice for its class.
Rob has been a contributor to CarGurus since 2007, and an automotive test-driver and writer since the early ’90s. He’s test-driven everything from BMWs and Jags to Bentleys and Saabs, with an occasional Range Rover, Ferrari, Porsche or Lamborghini thrown in. He also created the annual Car of the Year and Exotic Car of the Year awards for Robb Report magazine. He currently resides in Florida.
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