With a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic--and even weather forecasts and graphic weather displays, plus a calendar, calculator, and database of scenic attractions, as well as cell phone integration, the newest Acura TL outfitted with the company's technology package could be thought of more as a PDA on wheels than a serious car. Oops, I forgot the XM satellite radio and the hard-disk drive for both software and music, plus minijack and USB interfaces for external players. Move over, Apple, RIM, and Palm, here comes Acura...
Fortunately, from the car enthusiast (as opposed to gadget enthusiast) perspective, the vehicle underneath the gadgetry is very good. It's larger than before, but not too much so, so there is more room inside. The chassis has had major structural improvements, and the suspension has been revised to improve handling and reduce torque steer, while still providing a luxury sport-touring ride experience.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine is comparable to the previous Type S version, and its maximum 280 horsepower and 254 lb-ft of torque are considerably more than adequate. Although the power peak is at 6200 rpm, with maximum torque at 5000, VTEC variable valve timing and lift for the intake valves of the single overhead cam V6 ensures good low- and mid-range power. A multimode and manually shiftable wide-ratio 5-speed automatic makes the best of the engine's power, and can optimize efficiency or performance.
In "D," the transmission shifts early and uses the highest gear practical. Because of the engine's good low- and mid-range torque this is not a concern for everyday driving, and fuel consumption can be very good. The EPA says 18/26; I got 25 in an 80/20 mix of highway and town driving. Some of which was in "S" mode, a much-better proposition for the performance-minded. As strong as the engine is at lower revs, it's much better up closer to the torque peak--and sport mode drops down a gear or two compared to D to keep it there. In both modes, Grade Logic Control keeps the transmission from hunting gears on hills, and, more importantly, from changing gear while cornering.
Unlike in the old Type S, there is no separate manual-shift gate. Manual shifting is available at any time simply by flicking the steering wheel-mounted paddles. In D, the transmission goes back to automatic operation in a short time. In S, it remains in manual mode until the shift lever is put back to D. In both, computerized controls protect the drive train from driver error.
Acura has spent a large portion of its existence searching for its own niche. It seems to have found it as high-tech performance luxury. If the performance message is diluted compared to some of its past stars (I'm thinking Integra GS-R and Type R and NSX here), the comfort and luxury factors are higher, and the appeal is broader. The number of people who would be comfortable in a TL is considerably larger than those who could live with a Type R as an only car.