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The Type-S makes a comeback to the Acura TL lineup for the 2007 model year. With a more powerful V-6 engine than the standard TL, stiffened suspension, and a host of telltale custom design cues including 10-spoke alloy wheels, a front air dam, and quad-outlet chrome-tipped exhaust pipes, the Type-S makes its sporty intentions clear. The cabin is packed with all that Acura's technology labs have to offer, with a voice-activated, traffic-enabled navigation system, Bluetooth hands-free calling, and a surround-sound audio system all standard. In our week with the car, we put its tech and performance to the test: most of it, including much of the onboard gadgetry, impressed us; some of it--such as the automatic transmission--didn't.
Test the tech: Jamming with XM NavTraffic
For our tech test of the Acura TL Type-S, we decided to focus on the car's real-time traffic XM NavTraffic information service. Offered for the first time in the TL for the 2007 model year, XM NavTraffic uses the same satellite infrastructure as XM Satellite Radio to deliver what Acura calls "up-to-the-minute" traffic information. The system's most prominent feature is its color-coded highway information, which informs drivers of the current speed on major routes with different colors indicating different traffic speeds: green for speeds more than 40mph, orange for speeds between 20mph and 40mph, and red for speeds of less than 20mph. We have seen this feature on a number of high-end models over the last couple of years, including the 2006 Acura RL and the 2007 Lexus LS 460L (both of which won CNET's Editors' Choice award). To thoroughly test the NavTraffic function, we found ourselves planning one of the most counterintuitive things we have ever done behind the wheel: trying to get stuck in traffic.
Not only did we want to find the densest congestion available, we also were interested in finding our way to any specific incidents and accidents that were showing up on the NavTraffic system. Between the gridlock and the ambulance chasing, we were clearly in for a morning rush hour of high entertainment on the maze of highways around the San Francisco Bay Area.
Scanning the freeways south of the city using the navigation system's scrolling function, we spotted a warning icon on southbound Route 80 at Army Street and Potrero Avenue. Drivers can get more detail on a specific traffic incident by moving the crosshair (controlled by a joystick beneath the screen) over the yellow diamond and clicking. In this case, we were told there was an "object on the roadway," and traffic was shown moving at orange speed (between 20 and 40mph). This seemed like the ideal way to start our morning. However, approaching the supposed incident spot at 70mph, we found no evidence whatever of an object on the roadway, and we passed right through the yellow warning icon on the navigation system's map at full highway speed.
The next stop on our morning commute was another hotspot, this time labeled as an accident on Highway 280 heading south toward Daly City. We set our sights on this trouble spot and headed toward the supposed accident. When we arrived, however, we found there was nothing to be seen: yet again, the XM NavTraffic information was outdated. Zero out of two: not a great scorecard for traffic incidents so far.
Next, we decided to test the color-coded traffic-speed information by making our way back into San Francisco north on Highway 280 in the middle of the morning rush hour. About 10 miles south of the city, the map screen showed green roads, which was accurate as we cruised along in heavy, but fast-moving traffic. Within five miles of the city, the map started to display orange roads all the way to the highway exit, suggesting the traffic was slowing to below 40mph; however, the reality was the traffic speed remained constant at about 60mph way past the start of the orange-labeled road. Finally, within about one mile of the freeway exit, traffic suddenly backed up, and we found ourselves in stop-and-go traffic, at speeds less than 20mph. If the NavTraffic was accurate, this last section of the freeway would have been shown in red. Again, the traffic service proved to be far from "up to the minute." Most other incidents and traffic were reported accurately, including a red diamond warning for construction on the Bay Bridge and patches of slower traffic on Route 580 toward Oakland. Overall, we found NavTraffic a nice-to-have feature, but not one we could rely on for exact traffic information.
In the cabin
The cockpit of the 2007 Acura TL Type-S is a cross between typical Acura comfort and standard sporty design language. While it does feature leather seating (standard on all Acuras), the cabin is not sumptuously appointed. Dash materials are a mixture of soft black plastic, hard silver plastic, and charcoal-gray carbon fiber trim.
The TL Type-S's central stack is dominated by a massive LCD touch screen, which is the focal point for most onboard tech systems, including navigation and audio control. In navigation mode, the screen shows bright, colorful maps, which are clear and easy to read at a glance, albeit with blocky graphics and road-name fonts.
Acura's navigation system never ceases to impress us with its voice-recognition capabilities. In addition to its touch screen programmability for destinations, the system can understand spoken addresses with consistent accuracy. For points of interest, the system cannot understand spoken location names, but drivers are given the option of entering destinations by spelling them out letter by letter.