One thing we really like about this navigation system is its complete list of points-of-interest. The Places database, as Acura calls it, includes just about any place you can find in the Yellow Pages, making this car useful for running impromptu errands. Live traffic is another nice feature of this system, although we've seen better integration on the Cadillac CTS. On the TL, traffic data received from XM gets shown on the map screen as red lines for stopped traffic, yellow for slow, and green for averages speeds more than 40 mph. In addition, it shows icons for particular incidents, such as accidents or road construction. But where the Cadillac will warn you ahead of time if you are about to enter a traffic jam, the Acura lets you drive right into it. The Acura's system won't even offer a detour if you are driving under route guidance and there are traffic obstructions ahead.
After Acura launched the RDX, it started to roll out that car's premium ELS stereo system in other models, and the TL Type-S gets it standard. This stereo sounds extremely good, with very crisp highs and equally strong bass. At its default settings, it's a little trebly for our tastes, but we merely turned up the subwoofer and the bass, and decreased the center speaker volume, making the sound perfect for our musical choices.
For sources, this stereo has good, bad, and inexplicable points. Its six-disc changer plays DVD audio, Super Audio CD, MP3 CDs, and regular CDs. Strangely, it doesn't show ID3 tag information for MP3s on its LCD, but it will show that information on a secondary LED display. It comes with XM satellite radio standard and has an auxiliary input in the console, but no iPod adapter is available. But the weirdest feature is a case deck, right in the stack under the CD player. And we thought CDs were becoming passe.
The last major cabin feature, Bluetooth cell phone integration, is also standard. And we have to reiterate our often repeated complaint about Acura cars that it's annoying to have one set of buttons for voice command, and another set for cell phone voice command. Short of fixing this problem, Honda recently duplicated it in the updated 2008 Honda Accord. For cell phone integration, the system works, but it doesn't have advanced features such as phone book importation.
Under the hood
We covered the performance characteristics of the 2008 Acura TL Type-S above. This front-wheel-drive car gets 286 horsepower and 256 foot-pounds of torque from its 3.5-liter engine. Not only does the engine produce enough power to get the front wheels spinning in place, it gets reasonable gas mileage for a performance car. The EPA rates it at 18 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. During our mixed city and freeway driving, we got a solid 22 mpg, impressive in that many six-cylinder cars we review can't even break 20 mpg. On top of that, the TL Type-S gets a ULEV II emissions rating from the California Air Resources Board, a step up from the minimum LEV II rating.
The handling is pretty good, although short of what we really want from a Type-S. Some understeer means you need to crank the wheel around to negotiate those really tight turns. Acura keeps torque steer under control, a necessity given this car's horsepower. But we never got comfortable with the combination of power, front-wheel-drive, limited slip differential, and traction control when hitting the throttle through a tight turn. During longer turns, we also noticed some body roll--not a lot, but more than you would get in a BMW 335i.
Acura uses a simplified pricing scheme, so unlike many other brands, you won't find big lists of options. Our 2008 Acura TL Type-S came with high-performance tires and all the electronics we mentioned above for a set price of $38,425. The $715 destination charge brings the total up to $39,140. Without the high-performance tires, the car goes for $200 less, and either version can be had with manual or automatic transmission with no difference in price. We highly recommend the manual transmission if you want to have fun, as the automatic is bland.
As our tech test shows, the Acura TL Type-S was a car we enjoyed driving, especially out on winding country roads with some good music blasting from the stereo. But as we've seen more cars with hard-drive-based music servers, that's a feature we missed on the TL Type-S. iPod integration would have done the job, too. For a little more money, you could get an Infiniti G37, which has better handling and technology.