Coupled with the close ratio gearbox and its short-throw shifter, banging through the Acura's gears on a run to 60 mph is a lot of fun. Also, the precision of the gate makes shifting in even stop-and-go traffic painless.
Setting the TL SH-AWD apart from similarly engine sport luxury cars is its all-wheel-drive system, which Acura calls Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive. By shifting torque not only fore and aft, but also across the rear axle, the system aids the SH-AWD in cornering by pushing extra torque to the outside rear wheel in a turn, rotating the car. The effect is very good, minimizing understeer.
When we first pulled the TL SH-AWD out of our parking garage, the steering gave a telltale whirring sound as we cranked the wheel, indicating an electric power steering unit. While initially worrying, Acura proved to us that it knows how to tune this type of steering rig as we got the car into some corners. The car dials down the numb electric power feel, letting the feel of the road come through.
Likewise, the suspension system kept this car's sport intentions pure. In normal city and freeway driving, the ride was a little stiffer than you would want in a luxury car. However, the car's stiff ride paid off in the corners where it maintained excellent stability, helping keep the tires planted on the pavement.
You can get the TL SH-AWD with a five-speed-automatic transmission, but we think opting for that gearbox would be a mistake. For sport driving, Acura's automatic transmissions are notoriously weak, and the TL SH-AWD is not a car to leave in the garage on weekends. However, the standard TL works fine as a commuter car.
The sound system also roars
Not that the TL SH-AWD can't handle the daily commute as well as fast drives over good roads, it is just a little stiffer than its more sedate counterpart is. The ELS audio system, which uses 10 speakers and a 440-watt amp, delivers excellent audio quality and adds to the car's interior comfort. We enjoyed the system's bass response, which came through strong with little distortion, as well as its clear, warm vocals. While the system's highs didn't sound as distinguished as we would like, lacking really fine detail, overall we were satisfied with it.
With a hard drive in the car for map storage, Acura reserves space for music storage. We particularly like the interface to browse music on the drive, which uses the same design as that for satellite radio and the navigation system, with big icons for album, genre, artist, and playlist. Strangely, the interface for browsing a connected iPod's library is nowhere near as nice, putting the same categories in an ugly little list. It is an odd inconsistency.
Acura rounds out its cabin tech with a Bluetooth phone system. It does a nice job of presenting the phone's contact list on the car's LCD, but the voice command system does not support dialing by name.
That LCD also shows an image from the rearview camera, with an overlay of distance lines. But Acura has not included any other driver aid technologies, such as blind spot detection.
Everything about the 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD is very nice, and we looked forward to taking it out for test drives. However, none of its tech, barring the audio system, reaches for the stars.
In particular, the car's engine and transmission, although nicely refined, are standard. However, the all-wheel-drive system and suspension tuning raise the car's level of handling significantly, and we give it credit for that.
All of the cabin tech systems are very usable and modern. We like the navigation system, especially the route guidance, but there is nothing here we haven't seen in other cars. The stereo includes the usual audio sources, and we like the audio quality of this system. Where the car really falls behind the competition is in driver aid technologies.
The exterior design of the TL SH-AWD might be controversial, but it is certainly distinct from other brands, if not other Acuras. The car's electronics interface is very usable, and some of the onscreen menus look good, but Acura hasn't embraced the notion of simplicity when it comes to buttons.
|Model||2010 Acura TL|
|Trim||SH-AWD 6-Speed Manual with Technology Package and High Performance Tires|
|Power train||3.7-liter V-6, 6 speed manual transmission|
|EPA fuel economy||17 mpg city/25 mpg highway|
|Observed fuel economy||Not recorded|
|Navigation||Hard drive-based navigation with traffic|
|Bluetooth phone support||Standard|
|Disc player||MP3 compatible single CD/DVD player|
|MP3 player support||iPod integration|
|Other digital audio||Bluetooth streaming, onboard hard drive, USB drive, satellite radio|
|Audio system||ELS 440 watt 10 speaker surround sound system|
|Driver aids||Rear view camera|
|Price as tested||$44,245|