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2012 Acura TL SH-AWD review:

2012 Acura TL SH-AWD

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As a new feature for Acura, the TL SH-AWD offers a blind-spot detection system, lighting up warning icons at the bases of the A pillars when cars are in the lanes to either side. It also shows a rearview camera view on the main LCD with distance lines, but not the more sophisticated trajectory lines of competitors. Acura also does not make the adaptive cruise control system, optional for the RL, available in the TL SH-AWD.

Automatic vs. manual
One big new feature for the 2012 TL SH-AWD is a six-speed automatic transmission, replacing the previous generation's five-speed. This transmission has sport and manual shifting modes, but the former is not particularly aggressive, and the latter still suffers from torque converter lag during gear changes.

Considering the TL SH-AWD's sporting character, buyers should be opting for the six-speed manual transmission instead of the automatic. The manual shifts with a beautiful mechanical precision, and is much more satisfying to use. And it will be easier to get in the right low gear for high-speed cornering. The automatic transmission's proper place is in the standard TL.

The TL SH-AWD gains an extra gear for 2012, but we recommend the manual transmission.

The engine, a 3.7-liter V-6, remains unchanged from the launch of the TL SH-AWD in 2009. It uses Honda's VTEC variable valve timing for efficiency, generating 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Those middling power figures reflect the age of this technology, in an era in which sport luxury competitors are pushing direct injection and other efficiency technology.

Acceleration comes on smoothly, and this power train makes the TL SH-AWD easy to drive. It can creep along in traffic or roar down the road with the tachometer pushing 6,000. The car exhibited a lack of power during passing maneuvers, mostly thanks to the transmission's hesitancy to downshift. In manual mode, you can get the gears low enough to get some push from the engine.

Acura lists EPA fuel economy for the TL SH-AWD with the automatic transmission as 18 mpg city and 26 mpg highway. During testing weighted toward freeway driving, we saw an average of 23.8 mpg, suggesting the EPA numbers are realistic.

Although the TL SH-AWD might be the sportiest Acura available, in the continuum of sport cars it ranks only moderately. That fact becomes clear from the suspension and steering response. The car uses a double wishbone in front and multilink at the rear, pretty standard stuff for its price range. There are no active elements in this suspension.

Acura's engine works well, but does not exploit newer efficiency technology.

Tuned for a compromise between comfort and handling, this suspension isn't screwed down tight, but won't bounce and roll, either. It holds the car down in the corners while allowing a little sway, and competently smooths over bumps and rough patches in the road.

Likewise, the electric-power-steering unit offers a comfortable level of response. It doesn't require minute corrections while traveling down the freeway, reducing road trip fatigue. But it also turns the wheels where pointed when you feel like burning off some tire tread. Turning the wheel requires enough effort to let you know the road is making contact with the tires.

Finally, the TL SH-AWD has one trick up its sleeve for handling, signified by the latter half of the model's name, which stands for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. It's a modern all-wheel-drive system intended more for sport driving than dealing with slippery conditions. As such, it vectors torque across the rear axle as well as distributing it dynamically between front and rear wheels.

In the TL, SH-AWD defaults to 90 percent front-wheel torque, but can push 70 percent to the rear wheels as needed. Additionally, torque vectoring across the rear wheels puts more twist on the outside rear wheel in a turn. The result is a precise push around the corners, with the feeling of the car taking the turn for you. It is nearly push-button handling, very useful when you know what to expect.

In sum
In the last couple of years, Acura has upped the level of its cabin tech substantially, adding hard-drive-based navigation and weather data to the existing traffic information. The 2012 TL SH-AWD features the latest Acura has to offer, along with the excellent Bluetooth phone and ELS audio systems. These features are solid, but don't push the boundaries of cabin technology.

The onscreen interface for this cabin tech looks good, and is easy to use, but the interface loses points for the mass of buttons spread over the console and steering wheel. Also on the design front, Acura's efforts to tone down the car's looks are a good aesthetic choice, and the TL SH-AWD doesn't suffer from any ergonomic issues.

Acura has good performance tech in the all-wheel-drive system and power-steering unit. The new transmission helps the TL SH-AWD come up to modern standards, but it doesn't stand out. Nor do the conventional suspension and engine. However, Acura tuned the performance gear well to make the TL SH-AWD an easy driver.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Acura TL
Power train 3.7-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 18 mpg city/26 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.8 mpg
Navigation Hard-drive-based with traffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Disc player MP3-compatible single CD/DVD player
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, Bluetooth audio streaming, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system ELS 10-speaker 440-watt system
Driver aids Rearview camera, blind-spot detection
Base price $39,155
Price as tested $45,945

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