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.
XM NavTraffic overlays the navigation screen maps with color-coded traffic information.
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.
Traffic incidents and roadwork are highlighted with yellow and red warning icons, which show detail when clicked.
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.
The nondescript voice button on the left-hand side of the steering wheel is the gateway to Acura's amazing voice-command system.
Once underway, the navigation map defaults to show a bright blue route, which is very clear and easy to see at a glance. At freeway junctions, a very well-rendered schematic appears on the right of the map screen with information on where--and where not to go. The TL's navigation system also features turn-by-turn voice guidance with text-to-speech, which calls out the names of individual roads. However, for some reason, this feature occasionally disabled itself in some of our tests, leaving us to fend for ourselves by following directions on the screen.
Similar to the regular 2007 Acura TL, the 2007 Acura RDX, and Acura MDX, the 2007 Type-S features an ELS stereo system, capable of playing CDs, as well as MP3-, WMA-, and DVD-audio discs. In the Type-S, this system plays through an eight-speaker Dolby Pro Logic II surround-sound system, which delivers a different acoustic experience depending on where you're sitting and on the format of the media you're listening to. Those up front unquestionably get the best audio experience. Of the car's eight speakers, five are placed in front of the driver's ears, so front occupants naturally get a more immersed sound. When in the back, the acoustics are less surround sound and more "behind sound," as the two speakers and sub in the rear parcel shelf dominate the output; the fact there are no speakers in the rear doors plus the localization of much of the sound up front adds to this effect.
Unsurprisingly, audio quality also varies between sources: DVD audio discs, which have up to 500 times the sound resolution of regular CDs, play with astonishing clarity, with crisp highs and rich bass. Regular red book CDs also sound great from the front seats, and there were only a couple of times we could tell the difference between the DVD-A and CD versions of the same song. Being compressed audio formats, MP3 and WMA discs play with less clarity, and significantly less volume, but still sound respectably clear. When playing MP3s, the touch screen displays a very useful button labeled as List, which gave us the chance to browse through the tracks on our homemade CDs five at a time--a feature we really like.
A very useful feature of the audio system lists MP3 tracks five at a time.
The TL Type-S does have an auxiliary input jack, but, like that on the 2006 Acura TSX, it is buried in the center console behind a spring-loaded door, making it very difficult to access and plug into. Three months' worth of XM Satellite radio comes standard on all 2007 model year TLs, and we particularly like the system's ability to understand voice commands for switching between stations: just press the talk button on the left of the steering wheel and say "XM channel 54" (for example) and after a couple of seconds, the system repeats the command and changes itself over to the requested station.
Rounding out the major tech trifecta, the 2007 Acura TL Type-S comes complete with Acura's HandsFreeLink Bluetooth calling interface as standard. While the voice-command side of the pairing process is relatively straightforward (say "phone setup," then "pair phone"), drivers are required to complete the sync using their cell phones. We had a few problems ensuring that our Samsung SGH-T619 stayed connected to the HandsFreeLink between calls, although this may have been our phone's fault, as some later testing with an LG enV worked without any problem. Voice recognition is once again the star when using the hands-free calling function. Drivers can call out numbers or names of phone book entries (the system will copy over the entire phone book from some cell phones), and we had a good time trying to make the system misunderstand us by calling out numbers as quickly as possible. To its credit, the Acura managed to understand us remarkably well at most coherent speeds.
Other notable tech features in the Type-S's cabin include the voice-activated dual-zone air-conditioning, heated front seats, and the AcuraLink communications system, which, in addition to XM NavTraffic, provides vehicle diagnostic data and reminders for dealer appointments. A dealer-installed dedicated iPod adapter gives users a means of turning the touch screen into an intelligent interface for navigating iPod content.
Under the hood
The Acura TL Type-S features a modified version of the 3.5-liter V-6 engine found in the Acura RL. The Type-S delivers 28 more horsepower than its more sedate TL siblings, but also brings a couple of other performance features to ensure a sportier drive. Most notable among these is the Type-S's sport-tuned suspension, which gives the car more assurance in cornering, but which makes for a bone-rattling ride on the freeway. While its lack of ride refinement might be a deterrent for sporty-minded family guys, speed demons also might find something to gripe about in the Type-S's performance.
The Type-S's 286 horsepower is nothing to sniff at, but most of it is reachable only at very high rev bands. Peak power is achieved north of 6,000rpm, which is tough to reach, especially in our five-speed automatic test car (the alternative six-speed manual might have been a bit more to our liking). In everyday freeway driving, the Type-S feels less peppy than its sporty specs and trim imply. Mashing the accelerator results in a conspicuous delay, followed by some adequate forward thrust, but nothing to match the sweet sound coming from the engine, and certainly nothing like the oomph that results from similar behavior in the 2006 Lexus IS 350. Those wishing to take matters more into their own hands in the TL Type-S do have some autonomy in the form of the two small paddle shifters on each side of the steering wheel. These paddles give drivers the opportunity of holding the gears up to a certain point, but even when paddle shifting, you still have to climb a long way up the rev band to take full advantage of all 286 horses.
The TL Type-S comes with a modified version of the 3.5-liter V-6 engine found in Acura's flagship RL sedan.
One possible reason for our mild disappointment with the Type-S's performance off the line is the car's Drive-by-Wire technology that relies on input from a variety of sensors before it adjusts the electronic throttle input. While this may improve fuel economy and ensure that the drivetrain lasts longer, it limits the amount of fun you can have in fast launches from the stoplight. Another thing we noticed when attempting said fast launches is the 2007 TL Type-S is at times conspicuously front-wheel drive, demonstrating some noticeable torque steer in spirited starts. Acura's SH-AWD would make a welcome addition to the option sheet. On a positive performance note, we noticed steering assistance was dialed back substantially in the Type-S compared with that in the regular TL, offering much better feel and encouraging more aggressive cornering.
Our 2007 Acura TL Type-S in Kinetic Blue came without a single piece of optional equipment, which is amazing for a car with traffic-enabled GPS navigation, a phonebook-eating Bluetooth hands-free calling system, a surround-sound audio system, XM radio, a rear-view camera, voice-activated climate control, heated seats, and 17-inch wheels with W-rated tires. With a single price of $38,125, the TL Type-S throws its hat in the ring with the 2006 Lexus IS 350, the 2007 Infiniti G35 sedan, and the 2007 BMW 335i sedan.