Acura TL Type-S – First Drive: Imagine how great life would be if people, the normal kind, got mid-life updates just like cars do. Not the major overhauls that result in horrific freak shows like Joan Rivers or the 1996 Ford Taurus; we’re talking a nip here, a tuck there, a lift or two, and an injection of youthful vitality. Maybe then, 40 would be the new 20 instead of the new 30.
Outside of the completely imbalanced socioeconomic cauldron that is Southern California, getting “work” done as middle age arrives is relatively uncommon. We wrinkle, we sag, we bulge, and we buy new cars with coveted luxury badges on them to make us feel better about the ordeal. Cars like the refreshed Acura TL, a three-year old sport sedan that’s been Botoxed and working out with a personal trainer for 2007. It’s got a new look, bigger muscles, and added refinement to keep it competitive until a redesigned version arrives around the end of the decade. And with the new TL Type-S model, Acura is lookin’ for love with a more emotional, enthusiast type.
Power and torque are what make emotional, enthusiast types drool, and the 2007 Acura TL Type-S has plenty of both. It’s also got bigger pipes, a stiffer suspension and meatier brakes. There are other modifications, too, including sexier styling. But don’t think the Type-S gets to steal the show for 2007, because the standard TL is face-lifted with design enhancements inside and out, as well as slightly revised seats for greater comfort. Both Acura TLs get a new five-speed automatic transmission with increased power capacity, but now the manual transmission is limited to the Type-S model. Because a dedicated sport-tuned version has arrived, the pressure is off the standard TL and it can behave more like a refined and luxurious sedan and less like a boy-racer-mobile.
Inside, Acura says the leather upholstery is softer than before, the aluminum and simulated wood decor is changed for greater visual impact, and a thick three-spoke steering wheel replaces the old four-spoke unit. The gauges wear fresh makeup in the form of improved graphics resolution, and a new optional navigation system includes a reversing camera, AcuraLink with real-time traffic, and Bluetooth cell phonebook transfer. Other new features include one-touch start for TLs with the automatic transmission, signaling side mirrors for all cars, and Active Noise Cancellation technology for the Type-S which reduces aural irritants to a breathy whisper. Stereos purr with upgrades like Dolby Pro-Logic II, an MP3 auxiliary jack, WMA and MP3 playback capability, and speed-sensitive volume compensation.
For this review, we concentrated on the Acura TL Type-S, driving the twisty back roads of southern Pennsylvania and western Maryland. The route included light city driving and some stretches of freeway, and we were able to sample both the six-speed manual and the five-speed automatic transmissions. By the end of the drive, we could see dropping between $34,000 and $39,000 on a first date with the vamped-up 2007 Acura TL, even if it is getting a little old, and the Type-S model with the slick-shifting SportShift automatic had us thinking about rings by the end of the day. Ultimately, though, we just couldn’t pop the question.
With the introduction of the new Type-S, there are two choices when shopping for a 2007 Acura TL, and the standard car is the one to buy if your priority is luxury over performance. Each car is well equipped with standard features. In fact, the only option on the standard car is a navigation system with voice recognition, and buyers can choose between a manual or automatic transmission and all-season or performance tires for the Type-S.
Highlights include a power sunroof, an eight-way power driver’s seat, leather upholstery, dual-zone climate control, heated front seats and side mirrors, HandsFreeLink Bluetooth communications, and an Acura/ELS Surround premium audio system with a six-disc CD changer, a DVD-Audio player, Dolby Pro-Logic II, and XM satellite radio. The Type-S adds the navigation system with voice recognition and Zagat Survey restaurant reviews and ratings, exclusive alloy wheels, special interior and exterior trim, and hardware upgrades that make it go faster and handle better.
Safety is always an important goal of Acura engineers, and the revised 2007 Acura TL is loaded with goodies designed to keep you and your loved ones healthy. Headlining the list of gear is a suite of airbags including dual-stage front, front side-impact, and side-curtain restraints. Stability control is standard, along with ABS, electronic brake-force distribution, brake assist, and a tire pressure monitoring system. The seatbelts are equipped with pretensioners and load limiters, while the front head restraints are designed to limit the effects of whiplash in a rear collision. The Acura TL is also equipped with HID headlights for improved nighttime visibility, and five-mph bumpers. According to Acura, crash scores for a frontal impact are five-stars for the driver and passenger, while side impact protection is rated four-stars for front seat occupants and five-stars for rear seat riders. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the TL a Good rating for frontal and side impacts.
Acura protects buyers in another way, too. The TL’s comprehensive warranty covers the car for four years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper and six years/70,000 miles on the powertrain. Acura also includes Total Luxury Care with every TL, a 24-hour roadside assistance and concierge service.
Nuts and Bolts
Under the hood of the standard 2007 Acura TL is a 3.2-liter V6 with 258 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 233 lb.-ft. torque at 6,000 rpm. According to the EPA, this model is rated to get 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway, but everyone knows the EPA is smoking crack when it comes to its fuel economy numbers. The sportier Acura TL Type-S gets a larger 3.5-liter V6 good for 286 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 256 lb.-ft. torque at 5,000 rpm. Acura says the power gain comes from the increase in displacement, exhaust system modifications, and an increase in intake flow. EPA estimates peg the TL Type-S at 19 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. We got much worse than this – about 15.5 mpg – but we spent plenty of time hammering the car at high revs. The TL’s five-speed automatic with SportShift is brand new for 2007, featuring increased torque capacity, improved responsiveness in manual mode, and a transmission fluid cooler for the Type-S. Type-S models also get different shift logic, producing quick and firm upshifts and smooth rev-matched downshifts. Manual mode on both TLs requires the driver to upshift out of first gear and downshift into first gear – the car won’t do so automatically – so don’t forget you chose to select your own gears or you’re gonna look like a ninny.
If you still think a car without a clutch should never have the word “sport” attached to its description, the TL Type-S can be equipped with a close-ratio six-speed manual transmission like the one on last year’s car, modified for use with the 3.5-liter V6. Acura has revised the clutch to provide a wider range of operation in an effort to make engagement less abrupt, and selecting the manual transmission also adds a helical limited-slip differential to get power from the front wheels and to the ground more efficiently when accelerating out of corners.
Yep, the power still flows to the front end of the car, through 17” x 8” alloys of unique design on each model. Standard TLs get all-season Bridgestone rubber sized 235/45, while the TL with navigation and the Type-S receive Michelin all-seasons. Buyers planning some aggressive driving in the Type-S can opt for 235/45 Bridgestone summer performance tires. The rubber stays planted to the road thanks to a double-wishbone front and multi-link rear suspension. Standard TLs get reduced front spring rates, more compliant bushings, hollow stabilizer bars, and revised damper valve tuning to produce a softer ride quality than last year – remember: this is the luxury version now that the Type-S has arrived. Type-S models get damper mounts that are 400 times stiffer than before, 20 percent stiffer front shocks, 40 percent stiffer rear shocks, 32 percent stiffer rear spring rates, and stiffer stabilizer bars front and rear. You could say that the Type-S is, uh, stiffer than the regular TL.
Bigger brake strakes keep the Acura TL’s brakes cooler and free of fade for 2007. Additionally, the TL Type-S gets larger four-piston front Brembo brakes with increased pedal stiffness, a unique pad compound for improved fade performance, and its own master cylinder design for greater durability. For the Type-S, the steering is modified to increase effort characteristics at higher speeds. Standard TLs get lower effort levels at slower speeds for easier parking and maneuvering, well serving its role as the more luxurious version.
Design and Quality
Tight panel fits and high-grade materials are the name of the game with the Acura TL, though some of the plastic trim pieces on our early-build test samples had rough edges from the manufacturing process – an increasingly common theme in Acura and Honda products. Still, nothing else about the TL’s interior says cheap. And if you choose the TL Type-S, Active Noise Cancellation will reduce exhaust rumble in the rear seat area by up to 17 decibels, according to Acura.
The TL’s control layout is good but not great, mainly because of the myriad buttons scattered upon the dash. As busy as this looks, the arrangement is preferable to having the climate and stereo system functions bundled with the navigation system, even if the touch screen does offer good resolution and can be operated with touch, a toggle, or using voice commands. We tried the surround sound with XM and while it sounded good, it lacked the richness, depth, and clarity that we expected. But then, we’re not stereo reviewers, we’re car reviewers, and the large, metal radio knobs are things of beauty.
We’d skip the black interior for the gray or tan décor, just to lighten the mood inside the TL. Type-S models are equipped with seats that have bigger bolsters, more seat seams, and contrasting stitching, plus stainless steel pedals, carbon fiber pattern interior trim, paddle shifters, and red gauge illumination to distinguish it as the sporting version. Standard TLs have a soothing, blue gauge color.
Main visual differences between the standard and Type-S models are most notable on the outside. Each gets a larger Acura signature five-point grille for 2007, while the TL Type-S gets tasteful (Acura calls them “sinister” in an effort to give the car some attitude) styling modifications on the outside, including what the company says are the largest exhaust pipes in the industry. Four big outlets protrude from the rear bumper cutouts, and they look and sound terrific. The Type-S gets a unique and stylish wheel design, but they’re painted a color called Dark Euro Silver (perhaps because they appear to be coated in brake dust like the wheels on many German sedans) which will not appeal to everyone. Other modifications include dark chrome accent trim, flared lower fascias, a larger rear diffuser panel, honeycomb texturing for the lower front inserts and rear diffuser, a subtle lip spoiler, and Type-S badges.
Sliding into the 2007 Acura TL Type-S’s seats is a wonderful experience, because they are very comfortable and supportive, even if the front passenger’s seat lacks height adjustment. However, there is room for improvement when it comes to comfort: The leather-wrapped steering wheel offers thumb rests, but the wheel rim is a bit thin given the Type-S’s sporting mission, and while the climate control worked well to combat the mid-Atlantic region’s summer heat, ventilated seats would be nice to have for warm, muggy days. Like the front chairs, the rear seats are also comfortable but snug – there’s not much room to move around in.
Driving the 2007 Acura TL Type-S is a real thrill, despite some concerns about the steering, suspension, and brakes. The engine loves to rev and sounds great doing it, but mind the tachometer because it’s easy to bang this refined powertrain right into the limiter. The six-speed manual transmission is tight, fluid between the gears, and blessed with positive engagement, however, I thought the clutch was a little tricky. That’s why I preferred the SportShift automatic’s five forward gears, actuated using paddle shifters or the gear selector. Unfortunately, torque steer is a problem with either transmission, but was more pronounced in TLs with the manual.
In models with the manual transmission, the steering tugs plenty as it fights torque steer and the tendency for the summer performance tires to hunt on imperfect road surfaces. However, response to input is quick and the steering is accurate. Assist levels at low speeds could be lighter, but at higher speeds the TL Type-S works beautifully. Adding Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, or switching to rear-wheel drive, would make the TL a more entertaining machine to drive if for no other reason than guiding the car would require less work.
Couple the TL Type-S’s torque steer and wandering tires with suspension tuning that offers a bit too much compliance and range of motion for a sporting sedan with high handling limits, and the result is a vehicle that feels a bit too light on its feet at speed on imperfect roads. The nose can bob a bit too much on undulating pavement, and the body rolls a little more than expected. Ride quality is a bit busy on irregular surfaces, but the TL Type-S does a masterful job of soaking up larger bumps, such as railroad crossings. On fresh blacktop the TL is unflappable – smooth, solid, with just a hint of wind noise and rather excessive tire roar intruding on the driving experience above 80 mph. We hustled the TL to a buck-fifteen on I-68 in Western Maryland, and the Type-S seemed to be in its element at such lofty velocity. Unfortunately, going a buck-fifteen in America is not recommended.
Good thing the brakes on the TL Type-S are exceptionally good at arresting speed, though on several occasions when hustling along roads that frequently dipped just as they twisted the binders didn’t bite as hard as I would have liked. Also, the ABS engages easily on lumpy pavement, creating a bit of braking delay just before corners and blind rises in the roadway.
Given my concerns about the TL Type-S’s tendency for the front wheels to misbehave, for the suspension to lose focus, and for the brakes to struggle with certain road surfaces, I must conclude that this new sporting Acura can’t match the BMW 3 Series in terms of entertainment factor. But that’s a bit like saying that Stephen Colbert isn’t as funny as John Stewart. Compared to the confining and technologically impaired Lexus IS, the aged and outgoing Infiniti G35, and most other similarly-priced domestic and European competitors, we’d prefer to snag the keys to this Acura. And despite our gripes about the steering, suspension, and brakes, the Acura TL Type-S is an impressive piece of work. Now all it needs is Acura’s SH-AWD system, or a proper rear-drive platform.
FAQs and Specifications
Acura wants a piece of BMW’s action. Does the 2007 Acura TL come close to a BMW in terms of driving dynamics?
It comes close, but the front-drive layout ultimately makes the rear-drive Bimmer the more satisfying vehicle to drive hard and fast. The BMW 3 Series is an utterly capable sport sedan that rarely, if ever, puts a foot wrong. The Acura TL is a larger car, and feels it from behind the steering wheel. Plus, it lacks the BMW’s sense of solidity, and the torque steer – especially on the Type S manual – is something you never experience in a BMW. To match BMW, Acura needs to copy the Bimmer’s rear-drive layout, or add the RL sedan’s SH-AWD system.
What’s the best thing about the 2007 Acura TL Type-S?
The engine is, far and away, the best thing about the Acura TL Type-S. This is a terrific V6, pulling hard at any rpm, sounding great the entire time, producing no NVH intrusion, and proving to be a great performer. Otherwise, the driver’s seat’s comfort level gets my vote as a close second. Firm, supportive, and softly upholstered, this is a great spot to plant your butt.
What’s the worst thing about the 2007 Acura TL Type-S?
The Acura TL Type-S’s torque steer is definitely cause for re-consideration, and the suspension float in the front end is not confidence inspiring. Also, I’m not crazy about the lack of a height adjuster for the front passenger’s seat. It seems that a car that can approach $40,000 should have this feature standard.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Acura TL Type-S
Price of Test Vehicle: $39,000 (estimated)
Engine Size and Type: 3.5-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 286 at 6,200 rpm
Engine Torque: 256 lb.-ft. at 5,000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with SportShift manual gear selection
Curb weight, lbs.: 3,680
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 19/28 (estimated)
Observed Fuel Economy: 15.5 (approximate, almost entirely hard driving at high revs)
Length: 189.8 inches
Width: 72.2 inches
Wheelbase: 107.9 inches
Height: 56.7 inches
Leg room (front/rear): 42.8/34.9 inches
Head room (front/rear): 38.7/37.2 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Five
Max. Cargo Volume: 12.5 cubic feet
Competitors: Audi A4 S-line, BMW 330i Sport, Cadillac CTS 3.6, Chrysler 300C, Dodge Charger SRT-8, Infiniti G35, Lexus IS 350, Mazda Mazdaspeed 6, Mercedes-Benz C320 Sport, Nissan Altima SE, Pontiac Grand Prix GXP, Saab 9-3 Aero, Subaru Legacy GT spec.B, Toyota Camry SE V6, Volvo S60 R
Photos courtesy of Acura