2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: What Is It
Generally speaking, Honda isn't known to be too reactive in responding to a car's poor reception, but when sales of the bread-and-butter Acura TL luxury sedan began to tank, big changes were definitely in store. Using a mid-cycle styling update to get rid of some of the car's more contentious cues, the 2012 Acura TL now has a look that is even sportier and more attractive. The fourth-generation TL has been on the market since 2009, so this updated styling also keeps the car fresh against other mid-size luxury sedans. Acura recently gave us a decked-out 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD for this weeklong road test and review, and we were definitely surprised at how better a little nip-tuck job made the rest of the car look and feel.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Pricing and Trim Levels
Assembled in Marysville, Ohio, the 2012 Acura TL can essentially be equipped seven different ways ranging from the base TL starting at $35,705 up to the TL SH-AWD with Advanced Package which we had for this review. This top-of-the-line model comes fully loaded with just about every tech or luxury option a driver could want for $45.085 with only the destination charge being added in before our final as-tested price of $45,945. With that kind of pricing difference, we're sure anyone in the market for a mid-size luxury sedan can find the perfect TL, but buyers looking for a little more performance and cabin tech will definitely want to check out the SH-AWD with Advanced Package.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: What It's Up Against
There is no shortage of sporty luxury sedans on the market, but the all-wheel drive 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD looks to take on rivals such as the Infiniti G37x, Cadillac CTS4, Audi A4 quattro and the BMW 328i xDrive Sedan. Despite coming from one of the smaller luxury brands, the Acura TL has still managed to keep up a good pace with its rivals with sales of 31,237 last year. By the slimmest of margins (just 302 units more than the TSX), the TL remained the top-selling sedan in Acura's line-up for 2011 despite a drop in sales of 8.6 percent, but so far in 2012, the redesigned TL is showing a strong sales rebound with the best year-over-year performance for the brand through March. With new models on the horizon and the updated 2012 TL on sale now, Acura's negative sales figures through the first three months of 2012 should be able to turn around pretty quickly.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Exterior
What's New for 2012:
- new front end styling
- new wheel options
- redesigned rear fascia
How It Looks:
From a distance, it's hard to tell the differences between the 2012 Acura TL and the preceding fourth-generation models, but up close, the tweaks in the angular design really pay off. Acura started off by trimming the controversial grille down to a more manageable size in both height and width. No longer does the grille span the full gap between the headlights nor does it reach up to the leading edge of the hood, and the restyled grille now matches up more favorably with the thin, horizontal headlights creating a more cohesive new front end styling on the TL. The bright, metal-like sheen on the grille does add a nice contrast against our test car's dark Forged Silver Metallic exterior hue. A reshaped front fascia gets new lower air intakes, but Acura says the new TL has a shorter overhang than the previous model which improving the car's proportions even further by making it look less bulky. At the back of the 2012 TL, changes are even more subtle with a new fascia that ditches the oversized, wedge-shaped reflectors and, sadly, the stylish separations in the dual exhaust outlets. Acura is continuing to refine its signature design language even further as evident by new models such as the second-generation Acura RDX and the all-new Acura ILX, but it is hard to argue with the improved styling of the 2012 TL that traded in its ostentatious appearance for a more modest and refined look.
"With the 2009 TL, the exterior design was a lot about passion," said Damon Schell, Acura Project Lead Designer. "With the 2012 TL, we pushed for an increased level of sophistication."
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Interior
What's New for 2012:
- available ventilated front seats
- bigger infotainment hard drive for quicker response and greater song capacity
How It Looks and Feels:
With a cabin that is already sporty and luxurious, Acura didn't have to change much on the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD. Like all other Acuras, the TL's cabin is decked out with nice leather on the seats, steering wheel and shift lever and soft-touch materials almost everywhere else. Like most other automakers (not just luxury brands), Acura does offer a wood trim accent inside the 2012 TL, but our test car had the metallic accents on the instrument panel, center console and door panels. As a contrast to these darker interior colors, the Taupe leather seats and the lightly colored headliner and door panel inserts gave the 2012 Acura TL a more refined look than the sinister cabins we're used to seeing from Acura. One improvement Acura made was to increase the sound deadening, and while we didn't have a 2009-2011 TL on hand for comparison, suffice it to say that the 2012 Acura TL has a library-quiet interior.
As for passenger comfort, the front seats offer enough space and are well-bolstered to show off a little more of the TL's sporty side; a notched steering wheel also gives the driver a racecar-like feel and better grip during tight cornering maneuvers. A similar sportiness carries over to the rear seats, but the bucket-style rear seating can make for a rather uncomfortable middle-seat passenger. As is the case with stylized cars such as the TL, rear seat space can suffer somewhat compared to the competition, but the amount of headroom and/or legroom the TL gives up in the sake of exterior design is negligible compared to boxier sedans like the CTS and A4. As far as storage goes, the SH-AWD part of the TL intrudes slightly into the trunk limiting total cargo volume to 12.5 cubic feet, and with no fold-down seats, a small pass through is the only way to haul longer or bulkier items.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: The Extras
By itself, the only difference between a base 2012 Acura TL and TL SH-AWD is the engine and all-wheel drive system, but our test car also came fully loaded with the Advance Package essentially tacking on almost $10,000 more than a standard TL and close to $6,000 for the lowest-priced TL SH-AWD. This pricey package starts with all of the features included in the Technology Package (navigation, push-button start, rearview camera, perforated leather seats and voice recognition) and adds to it with heated and cooled front seats, blind spot monitoring and 19-inch wheels wrapped in high-performance summer tires.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Powertrain and Fuel Economy
What's New for 2012:
- improved fuel economy across the board
- Sequential SportShift transmission with standard oil cooler and new multi-clutch torque converter
How Does It Go:
The entry-level TL models come with a 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood, but the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD upgrades to a 3.7-liter V-6 that produces 305 horsepower and 273 lb-ft of torque. These gains of 25 hp and 19 lb-ft over the base model do improve performance, but the biggest performance enhancement for 2012 is the all-new Sequential SportShift transmission. Replacing the previously used five-speed automatic, this six-speed transmission allows for double downshifts in manual shift mode and it also provides rev matching which, if nothing else, helps to make the car feel that much sportier. For drivers more interested in fuel economy rather than performance, take note as this new transmission also helped improve EPA fuel economy numbers across the board with estimates of 18 miles per gallon in the city, 26 mpg on the highway and a rating of 21 mpg in combined driving - this is an increase of 1 mpg in each category compared to the 2011 TL SH-AWD. Those looking to shift their own gears will be happy to learn that the 2012 TL SH-AWD still offers the option of a six-speed manual gearbox.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: How It Drives
Until the return of the legendary NSX supercar, the sportiest car in Acura's line-up is, without a doubt, the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD. Acura's torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system gives this TL excellent grip in just about any road condition, but the system almost seems more fun in dry weather helping to push the car to its limits. At 4,001 pounds, the Acura TL SH-AWD is no lightweight, but the system's ability to shift up to 70 percent of engine torque to the rear axles (of which 100 percent can be sent to a single rear wheel) really helps the car grip in tight corners. There's even a nifty little display in the gauge cluster to let the driver know where the torque is in real time. In addition to the bigger and more powerful V-6 engine, the TL SH-AWD outshines the front-wheel drive version of the car with what Acura says is unique tuning to the suspension, electric power steering and braking force all of which help make this model drive a little more aggressive. On a quick note in regards to the electric power steering, the tuning of this system made the TL even more fun to drive with excellent feedback and response . All of this unique tuning and sportiness doesn't equate to a rough ride in normal, everyday driving, though, as the TL SH-AWD would make for a great daily commuter or long-distance car.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Is It Safe
One area the 2012 Acura TL didn't perform consistently in was crash protection. On one hand, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) named the 2012 TL a 2012 Top Safety Pick for its stellar crash results while the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gave it a disappointing three-star overall rating thanks mainly to the two-star frontal impact rating. The IIHS does specify that only the TLs built after September 2011 received the top honors, so there might be something there that the NHTSA hasn't retested for. Standard safety features in all 2012 Acura TL models include six airbags, active front head restraints, electronic brake-force distribution with brake assist, four-wheel anti-lock disc brake system, Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) with traction control, Electronic Stability Control (ESC), daytime running lights and tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS).
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Final Thoughts
When it comes to mid-cycle updates, hitting a trifecta of improved styling, sportiness and fuel economy is pretty rare, but the Acura TL SH-AWD does just that with its enhancements for 2012. Acura has obviously learned some lesson over its 25-year existence, but how closely it fixed the downfalls of the fourth-generation TL without messing with the car too much is downright impressive. At one point, not too long ago, the Acura TL was the second-best selling luxury sedan in the U.S. after the BMW 3 Series, and Acura is hoping that the updated car for 2012 will help recapture some of the TL's success that it saw in its previous generation. Judging by our week spent with the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD, a rise to prominence seems feasible for a car that now blends a stylish, contemporary design with a driving dynamic, luxurious interior and plentiful cabin technologies that are among the best in its class.
2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Review: Pros and Cons
- updated styling is no longer awkward
- even more fun to drive thanks to new transmission
- simple Acura packaging and pricing
- still offers a manual transmission
- too many buttons clutter the center stack
- bucket-style rear seating makes for uncomfortable middle seat
Acura provided the vehicle for this review
Photos by Jeffrey N. Ross