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Test Drive: 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD

305 horses make this the most powerful Acura ever

by Autobytel Staff
August 14, 2008


  • 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 is most powerful Acura engine ever
  • Impressive handling
  • Up to 25 mpg
  • No manual transmission available (due to return for 2010)
  • Engine noise too pronounced
  • Exterior Styling

Ask anyone who has some wheel time in the current TL Type-S, and they’ll likely tell you that Acura understands the formula for making a sports sedan: Usable power, attractive styling, an inviting cockpit, and a slick manual transmission. Unfortunately, an inordinate amount of torque steer slipped into the mix and soured what would otherwise have been a nearly perfect concoction. That problem has been remedied by the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD, thanks to Super Handling All-Wheel Drive adopted from the RL and MDX. Torque steer is gone, replaced by tremendous cornering ability, thanks in part to a wider track and stiff suspension. A 305-horsepower V-6 keeps things moving swiftly, and standard paddle shifters give you control over the TL’s automatic gearbox. Acura has created a recipe for fun, if not in the most visually appealing package, but this sport sedan that ultimately leaves us wanting for a manual transmission and the intangible driver-engagement factor offered by the TL’s primary competitors from Germany and Japan.


With 305 horsepower on tap from its 3.7-liter V-6 engine, the 2009 TL SH-AWD is the most powerful Acura ever to hit the market, and to be sure, this is a quick car. There are 25 more ponies than are found under the base TL’s hood, but because of the added weight of the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, the benefits are hard to appreciate from the driver’s seat. Furthermore, the TL’s larger six-cylinder engine offering is loud under heavy acceleration, and sounds uncharacteristically unrefined compared to the base model’s 3.5-liter powerplant.

As is the case with the base 2009 Acura TL, the SH-AWD model features a five-speed automatic transmission, and a six-speed manual transmission will be introduced for the 2010 model year. The shifts are smooth, but we discovered on more than one occasion an unwillingness on the gearbox’s part to downshift when added power was requested. Thankfully, the standard paddle shifters are always within easy reach and put the decision-making at the driver’s finger tips. The sport mode, as expected, holds lower gears longer, and as we learned, will not automatically upshift when you run up against the rev limiter. We didn’t have an opportunity to track fuel economy; the EPA suggests 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway.


Unlike most instances, where all-wheel-drive technology is touted as a tool for foul weather, Acura makes a point of highlighting the benefits of its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system for driving enthusiasts. With its ability to distribute power to the rear outside wheel, the 2009 TL SH-AWD makes easy work of quick corners. Roll on the gas halfway through a gentle left-hander and it’s almost as though you can feel the right rear wheel hook up, dig in, and push you through the corner. Relative to the base TL, the SH-AWD’s suspension has been stiffened to minimize body roll; the updated model’s wider track also makes the TL feel more planted and secure during aggressive driving. The flip side to this sport-tuned setup, of course, is a less comfortable ride, as bumps and road irregularities are absorbed less and transmitted more to the cabin. If ride comfort reigns supreme in your mind, it might be best to consider the less athletic base 2009 Acura TL.


Another difference between the two TL models is in the steering. Both models have a new speed-sensitive electric power steering system, but the SH-AWD has been tuned to be more responsive. We found just the opposite, actually preferring the base TL for what we perceived to be better road feel. The SH-AWD setup dials in a lot of resistance at high speeds, so you know you’re working the wheel, but what’s happening between the tires and the pavement is not translated to the driver’s hands very well.

With its redesign, the 2009 Acura TL delivers plenty to appreciate, from added rear leg room to a high-resolution, eight-inch screen tied to a navigation system with real-time traffic information, a rerouting feature that steers you away from congestion, and current weather information with a cool Doppler-type display (just like you see on the evening news). This all comes with the Technology Package, as does a booming 440-watt ELS audio system among other things, and is fairly easy to operate with either large, well-labeled buttons along the instrument panel or with a central control dial. The number of controls borders on too many, but the solution would likely mean putting more functionality into the central dial, a move that BMW has demonstrated isn’t necessarily an improvement. Aside from that minor gripe, the layout of the TL’s controls leaves little to complain about. We will, however, point to the thick rear pillar as a visibility issue, and dash trim that reflects in the side glass, distorting your view when attempting to use the exterior rearview mirrors.


The TL’s cabin features sufficient yet not abundant storage space; passenger room is more impressive. Leather upholstery is standard, and the TL SH-AWD benefits from thickly-bolstered, supportive seats and a fat steering wheel that gives the car a sportier feel. The leather, like the plethora of soft-touch surfaces and quality accents, imparts a sense of luxury, and the soft leather on the steering wheel is a nice, upscale touch. Thanks to the added leg room and plenty of cushioning, the rear seat is suitable for a variety of passengers, though not surprisingly, the center position isn’t all that hospitable.


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