Acura TL

As always, Acura TL is a premium version of Honda Accord and competes with German products. Unlike Lexus, the Acura brand is more about driver appeal, less about comfort. That’s why when it developed the TL it used the outgoing BMW 530i as benchmark (strangely, it actually competes with 330i and Audi A4 in the market). The question is: can a bread-and-butter Accord be developed into a BMW-fighter?  

Externally, the TL looks sharper and sportier than the American Accord on which it is based. They share the same 2740mm wheelbase, but the TL is 8cm shorter, a little wider and a little lower. A much shorter tail and wedge profile deliver a sporty feel. However, detailing is no where as elegant as BMW and Audi. You can still feel its cheaper root. Inside, the cockpit is much better. Materials, build quality and ambience are a match for the German cars. The center console is decorated with real aluminum strips. Being a bigger car, space is of course superior to the 3-series etc.  

The strongest area is powertrain. the new TL is powered by an improved version of the previous generation’s 3.2-litre 24-valve V6. An increase of compression ratio (from 10.5:1 to 11.0:1) plus smoother intake and exhaust lift horsepower from 260 to 270hp at 6200rpm, while torque is up from 232 to 238lbft at 5000rpm. It is still a sohc 24-valve design, but VTEC variable valve timing and lift and a 2-stage intake manifolds help it to deliver more power at the top end than its rivals. For instance, it exceeds the output of Infiniti G35 by 10 horsepower despite of the smaller displacement, although it isn’t as torquey.  

Unquestionably, The V6 is creamy smooth and eager. It also mates with one of the best 6-speed manual gearbox in the world, which is renowned for slick and precise changes. (Admittedly, most customers will choose the 5-speed automatic instead, but the manual is definitely the better choice.) This make the powertrain incredibly refined. However, it could not topple Infiniti G35 in terms of real world power and performance. Although Honda claims it take only 6 seconds flat to finish 0-60, the TL doesn’t feel as quick. Blame to the older VTEC design, torque curve is not flat. Moreover, weighing 1580kg, the TL is by no means a lightweight. A manual-transmission G35 is both lighter and more torquey, thus feels quicker and more powerful on road. The Acura, however, is smoother and more refined. 

The chassis of TL also underwent enhancement. To save weight at the nose, the Accord’s steel subframe mounting the engine and front suspensions has been replaced by a hydroformed aluminum one. This cuts 11kg. The new subframe is also stronger than before. In addition to the use of more high-strength steel throughout the chassis, torsional rigidity is increased by 24%.  

The suspensions setting is of course sportier than Accord. This include lower ride height, stiffer springs and dampers, larger anti-roll bars, very aggressive tires (235/45R17) and powerful Brembo brakes. 

Nevertheless, Acura TL is still a FWD car. When it comes to handling, nothing compares with a proper RWD chassis. Basically, transmitting 270 horses to the road via the front wheels is not a good idea. The TL doesn’t display noticeable torque steer in most conditions, but the driving force ruins the feedback from the front wheels, especially when you push the car towards its limit. Moreover, it doesn’t attack tight bends as eager as the 3-series, A4 and G35. This read "understeer" in automotive encyclopedia. Blame to the FWD as well as the 60:40 front-to-rear weight distribution. No wonder Infiniti and Lexus would rather invest into a dedicated RWD platform for their G35 and GS. No wonder BMW insists RWD. 

The problem lies not only in the Accord-rooted layout, but also the tuning technique. Honda might have used BMW 5-series as benchmark car, but the TL never replicates the well-controlled damping of the BMW. On irregular surfaces or occasional speed bumps, the TL floats rather than damps, forcing the driver to slow down. This ruin confidence. 

Unfortunately, the market positioning of TL is rather embarrassing. Because of the addition of TSX, it could only occupy a higher and narrower market place (that’s why no smaller engines are available). Therefore it is forced to compete with the aforementioned RWD cars. Honda needs to rethink its strategy. 

The above report was last updated on 21 Dec 2003. All Rights Reserved.

TL Type-S

Few mainstream car makers put driver appeal on high priority like Honda. However, mainstream is still mainstream. When compete in premium car segments, Honda found its Acura TL trails so many miles behind the best of the class, BMW 3-Series. The reason is very simple: despite of its premium class pretension, TL is a cheap conversion from your wife's Honda Accord. Its transverse engine / front-wheel-drive layout inherently limits its potential in driver appeal. No matter how much horsepower you give it, it won't corner as quick or as accurate as a proper RWD sedan.

Unfortunately, Honda still doesn't understand this. To compete with the increasingly more powerful BMW 335i, Lexus IS350 and the facelifted Infiniti G35, it decided to launch a more powerful Type-S version for the TL. The Type-S has a 3.5-liter sohc VTEC V6 instead of the regular TL's 3.2-liter unit. It comes from Legend (Acura RL) but detuned to 286 horsepower and 256 lbft of torque. Magnesium two-stage intake manifolds and magnesium cam covers ensure it weighs no more than the outgoing engine. Besides, the Type-S has a 6-speed manual gearbox (5-speed SportShift automatic is optional), limited slip differential, stiffer suspension setup, bigger brakes, quicker steering and a rear spoiler to distinguish from the regular car.

On the road, the 3.5 engine feels smooth and powerful, while the 6-speed manual shifts crisply in the best tradition of Honda. Overall refinement is good. Nevertheless, from performance point of view the 3.5 V6 is neither the best nor the most efficient. Lexus IS350 produces 20 more horsepower and 20 more lbft of torque from the same capacity, while BMW 335i's bi-turbo straight-6 produces 20 more horses and 40 lbft more torque yet drinks considerably less fuel. Such differences can be explained by the fact that (you might not believe) the Honda engine uses rather outdated technologies: single camshaft per bank, two-stage VTEC (still no i-VTEC) and the lack of direct fuel injection. Can't imagine how the engineering-driven Japanese company can be degraded so much since NSX and the days of its F1 glory.

The Type-S accelerates from rest to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds, not as quick as both rivals but you may say it is still the fastest ever Accord - sadly but truly. On twisty roads, however, the V6 feels too powerful for the chassis. Although LSD is used, it can never completely eliminate torque steer and understeer, especially when you push it hard in corners. The nose heaviness of the FF construction also causes some concerns to chassis balance and damping on undulation and rough surfaces. It never feels as planted as BMW.

Apparently, what Acura TL needs is not more power, but a proper rear-drive or 4-wheel-drive chassis.

The above report was last updated on 18 Sep 2006. All Rights Reserved.


Acura TL (2003)
Acura TL (2006)
Acura TL Type S (2006)
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
Front-engined, Fwd
L / W / H / WB (mm)
4730 / 1835 / 1440 / 2740
4810 / 1835 / 1440 / 2740
4820 / 1835 / 1440 / 2740
V6, sohc, 4v/cyl, VVT,
var intake.
V6, sohc, 4v/cyl, VVT,
var intake.
V6, sohc, 4v/cyl, VVT,
var intake.
3210 cc
3210 cc
3471 cc
270 hp
258 hp
286 hp
238 lbft
233 lbft
256 lbft
6M / 5A
Suspension (F/R)
double-wishbone / multi-link
double-wishbone / multi-link
double-wishbone / multi-link
Tyres (F/R)
All: 235/45 WR17
All: 235/45 WR17
All: 235/45 WR17
1580 kg
1643 kg
1600 kg
Top speed
140 mph (limited)
0-60 mph
5.7 sec* / 6.3 sec**
6.3 sec (est)
5.7 sec**
0-100 mph
14.6 sec* / 15.9 sec**
14.3 sec**
Figures tested by: * C&D, ** R&T

Copyright© 1997-2009 by Mark Wan @ AutoZine