2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Elite Review

2012 Acura TL SH AWD

Even I'm not sure whether the title means to say that Acura should worry or if they should not. Clearly though, Honda and Acura have had lots to worry about in the last few years.

Acura has seen its sales tumble regularly over the last 18 to 24 months, and I can understand why: Polarizing designs that fail to generate a conflicting or contrasting position can't be good – especially when it's all negative. We all know that design trumps, or quite nearly, everything including needs and usefulness. In the TL's case, at least since 2009, it's got it backwards.

2012 Acura TL SH AWD

The sad part about the TL is that it is actually a good car. Thankfully, it's been made more tolerable physically for 2012 with a revised front fascia that trades “I'm different” for “I want to be one of them.” Gone is the overgrown layer of plastic which used to creep up to the bonnet, and revamped is the lower-bumper opening which holds turn-signals and fog lights. Out back, the lower portion of the bumper skin has also been revised, however, the changes are very subtle. The remainder of the car is largely untouched.

Overall, the tweaked, or watered-down, exterior shell is pleasant given what it used to be pre-2009, which was hot. This then is a compliment. In Bellanova white, its stunted beak is far easier to appreciate, as is the TL's overall shape.

The big Acura's cabin is generally untouched. If Honda and Acura can design one thing well, it's car interiors. Some, including I, would argue that they are far too busy. However, at the same time, they look modern and geared for the average tekkie. They may all be dark and, for some, drab but no one will pipe up and say that it's bad.

What also hasn't changed is the way all the panels come together; Acura has a knack for fit. Unfortunately, some of the materials have taken a turn for the worse. The shiny, metallic grey material splashed about used to be textured and nice to touch. For 2012, although the look from a distance is the same it's now actually a decal or sticker applied to plastic meant to mimic the previous textured surface. I personally don't like where this is going.

2012 Acura TL SH AWD

Truth is, the interaction between car and occupant is peachy. The plethora of controls can and does become second nature, and I especially appreciate the large rotary knob that works the nav system, amongst others. The best part about the car's passenger quarters are the seats. In true Acura fashion, they are firm, supportive and quite comfortable. As this TL is an Elite, it includes every accessory known to Acura, and they all work well.

The TL also works well in all facets of the drive. Its 3.7L V6 is melted-butter smooth, as is the 6-speed autobox. At 305 hp, the mill is willing, but it doesn't really have what it takes to compete with the popular Infiniti G37x.

The Infiniti G can be delivered with a powerful 328-hp, 3.7L V6. The base $36,390 G25 harbours a 218-hp, 2.5L V6. The $3,000 gap between it and the base $39,490 TL is partially justified by a 280-hp 3.5L V6 in the Acura. With AWD, the G25x comes in at a grand more than the TL so the debate is power vs. AWD. The TL's saving grace is Acura's excellent SH-AWD system, standard with the 3.7L at $43,490 and a must if you wish to elevate the car's and your standing. Thing is, the G37x AWD is $40 cheaper...

All manners of driver-to-car directed inputs are met with dry, yet satisfactorily, immediate response. The TL will get up and go quickly – without stirring emotion. The TL will cut corners thanks to its sharp steering, but limited feedback will not get your palms sweaty. It's a weird thing where the TL does every thing quite well, but not good or bad enough for it to matter. The G37 is very vocal under acceleration and nearly gnarly when compared to the TL. It depends on what you expect from your car.

The TL's ride is tout, but neither dynamic nor particularly comfortable. It behaves best on the highway at speed where it hunkers down, remains stable and feels at home. I get the impression that Acura worked hard at offering the status quo for its clientele, but somehow entirely misread what they were looking for.

It's sad really. All of Acura's main competitors have trademarks or desirable traits, whereas the TL and other Acura cars leave no mark on the human psyche. BMW has its drive; Audi has its styling; Lexus has its comfort; Mercedes has its class and design; and Acura has nothing like that.

2012 Acura TL SH AWD

It's not all bad. The TL has extremely refined mechanical parts and the stage presence of a nice guy. You want to like the nice guy. Unfortunately, you know what they say about nice guys, right? It's obvious to me that someone needs to fix the exterior design, first and foremost. Here's a bold idea: Might I suggest stealing a designer from one of the German brands? It's worked for Kia...

As for powertrains, I'm not concerned. Honda, and by default Acura, remain on the cusp of progress having once been on the leading edge. I'm convinced that they'll be able to dig a little deeper and come up with worthy powertrains for the next batch of Acuras.

It's a tough situation. The bottom line is that the TL is a fine automobile. Acura needs a large push from Honda in order to elevate the perceived value of the brand to its rightful place, alongside Infiniti and the others. Staying a notch below is manifestly not working.

I don't think that Acura is taking it easy and if they want to succeed, they need to tap into what makes the MDX such a success, and replicate it throughout the lineup – just my two cents.