2004 Acura TL

From the very first, Acura TLs have been terrific – comfortable, pretty good mpg, quick enough and dead reliable. It’s just that they were so, well… dowdy. The 2004 TL fixes that. It still has all the good things (well, most anyway) but now they’re packaged with Italian-like flare. This one is flat gorgeous from every angle. But it’s not perfect: I don’t like the passenger seats and I think the engine’s too powerful for a family-type front-drive sedan. MSRP: $32,650; Warranty: 4yrs/50,000mi.

First Glance
In the late 80’s, Toyota, Nissan and Honda simultaneously launched upscale automobile divisions to directly challenge German luxury car dominance in North America. Toyota and Nissan came out with the Lexus and Infiniti brands; Honda countered with its near-luxury Acura brand. Acuras were superbly engineered and executed but their styling was boring in the extreme. Acura’s parent company, Honda Motors, is many things but stupid it’s not. It knows most people buy a car based on an emotional response; it also noticed few people were getting all that revved up about Honda’s out-of-step Japanese styling. To help remedy this, Honda set up design studios in places like Southern California and Milan, twin ground zeros for design. In Italy, Honda has used the Segno Milano design studio. Although Segno is an independent studio, Honda is its only client. Now when Honda’s corporate designers want a second opinion before stepping off the curb, they can get it on the QT. (I owe this little tidbit to Detroit’s Car Design News, April 2001.)

Although designed in Honda’s Los Angeles studio, the new TL’s lines speak to me more of Northern Italy than Southern California. Those things Italians really care about have a unique style, one that exudes passion. Call me nuts, but I can see, if not pure passion, certainly elements of passion in this TL design. In fact, as a former Peugeot owner (don’t let me start in that direction!) I even see the hand of maestro Pininfarina in the TL. After you’ve had a boozy Italian meal one day, take a close look at your TL from the front three-quarter view. I think you’ll see the Alfa 164. I certainly do. The new navigation/information system, available this year as a big-ticket option, offers lots more than an electronic map. Check it out if you’re into gadgets. It’s an amazing device. The new sound system is also noteworthy. A couple of complaints: The TL’s 10-way power driver’s seat is fine, but the cushions on the other three seats are too thin and also lack lumbar support. After a long drive, you could have a sore back and a sore backside. A good way to gain headroom? Not. And while I’m having on about the TL’s shortcomings, the windshield pillar is so severely sloped it can impede side vision.

On the Road
For 2004, the TL’s all-aluminum 3.2 liter VTEC V-6 engine now pumps out 270 hp and 238 lb-ft of torque @ 5,000 rpm. This is the only engine available and it propels the 3,575 lb TL from a dead stop to 60 mph in under 7 seconds. More importantly, it offers tremendous get-up-and-go in the middle ranges for easy and adrenaline-free passing on crowded two-lane roads. This much power would be too much for most drivers, but for the standard dynamic stability control and traction control. Front-wheel-drive seems to be inherently prone to wheelspin and torque-steer, particularly with high-powered front-drivers like the TL. Without stability control and traction control the made-in-Ohio TL would surely be a handful, especially on wet or snow-covered pavement. With them it’s reasonably controllable. Under hard acceleration, however, strict attention must be paid. In other words this is not the car for folks who have to multi-task behind the wheel. It’ll bite you on the bum if you do. In the city, the TL turns on a dime. Fuel economy in stop-and-go driving is not too bad provided you keep your foot off the hammer.

The 2004 Acura 3.2 TL is a North American automotive wonder. It has been greeted with almost unreserved praise from both the automobile journalist fraternity and, more to the point, the car buying public. With the exception of the too-thin seat cushions, it has everything anyone could reasonably want in a passenger car. Well OK, besides more padding in the seats, it could also use rear-wheel-drive so all that power can be used. Not that most of us would ever notice any difference, what with the beautifully engineered Acura FWD system with its perfectly harmonized suspension. It’s mostly that rear-wheel-drive has more cachet these days, especially among trend-aware car buyers in the 25–50 age cohorts. The bottom line is that Acura’s definitely made a hit with the 3.2TL. However, it’s a 3-bagger rather than a home run. Thing is, though, the Japanese know how to listen. Watch how long it takes them to correct the seat cushion problem. And while you’re keeping an eye on Acura, look for RWD (or more likely, AWD) to begin appearing in the TL before you can say, um, G35x 4-Door upscale sports sedan. Front-wheel-drive. V-6 engine. Choice of manual and automatic transmissions.

How Much?: $32,650 to $34,850 will purchase a 2004 Acura TL.

The Inside Story: Seats four in luxurious comfort, five in a pinch. Spacious trunk. Engines: 270 hp, sohc V-6 with drive-by-wire throttle. 238 lbs. ft. torque. Transmissions: 6-speed manual, 5-speed automatic with Select-Shift. 2004 Acura TL fuel economy: 20/28 city/highway, automatic (EPA). 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper.
Under the Hood: There is just one engine offered in the 2004 Acura TL but it’s all the engine you’ll ever need. 3.2 liter DOHC V-6, 270 hp, 238 lb-ft of torque.

Transmissions: Choose between a 5-speed Sequential SportShift automatic or a close-ratio 6-speed manual.
Warranty: 4 years/50,000 miles bumper-to-bumper, 4 years/50,000 miles powertrain.
Should You Buy a 2004 Acura TL?: At last, the TL looks as good as it goes. With dynamic new styling, the 2004 Acura TL meets BMW head-on, lacking only rear-wheel-drive to incite die-hard enthusiasts. Does that matter? Not in our opinion. What does bother us is that the rakish lines make access and visibility a problem for rear-seat passengers. We like the one-engine-only concept plus the choice of manual or auto at no extra cost and we appreciate the long list of standard equipment.

Scribbled on January 16th 2009 in Acura, Acura TL
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