$8,473 - $9,950

2009 Acura TL Performance Review

Note: This performance review was created when the 2009 Acura TL was new.


Performance: 8.0

The 2009 Acura TL is either a competent commuter with a smooth engine but unexceptional steering, or an energetic performer with advanced handling and a V6 that acts like a V8, depending on which model you buy. TL loyalists will notice that the sporty S model is missing -- but many of its characteristics are found on the base model today, and the advanced SH-AWD would leave the old S far behind on the track.

Base model TLs have an EPA fuel economy rating of 18/26 mpg, while SH-AWD models don't suffer much of a penalty for their enhanced performance, with a 17/25 mpg rating.

  • "I asked Mike Unger, principal engineer in charge of total vehicle performance for the TL, if the 6-speed TL SH-AWD could keep up with a 1991 Acura NSX - a two-seater that was competitive with European exotics in its day - on a racetrack. He said that was a question that Acura had yet to answer. But the notion that a sub-$50,000 four-door can be considered a racetrack opponent to the NSX (which was lighter but had less power and fewer gear ratios) speaks to how thoroughly Acura has overhauled the TL." -- New York Times
  • "The success of previous TLs centered on two aspects: a powerful V-6 engine and lots of standard equipment. The new TL predictably sticks to that playbook but adds another page with the addition of optional all-wheel drive.-- Car and Driver
  • "It strikes a nice compromise for both cruising through town and scurrying down a twisty back road. -- Road and Track
  • "The TL makes for a comfortable tourer, especially on the open road. The base model feels lighter on its feet than its racier all-wheel-drive sibling, which checks in about 250 pounds heavier." - Consumer Guide
  • "Driving enthusiasts, however, may want to wait for the new 2010 stick-shift version of the all-wheel-drive TL. That model will be juiced up with a special sports suspension system, heavy-duty engine mounts and drive shaft, and a high-tech self-adjusting clutch. Acura also promises the short, tight shift throws that set a driving enthusiast's heart aflutter." -- Business Week

Acceleration and Power

Acura is the luxury division of Honda, and Honda makes some of the smoothest engines available anywhere. The base model's 3.5-liter V6 with variable valve timing moves the car with energy and will easily meet the needs of commuters. The SH-AWD model's 3.7-liter V6 is more advanced, adding variable exhaust valve timing. Reviewers say it offers brisk off-the-line acceleration, but more surprisingly, it is stunningly smooth at high RPMs -- where many engines lose their composure.

  • "The snarl of the V-6 strikes a nice balance between refinement and sportiness, racing from a stop to 60 miles an hour in 6 seconds, according to Car and Driver, while returning 25 miles a gallon on the highway - though a rather unfortunate 17 m.p.g. in town." -- New York Times
  • "Base TL models are comfortable tourers, especially on the open road. They feel lighter on their feet than their racier all-wheel-drive sibling, which checks in about 250 pounds heavier." -- Consumer Guide
  • "We started our drive in the base TL, where we were concerned about 280 hp and 254 lb-ft of torque flowing to the front wheels. But cranking the wheel and stomping on the gas elicited only minor tugging at the wheel. Of course, torque steer is not a factor for the SH-AWD, which can send up to 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels." -- Automobile Magazine
  • In the base model, "Given all of the other engineering changes, it's hard to attribute the crisper performance solely to the 8.5 percent power increase, but it definitely feels more lively." -- AutoWeek
  • "The base TL is more for comfort-minded buyers who should find the 280-hp V6 more than ample for commuting." -- Edmunds
  • "While the TL SH-AWD doesn't feel exceptionally quick, perhaps due to the cabin's quiet and the engine's refinement ...it simply runs away from the outgoing Type-S in racetrack lapping." -- Motor Trend

Handling and Braking

Reviewers say there are two Acura TLs when it comes to performance. The base model uses over-assisted electronic steering that few seem to like, and just doesn't hold its own in the corners against a competitive class. It's a front-wheel drive sedan competing with rear-wheel drive cars, and it loses that competition.

The SH-AWD model is an entirely different story. Its advanced all-wheel-drive system actually helps to steer the car, sending more power to the outside wheels in a turn to point the car into corners. Reviewers say it's almost unshakably steady even in aggressive cornering, and allows drivers to get the most out of that model's horsepower boost. SH-AWD TLs compare to the BMW 3-Series or Audi A4 on the track. The all-wheel-drive system, however, is not much help with rough weather, as some reviewers learned firsthand.

  • "steering feel has lost the plot. The new TL uses electronic power assist, as opposed to the old hydraulic unit. It's more precise on-center, but the old car's steering was better weighted and offered much more feel." -- Car and Driver
  • "the steering's low-effort response, feels decidedly artificial, and the car lacks the previous TL's nimble nature." But "the SH-AWD is a different story, as the ‘Super Handling' part of its acronym proves to be more than just hyperbole. By apportioning more power to the outside wheels during cornering (it's the same principle that makes a tank turn), the TL exhibits excellent grip and control." -- Edmunds
  • "I won't pretend that I fully exploited the system on public roads, but on long highway on-ramps the TL SH-AWD simply hangs in and goes where you point it, sometimes making the car feel as if it is cheating physics. And cheating physics is fun." -- New York Times
  • "The TL SH-AWD edition feels more responsive, thanks to tighter EPS tuning, firmer springs and shocks, larger wheels and tires (standard 18s versus 17s on the base car), and the added kick of the unique all-wheel-drive system, which can actively speed up the outside rear wheel to help point the car into turns." -- Motor Trend
  • "The new electric power steering system requires low effort in low-speed situations, such as parking. Effort increases as speed rises, but it doesn't feel heavy or cumbersome. The SH-AWD deserves special praise for its stability in fast corners.  Large brakes deliver impressive stopping power." - Consumer Guide
  • "The main reason to pay extra for all-wheel drive is handling, not winter driving capability....the AWD TL's road-gripping power, however, doesn't help you in the snow. Ice builds up and clogs the narrow wheel wells. The low-profile performance tires don't grab during braking and acceleration. I took my test car out on unplowed roads after a five-inch snowfall and at one point I slid down an icy hill through a stop sign and onto a highway (luckily there was no other traffic at the time)." -- Business Week

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