A new model designed for enthusiasts, the Type-S ups the ante with a more powerful V6, a sport-tuned suspension, 17-inch V-rated tires, and an electronic stability program. It's quick and fun to drive, with a level of rawness that gives it character.
The TL ($28,880), alternately called the 3.2 TL in reference to its 3.2-liter engine displacement, comes fully loaded, and retails for less than many of the other cars in its class. It offers a strong value, though Acura has not had to resort to the deep discounts seen from other manufacturers.
The only option offered is Acura's DVD navigation system, which adds $2000. No manual transmission is available, although the five-speed Sportshift automatic offers a convenient, sequential manual override.
TL Type-S ($31,230) is the hot one, and represents about 40 percent of total TL sales. It provides 260 horsepower as opposed to the TL's 225 horsepower, with the extra power coming from a higher compression ratio, a two-stage induction system, a larger throttle body (with no decrease in gas mileage), free-flowing exhaust, high-performance intake valves and camshafts, and modified variable valve (VTEC) timing. Type S also comes with an increased steering ratio and a firmer suspension, thanks to stiffer shocks, a slightly larger rear stabilizer bar, and 17-inch alloy wheels with Michelin P215/50R17 high-performance tires.
Notably, the Type-S comes standard with Acura's Vehicle Stability Assist, an electronic stability program that uses anti-lock braking and traction control to keep the car from sliding. Yaw, lateral g, speed and steering sensors all provide input, and the throttle and brakes are automatically reduced or applied as needed.
Designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA, TL maintains a conservative profile. Its lines are modern and refined, and its stance is athletic. As Acura's mid-level luxury sedan, the TL fits in the so-called near-luxury segment of cars in the $30,000 range, and its upscale looks are in keeping with this role. The last complete redesign of the TL was for the 1999 model year. A rear spoiler is available--Acura dealers sell it as an accessory--but we don't think it improves the TL's clean lines.
The front seats, though cushy and attractive, did not meet our expectations for an upscale Acura sedan. They lack support and the adjustable lumbar bulge is of marginal help. The leather seats in the S-Type don't provide enough lateral support when you start throwing the car around. There's a dead pedal to brace your left leg, however.
The back seats are roomy. The center position features a three-point shoulder belt, instead of just a lap belt. The rear seat doesn't fold down, but a small center section opens to allow skis, fly rods and other long objects in the trunk to pass through the seats. Acura thoughtfully provided a little flip-down coat hook in back so your nice coat doesn't end up on the floor.
The TL comes with a high level of standard equipment. Leather upholstery, heated and powered front seats, wood-grain trim, automatic climate control, tilt steering column, cruise control, Bose AM/FM/CD/cassette with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power moonroof, power heated door mirrors, keyless entry, theft-deterrent system, auto-off headlights, and the Homelink Universal Transceiver System are all standard. Active safety features include ABS, traction control, and high-intensity discharge headlights. Passive safety features include dual front airbags and side-impact door beams.
The Type-S interior is racy (and handsome), with firm leather seats and a great leather sport steering wheel, cool shift knob, and instrument panel touches including metallic faces and ebony wood-patterned plastic trim.
At $2,000, the navigation system is an expensive option. It uses Global Positioning Satellites and DVD to plot your course and provide instructions. A brightly lit touch-screen monitor displays a map or an alpine-type route instruction. The navigation system works well and can provide a lot of help in unfamiliar territory. The verbal instructions can help you avoid missing an exit and the map can help you figure out your location. It's always fun when you spontaneously decide to go to a hot restaurant while you're on the far side of town and it quickly finds it for you. Like all these systems, however, it's about 95 percent there in terms of development. It will occasionally send you the wrong way, and operating the controls can, at times, be confusing and frustrating. Our 2003 Navi system was slow recalculating routes in downtown Washington. Also, there's no obvious way to quickly shut the thing off so, like when you're trying to talk on your cell phone and it keeps telling you to turn around. If possible, spend some time trying the system out before deciding whether to order it.
One of the best features of the TL is that it is very stable at high speeds. The TL encourages its driver to bend it around fast sweeping turns. It is an easy car to drive fast, one that inspires confidence, rather than that uncomfortable tightening in your stomach. Like most front-drive cars, the TL understeers -- the front tires slide before the rear tires -- when driven past its cornering limits. This makes for easy, predictable handling, but limits its cornering performance for highly skilled drivers.
The TL doesn't have the hard, precise edge of a BMW. The steering is very light at low speed, which makes it easy to handle in the crowded parking lots where many of us spend far too much of our time. Yet on the open road, the steering offers enough feedback that you don't feel like you're sitting at the controls of a video game.
Acura designed the TL's multi-link rear suspension and double-wishbone-style front suspension to enhance its sporting performance while preserving its luxury feel. The chassis roll center of the current-generation car was lowered to reduce body lean in corners. V-rated Michelin MXV4 tires that provide good grip are mounted on 16-inch wheels. Equipped with four-wheel disc brakes, the TL provides smooth, sure braking performance. Anti-lock brakes are standard.
At the core of the TL is a compact, 225-horsepower VTEC V6. It provides the TL with more power than many of the other cars in its class. The 3.2-liter V6 comes with four cams, 24 valves and Honda's famous VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) valvetrain. The VTEC system provides a remarkable combination of performance and fuel economy. It delivers strong acceleration at highway speeds and sharp throttle response at lower speeds. The TL can accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in less than 7.5 seconds. At the same time, the engine is supremely smooth and quiet, and it gets an EPA-rated 29 mpg on the highway.
The 5-speed sequential SportShift automatic works like any other automatic most of the time, although it is much more refined than most. Shifting is silky smooth. It downshifts into the appropriate gear when quick acceleration is needed. And it doesn't hunt unnecessarily between gears. The staggered design of the PRND side of the shifter gate seems a bit clumsy, however. I found it cumbersome to shift from drive to reverse when trying to get out of tight quarters in a hurry. And the shifter in the TL-S model that we also tested was much too stiff, even when just notching side-to-side in the SportShift mode.
The semi-automatic SportShift feature allows the driver to change gears manually. Slide the shifter into a two-way gate on the left; downshift by pulling the lever back, upshift by pushing it forward. It's fun to use and, if used correctly, can improve performance and efficiency in many situations. Mostly it gives you a heightened sense of control. You can use it for slowing the car slightly on a grade, so you don't have to brake for a slower car. Or you can use it to hold the transmission in third or fourth gear when you're in the mountains or on a winding road. You don't always want the automatic to upshift on short straight stretches because it will just have to downshift again after you brake and accelerate out of the next corner; the Sportshift solves this. The SportShift can also add a little entertainment when slogging along in stop-and-go traffic. From an engineering standpoint, the TL's transmission -- like its engine -- is extremely lightweight, which contributes to the car's overall agility.
We also drove the Acura TL Type-S, which is new for the 2002 model year.
We drove it harder than we drove the TL, because that's the way some owners may drive it. The Acura website describes the Type-S as having an "aggressive wild streak," and we couldn't agree more. For every satisfying driving quality the Type-S has, there's an untamed one. It's a very visceral, exciting, imperfect car. No one can say this is one of those Japanese cars that's engineered so tightly it lacks character.
The suspension is noticeably firm. It twitches over bumps in medium- and high-speed curves and does a poor job of absorbing shallow potholes and other big bumps. The increased steering ratio allows the Type-S to turn into corners very crisply, which is exciting. It feels pointy, like an arrow, and it wants to slash and dart, with confidence-it's a point and shoot kind of car. It feels very light under the driver's hands, sometimes too light.
When driven very hard, like on a race track, the front-wheel-drive TL Type-S does not offer the level of handling found in rear-wheel-drive sports sedans, such as the BMW 3 Series and the new Infiniti G35. Under hard acceleration, the TL's front tires aren't planted as firmly on the pavement. Drive it hard over patchy surfaces, and the yellow light on the dash indicating the VSA is at work will be constantly flashing as the front wheels are bouncing and losing grip.
The Type-S engine produces 35 more horsepower and 15 more foot-pounds of torque than the standard TL. With this much horsepower, and 232 pounds-feet of torque, torque steer is felt when pulling away from a stop; and under full-throttle automatic upshifts, the car will weave to the side a bit. With this 260-horsepower engine, Acura may have reached the upper limit of power for this front-wheel-drive sedan.
But this engine loves to rev. And when it reaches 5000 rpm, it's lovely. The growl from the free-flowing exhaust is cool, all the way up to 6900 rpm redline, which hardly feels like the engine is maxed out. The rev limiter finally steps in at 7200.
When you're really driving the Type-S hard, it's fun to work the Sequential Sportshift on the five-speed automatic to keep the revs over 5000. Acura's auto-manual is more enjoyable than Infiniti's to use mainly because it's less awkward. You pull the Acura's lever toward the left, rather than pushing it out to the right as with the Infiniti shifter, and it's located better. The Infiniti lever is mounted too far rearward. And unlike the Infiniti, the Acura will not upshift or downshift without the driver's input, with the exception of first and second gear.
With its 225-horsepower V6 and five-speed Sportshift, the Acura 3.2 TL is a solid luxury sports sedan. Its suspension strikes a good balance between handling and a luxurious, well-controlled ride.
The new TL Type-S model adds a raw, untamed edge to this sword with a 260-horsepower engine.
Model as tested
3.2 TL Type-S ($31,230)
4 years/50,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax:
Price as tested
Options as tested
Model Line Overview
3.2 TL ($28,880); 3.2 TL Type-S ($31,230)
Safety equipment (standard)
side-impact airbags, dual front airbags, ABS, traction control, high-intensity discharge headlights, side-impact door beams
Safety equipment (optional)
3.2-liter sohc 24v VTEC V6
5-speed automatic SportShift
Specifications as Tested
automatic climate control, leather seating, heated front seats, power windows, power mirrors, power locks, power driver's and passenger's seats, wood-grained trim, tilt steering column, cruise control, Bose AM/FM/CD/cassette with steering wheel-mounted audio controls, power moonroof, power heated door mirrors, keyless entry, theft-deterrent system, auto-off headlights, and the Homelink Universal Transceiver System; Type S adds perforated leather seating surfaces, vehicle stability assist system, 260-horsepower engine, torque-sensing steering, P215/VR17 high-performance tires
Engine & Transmission
3.2-liter sohc 24v VTEC V6
front engine, front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
260 @ 6100
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
Independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Independent, solid upper wishbones, tension strut and lateral arm forming lower wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar
P215/50VR17 Michelin MXM4
Independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Head/hip/leg room, middle
Head/hip/leg room, front
Head/hip/leg room, rear