Typically Acura, the TL offers performance, style, and comfort for less money than you might expect. Its powerful 3.2-liter V6 engine, nicely balanced suspension, rigid structure, and classy good looks make the TL a serious contender in both the near-luxury and compact sport-sedan categories.
TL was completely redesigned and re-engineered for 1999. For 2000, Acura replaced the original four-speed automatic transmission with a wonderful five-speed sequential Sportshift. Advanced side-impact airbags were added, while revisions to the engine increased mid-range acceleration and reduced emissions. So the TL enters 2001 mostly unchanged, beyond new carpeted floor mats and an emergency inside trunk release.
The 2001 TL-alternately called the 3.2 TL in reference to its 3.2-liter engine displacement-is available as one fully loaded model that retails for $28,550. That's less than many of the TL's current competitors, representing a strong value.
The only option offered is Acura's navigation system, which adds $2000; the system was updated last year with a Digital Video Disc (DVD) player for mapping. No manual transmission is available, although the five-speed Sportshift automatic offers a convenient, sequential manual override.
Designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA, TL maintains a conservative profile-although it is no longer the wallflower it was prior to 1999. Its current 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. A rear spoiler is available--Acura dealers sell it as an accessory--but it doesn't improve the TL's clean lines.
Probably because of its front-wheel-drive layout, TL is roomier than the BMW 3 Series and Mercedes-Benz C-Class, although it also tops the front-driven Lexus ES 300 for interior space. The TL interior is quite attractive, particularly in the lovely light tan of our test car. Switchgear is nicely designed. The mirror control is whisper quiet and the stereo features big, handsome buttons that are easy to operate. But 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 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.
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.
At $2,000, the navigation system is an expensive option. It uses Global Positioning Satellites to plot your course and provide instructions. A brightly lit touch-screen monitor displays a map or alpine-type route instructions. It 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. Try the system out before deciding whether to order it.
Acura's TL strikes an excellent balance on many levels. It's very quiet underway, yet it doesn't make the driver feel totally isolated from what's going on outside. It dampens bumps and vibration, yet the handling is taut and it doesn't make the driver feel disconnected from the pavement.
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.
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. High performance 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 new TL is a compact, 3.2-liter, 225-horsepower VTEC V6. Improvements for 2000 boosted both output and flexibility while reducing emissions, and the engine goes unchanged for 2001. 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 now 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.
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.
When price is a factor -- and it always is -- the Acura 3.2 TL compares very well to the Lexus ES 300, Infiniti I30, BMW 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and Audi A4.
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.
Model as tested
3.2 TL ($28,550)
4 years/50,000 miles
Gas guzzler tax
Price as tested
Options as tested
Navigation system ($2,000)
Model Line Overview
3.2 TL ($28,550)
Safety equipment (standard)
side-impact airbags, dual front airbags, ABS, traction control, high-intensity discharge headlights, side-impact door beams standard
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
Engine & Transmission
3.2-liter sohc 24v VTEC V6
front engine, front-wheel drive
Horsepower (hp @ rpm)
225 @ 5600
EPA fuel economy, city/hwy
Torque (lb.-ft. @ rpm)
disc/disc with ABS
Independent, solid upper wishbones, tension strut and lateral arm forming lower wishbone, coil springs, anti-roll bar
Independent, multi-link, coil springs, anti-roll bar