The 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD with the Technology Package and the new six-speed manual transmission brings some familiar adages to mind. "Don't judge a book by its cover." "Beauty is more than skin deep." You get the idea. From behind the wheel, this TL is a revelation, a world-class performance sedan that Acura somehow derived from the plebeian Honda Accord. It also boasts plenty of technology and room for four full-size adults. But the question is: Will those heartwarming adages still be convincing when $44,000 of your hard-earned money is on the line?
We'll hold open the possibility, because we've certainly met people who like the way the TL looks. Some find the pointy grille refreshingly different; others favor the unusual metallic V-shaped insert below the trunk. If you're a fan of the styling, the TL SH-AWD 6MT definitely belongs at the top of your shopping list. After all, its performance is competitive with that of the BMW 535i xDrive, which runs $10,000-$15,000 more when comparably equipped. And the TL SH-AWD is bigger and more comfortable than the marginally better-performing but pricier Audi S4.
Though more conservatively styled, the above-mentioned BMW and Audi are the only truly comparable luxury performance sedans with manual transmissions and the year-round versatility of all-wheel drive. Even if you're not high on the TL's brave design language, you might still want to give this car a chance. As one of the best-driving luxury performance sedans under $60,000, the 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT is proof that beauty is more than skin deep.
The 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD is powered by a 3.7-liter SOHC V6 rated at 305 horsepower and 273 pound-feet of torque. Our test car had the new six-speed manual transmission, with EPA fuel economy estimates of 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
At the test track, our TL SH-AWD sped to 60 mph in just 5.6 seconds, a remarkable 1.1 seconds quicker than the identically powered automatic-transmission version we tested last year. The quarter-mile flew by in 13.9 seconds at 100.1 mph — pretty serious speed for a six-cylinder luxury sedan, particularly one with an engine as refined as this smooth 3.7-liter mill. Brake testing returned repeated fade-free stops from 60 mph in a commendably short 110 feet.
In our handling tests, the TL was aided greatly by its Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (hence "SH-AWD"), a sophisticated system that mitigates understeer in hard cornering by apportioning power to the outside wheels. Our track driver did complain about a lack of feel from the electric power steering, an impression seconded by those of us who drove the car in the canyons. Still, the Acura averaged 68.5 mph in the slalom, an impressive speed for a large sedan, and it circled the skid pad at a sports-carlike 0.92g.
Real-world driving backs these gaudy numbers up convincingly. Unlike the tepid automatic version, the TL SH-AWD 6MT feels genuinely fast in a straight line, with the endearing manual shifter and light, short-throw clutch serving as willing companions. On twisty roads, the SH-AWD system does a stellar job of keeping the TL's handling neutral — if you notice understeer, you probably did something wrong.
The only real demerit here concerns the car's sheer bulk, an inevitable encumbrance given those Accord roots. Whereas the S4 and 535i xDrive shrink around you in tight corners, the TL SH-AWD never feels smaller than the sizable car it is. The Acura's brakes are always strong, though, and the steering is quite responsive despite its numbness. This is a genuine sport sedan — no doubt about it.
Unlike its German rivals, the 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD lets some impact harshness filter through over bumps and ruts, and it generally has a less substantial feel at speed. Still, it rides notably better than the Accord on which it's based, and road noise is appropriately hushed. The front seats are among the best chairs in the business — brilliantly comfortable and supportive. The thick-rimmed, ergonomically contoured steering wheel fits hands perfectly, and the armrests are nicely padded.
The backseat is another high point. This is where the TL's imposing dimensions pay their most obvious dividends. Two 6-footers fit easily behind similarly lanky front-seat occupants, and they'll also appreciate the comfortable shape of the rear outboard seats. The S4 has less backseat space, and even the 535i xDrive would be hard-pressed to match the Acura in this regard.
The TL SH-AWD's primary gauges are clear and feature Acura's trademark "floating" needles. The center stack has too many similar-looking buttons, though owners will, of course, acclimate to this with time. A multifunction control knob comes in handy for programming the Technology package's navigation system or checking real-time weather forecasts, and deftly manages the iPod interface, which our music fans lauded for its ease of use. The premium Panasonic/ELS stereo, also part of the Technology package, delivers crisp and clean sound.
In our real-world usability tests, we found that while the TL's 12.5-cubic-foot trunk can accommodate two sets of golf clubs plus a standard suitcase, it's disappointingly small given that this is hardly a small car. A rear-facing child seat fits just fine in the commodious backseat, however.
Design/Fit and Finish
We've said enough about the TL SH-AWD's exterior styling; beauty is in the eye of the buyer, as always. Inside, the TL's dual-cowl dashboard design is sleek but not particularly memorable, awash as it is in dark colors and odd silver plastic trim with a black dot matrix overlay.
Materials quality is average for this segment, including the expected soft-touch dash covering. Build quality on our test car was exemplary — there were no squeaks or rattles, and everything in the cabin seemed to be put together exceptionally well.
Who should consider this vehicle
The 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT is an excellent option for driving enthusiasts who want an all-weather luxury performance sedan. The manual shifter naturally limits its appeal, but buyers who opt for this configuration will be rewarded with a spacious four-door with refined world-class performance.
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