By Jonathan Spira on 6 December 2009
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Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but fortunately for owners of the 2009 Acura TL SH-AWD, they don’t have to look at its odd-looking grille when they sit behind the wheel.2009 Acura TL SH-AWD

From that vantage point, the Acura TL SH-AWD is an impressive looking vehicle.   Powered by a 3.7-liter V-6, the Acura feels sure-footed and solid.  The SH in the nameplate stands for “Super Handling” and replaces the Type S as the high-performance version of the TL.  The SH lives up to its designation; thanks to the all-wheel drive, the larger tires, sophisticated shock absorbers, and variable electronic power steering, the resultant precise handling in corners and tight curves makes it respond like a smaller car.

The advanced all-wheel drive system varies the torque not only from front-to-back but also side-to-side to support any kind of driving situation.  The ride is smooth until you hit sections of highway with large pavement joints; here the suspension transmits far too much harshness, jolting the car’s occupants.  The steering is ultra precise but it sacrifices roadfeel in the process.

Honda created Acura in 1986; it was the first Japanese carmaker to launch a line of luxury vehicles and Toyota (Lexus) and Nissan (Infiniti) quickly followed in 1989.  Before Acura, Japanese cars were perceived as low-cost econoboxes.  Now Acura competes against the BMW 5er Series, Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class, and the Cadillac CTS among others, and it does so with a credible entry that is priced substantially below the competition.

The new for 2009 Acura TL line (there is a base TL model minus the Super Handling) is longer and heavier than its predecessor although handles better and gets better fuel economy. The extra length translates to more legroom in the rear and a bit more trunk space.

All TLs come nicely equipped with leather upholstery, heated front seats, Bluetooth phone connectivity, sunroof, and an eight-speaker sound system.  A USB connection that supports Apple iPod music players as well as USB storage devices works well.  Once adjusted, I found the front seat to be more comfortable than most.  Our test car was equipped with the Technology Package, which includes keyless access and ignition, navigation with real-time traffic and weather, and a 440-watt 10-speaker audio system.  The quality of materials used is better than average.

The imposing center console includes a cockpit controller knob that, following the trend of Japanese car makers of placing this on the center stack, makes it a distraction to use; Audi, BMW, and Mercedes more wisely place this close to where the driver’s hand naturally falls, near the center armrest.  The controller’s functions are duplicated by the numerous buttons, which makes for a very busy looking console and dashboard.

For the business traveler on the road, useful options include real-time weather (including radar maps) and Zagat restaurant reviews, which the car will read to you and which can be set as a destination in the satellite navigation system.

Both the base TL and sporty SH-AWD are good values (the base front-wheel-drive TL starts at $34,955). If you like the radical styling, or care more about the view from the driver’s seat, it’s worth a second look.

2009 Acura TL SH-AWD
Base price/price-as-tested $38,505/$43,235
Drivetrain Front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine 3.7-liter/305 hp/V-6
Transmission 5-speed automatic
Curb weight (lbs) 3986
Wheelbase (inches) 109.3
Length x width x height (inches) 195.3 x 74.0 x 57.2
0-60 mph (seconds) 5.5
EPA city/highway fuel economy (mpg) 17/25

–Jonathan B. Spira is the Editor of Executive Road Warrior and Chief Analyst at Basex, a knowledge economy research firm.

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