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With redesigned TL, Acura adds power, awd

The TL is Acura’s next step toward becoming a Tier 1 luxury brand like BMW and Mercedes.
NEW YORK — Acura's redesigned TL sedan, which goes on sale in September, is a total makeover — inside and outside and under the hood.

The fourth-generation TL gets new and more powerful engines, more safety features and an all-wheel-drive version — the TL's first. Telematics also abound.

The car, designed in California, is critical for Acura as it continues its quest to reach Tier 1 luxury status with the likes of BMW and Mercedes.

The TL was introduced at an event here last month.

The basics: The TL comes in two trim lines: the base TL and the TL SH-AWD (superhandling all-wheel drive). The sporty Type-S trim has been dropped for now but could return.

Every critical dimension, from the exterior and interior size to engine power, is grander than its predecessor. The base 3.5-liter V-6 produces 280 hp, up 22 hp, while keeping the same mileage as the 2008 model — 18 mpg city/26 highway. The awd version gets a new 3.7-liter V-6, the TL's biggest engine ever. And at 305 hp and 275 pounds-feet of torque, it is Acura's most powerful engine — more than the 300 hp flagship RL sedan.

The 3.7-liter version gets 17 mpg city/25 highway. Acura parent Honda says more aluminum parts on the engine boosts fuel economy.

The redesigned car will be introduced with a five-speed automatic transmission only. A manual will debut for the 2010 model year.

TL of the tape
 2009 TL2008 TL
Wheelbase109.3 in.107.9 in.
Length195.3 in.189.3 in.
Width74.0 in.72.2 in
Height57.2 in.56.7 in.
Curb weight3,708 lbs.3,636 lbs.
Base engine3.5-liter V-63.2-liter V-6
Horsepower280 @ 6,200 rpm258 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque, lbs.-ft.254 @ 5,000233 @ 5,000
EPA mpg18 city/26 hwy.*18/26
Base price$34,000*$34,485**
**Includes shipping

Notable features: The five-speed automatic transmission that powers both cars has a steering wheel paddle-shifter system that works whenever the gear is in drive. Before, it only worked in the manual mode.

As for safety, the TL gets Honda's ACE body system, which helps minimize damage during a frontal collision. A new rear frame mode minimizes damage in a rear-end collision. The windshield defogger comes on automatically.

The option package includes premium leather, the first time on the TL. There's also a 10-speaker surround sound system and a hard-disk drive that holds up to 2,500 songs. The awd version is available with 19-inch wheels and tires.

What Acura says: "We want the driver to go out and seek the twisty roads with this car," says Mike Unger, vehicle performance manager for the TL.

The market: The TL is in the entry premium segment. Executives say it will be cross-shopped by consumers looking at the Infiniti G35 and BMW 3 series. Awd was added because Acura expects the feature to penetrate about one-third of the segment by 2010, up from 17 percent in 2000.

The base model is expected to account for about 75 percent of the sales. About 70 percent of the consumers will take the options package, which is available on both trim lines.

Compromises and shortcomings: Without a V-8 and rwd, the Acura brand still lacks Tier 1 luxury cachet.

The skinny: The TL has a much more distinctive and athletic look, gets decent fuel economy and is loaded with technical goodies. With consumers shying away from big engines, Acura has a good chance of selling the targeted 70,000 units annually.

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