In the 1980s, Honda shocked the luxury car market with its new Acura brand. Here were Japanese luxury cars, that were both more refined and less costly than many European competitors. Acura was a big hit. But the 1990s have been a different story. Resurgent German brands have snatched back their market share. And Acura has struggled with cars that lacked the impact of its original models. So Acura has revamped its core sedan, the TL, for both more spirit and more value. Is Japan’s first luxury brand set to make a big splash all over again?
Well, from a technical diving standpoint, no. Because we can’t imagine a car as agile and svelte as the all-new Ohio-borne 1999 Acura 3.2TL, doing a cannon ball off the high dive into the deep end. ‘s more like the unassuming kid who shows up at the pool, and promptly knocks everyone’s socks off by performing breath-taking dives with a high degree of technical difficulty. And when it comes to technical, the 3.2TL comes close to scoring a perfect 10.
Take its all-new ultra smooth, also American-made 3.2-liter V-6 engine, for example. It’s now the only power available in the TL. And redesigned from a 90 to a 60 degree V angle, this single-overhead-cam, 24-valve, VTEC engine now delivers 225 horsepower, and that’s up 25 from the previous V-6. Torque is also up from 209 pound-feet, to 216.
It’s hooked to a new 4-speed automatic transmission, with features like Grade Logic Control. A system that monitors throttle position and vehicle speed, to adjust the shift schedule when encountering inclines. There’s also a sequential Sportshift mode, that allows the driver to shift manually for a more sporting experience. Like the one we enjoyed at our track, zooming from 0 to 60 in a spirited 7.6 seconds, while finishing off the quarter mile in 15.8 seconds, at 91 miles per hour. Our drivers love the new, broader power band, and the way you can squeeze a few more revs out of the engine in the Sportshift mode.
Handling also receives top technical scores. As the TL’s revised, double wishbone front suspension, and vehicle-speed sensitive power steering, offer up a feel that our drivers find “just right” for attacking the twists of the slalom. The completely redesigned rear suspension is now a lightweight and compact, five-link design. And it does a masterful job of keeping the rear end tucked in and firmly planted during abrupt side-to-side transitions.
Real world driving prowess is also impressive, as the suspension components are mounted to new front and rear subframes, that provide just the right amount of isolation from the harshness and noise of the road, without creating a ride that’s completely numb. It’s all tied together in the middle by Honda’s mid-size Global Platform, which also anchors the Accord. Although the Acura’s has been stretched 1.2 inches to support its longer, 108.1-inch wheelbase.
New, larger, 16-inch wheels, now mean the TL can accommodate bigger, ventilated, 11.8-inch front brake discs. And a new drum-in-disc design in the rear, where the discs are used for slowing the TL, while the drum is used for the parking brake. Also ABS equipped, this system brought us to a halt from 60 in a consistent 118 feet, with plenty of pedal modulation to let you know the ABS is at work.
But when it comes to the category of artistic expression, the TL falters slightly. And while it does cut a lithe and athletic figure, the TL does little to distinguish itself from the rest of the crowd with similar builds.
The wood tone trimmed interior, too, while comfortable and accommodating, is lacking some of the amenities befitting an upscale sport sedan. Like the not too comprehensive and extremely plain looking gauge cluster that fronts a tilt steering wheel and the leather-trimmed buckets, offering not only excellent comfort and support, but 6-way power adjustments for the driver and 4-way for the passenger.
The Acura Navigation System, the TL’s only factory installed option, sits atop the center stack. It provides directional assistance through the use of GPS data, and the TL’s own inertial guidance system, along with verbal instructions. he climate controls just below also use the screen to combine touch-screen controls for the air conditioning, as well as readouts for the system’s other functions. While the Alpine/Bose audio system uses 180 watts of pure sound to either soothe or rock you down the highway.
Rear seating is comfortable, with average leg, hip, and shoulder room for full-size adults. Although head room is tight for 6-footers. There’s also a small, lockable trunk pass-through behind the arm rest for carrying long items, like skis. And, due to the more compact rear suspension, trunk capacity is up from 13.8 to 14.3 cubic feet. With a wide opening and a low liftover height, making packing an easy chore.
And, hoping to make buying the new TL an easy chore, Acura has cut a stunning 4,150 dollars off the old TL’s price tag by giving the new TL a base price of $28,405. With the navigation system and dealer installed floor mats, our tester rang up at just $30,514. We think you’ll agree, that in the value category, that overshoots a scale of 1 to 10 by several points!
With its new mid-size stature and wholly made-in-America status, the new 1999 Acura 3.2TL could give its competitor a lesson or two on diving into a crowded pool. And with its new, seriously competitive price, the 3.2TL performs that maneuver with a degree of technical difficulty the competition will find hard to beat.
Engine: 3.2-Liter, Sohc, 24-valve, Vtec V-6
Torque: 216 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.6 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 15.8 Seconds @ 91 MPH
60-0 MPH: 118 Feet
EPA Mileage: 19 MPG City 27 MPG Highway