Used goods still produce great times with Acura’s TL Type-S | VailDaily.com
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Used goods still produce great times with Acura’s TL Type-S

Andy Stonehouse

People who’ve had the misfortune of knowing, or even being married to, journalists get to hear griping about things you wouldn’t normally consider complaint-worthy.

However, the business of automotive reviewing is about as odd as it gets, and gripes about getting to test-drive an endless stream of vehicles do seem rather petty ” especially to readers such as my good friend Bob English.

(By the way, Bob ” I agree that your 70-horsepower Smartfortwo is a great car ” but I haven’t seen many of them on Vail Pass during a three-foot blizzard, as it strikes me as a glorified golf cart.)

And as if you couldn’t guess, the vehicle I drove last week, the very speedy, athletically styled and graceful Acura TL Type-S ” the high-performance upgrade to Acura’s best-selling TL four-door sedan ” was legitimately worthy of some disdain, despite being an awesome ride.

It seems that I was the last auto writer in North America to receive this particular TL tester ” literally, as I think they were going to take the car out afterwards and shoot it, or melt it down and make toasters.

It had more than 11,000 miles on the clock, and while the apparently recurring body damage incurred by a year’s worth of “reviews” had been covered up fairly well, this poor Acura felt like it had been ridden hard and put away wet just a few too many times.

The Type-S is, after all, supposed to be the most fearsome beast in Acura’s fleet, with a super-tuned 3.5 liter V6 putting out 286 screaming horses, Brembo brakes to keep it all in check and a fancy F1-styled five-speed paddle shifter system to crack off gear changes faster than Emerson Fittipaldi.

All that plus a stylized uptake on the TL’s already heady, European-inspired styling, complete with darkened everything (smoked 19-inch alloy wheels, darkened brake lamps, tinted windows), aggressive but comfortable sport seating and a navigation and stereo system to wake the dead.

Most of that was all technically true but … frankly, this particular TL was kind of like finally getting the Harry Potter book you’ve been on the library hold list for six months, and then realizing that the reader before you had ripped out half the pages and drawn in crayon on the rest.

My TL literally rattled and shimmied when it drove, the wheel-mounted paddle-shifter yanked gears in a sometimes indiscriminate fashion, and cold air blew out of the various cracks in the dash. There was still hellacious oomph left in that power plant and I spent most of its time in the far left lane of I-25 doing about 110 mph, with perhaps the most exciting exhaust tuning I’ve ever heard on a Japanese car.

But the off-the-line grunt was a little belabored, even more so with the front-wheel-drive-only car’s not inconsiderable torque steer. And if 286 horsepower is starting to feel belabored, you know things are a little whacked.

I headed up to my favorite urban mountain road for a quick chuck-around session and I was happy to find that this long-in-the-tooth TL (equipped, at the very least, with brand-new tires) did stick to corners like glue, with a suddenness and solidity that was astounding. The Brembo brakes, however, were so played out they felt as mushy as porridge, and I had to keep the rally-style driving somewhat under control.

All of this conspired to give a bad impression of what I assume is actually an amazing automobile when fresh off the lot, so I headed over to a Denver Acura dealer on Monday with the initial intention of test-driving an absolutely brand new TL Type-S … and then realized they might not be so crazy about me drifting in their parking lot.

The sales manager did confirm that yes, out of the box, the Type-S will melt tires and features a ride that’s as solid as solid can be.

He also said, however, that the current model is largely unchanged from the new TL’s debut back in 2004 and the entire automobile (including the Type-S iteration) will be completely re-made for the 2009 model year, including a four-wheel-drive Type-S. That helped explain why the present model’s looks, while still sharp, are in need of a refresh, including that Roman gladiator shield-styled nose.

I had no complaints about the TL’s interior, although that too seems destined for a major remake. The space-shippy wrap-around dash is still cool looking but the fantastically button-heavy navigation, radio and air setup on the dash is overwhelming, and the navigation system (complete with a difficult-to-use joystick pointer thingy) also needs a refresh. Acura’s Real Time Traffic system is cool, though, demonstrating traffic speeds (although you can also get this information on your Blackberry, so maybe that was more cool in 2006). The DVD audio-ready sound system remains stunning.

So. Hard to say, really. I guess it’s just hard to sound super-enthusiastic about an automobile when you’re at the bottom of the food chain – although, in a better world, the TL Type-S had the potential to be one of my favorites.


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