Driven: 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT

By John Beltz Snyder

October 27, 2009

Opening the office door onto the parking lot, we shivered just a bit. It may have been the fall weather descending upon us, but the face of the Acura TL SH-AWD, it’s imposing, angular slabs of sheet metal glaring at us from under the slanted headlights and diminutive badge, probably contributed to our brief shudder. Having already seen, addressed, and come to terms with the TL’s appearance, we armed ourselves with the keys and got in.

Starting up the car, the feeling of the clutch is the first tactile sensation to grab us. The uptake is so smooth, it’s difficult to feel when the clutch is engaging. As we lift our foot, we feel for that telltale tension in the pedal that tells us something is happening. Instead, we feel nothing, and we have to listen very carefully to the engine, and feel from our seat, to know how quickly to release the clutch. Granted, all this happens in a matter of moments, but these are moments we are used to experiencing mostly through our foot. Not so with the TL.

Once the muscle memory in our legs recalibrated, we found that the TL was hot to trot. The 3.7-liter V-6 boasts a stable of 305 eager horses, each one reminding us that we love VTEC.  With the SH-AWD display up on the instrument panel, we can see where all that power is being delivered. Driving around town, we laid it on pretty thick, and the all-wheel drive dropped most of the twist down onto the front wheels. Indeed, it felt like driving a front-drive machine, but without the torque steer, which, with a powerplant that can deliver gobs of the stuff freely (chirping tires in second gear came as easy as killing does to Rambo), could have posed a problem. Powering heavy through corners, we watched the all-wheel drive siphoning power from the inside rear wheel and applying it to the outside, always keeping us well on track and stable.

The manual transmission in the TL SH-AWD, however, was the keystone to the whole overarching driving experience. It’s clear that Acura put some thought, as well as some fine engineering, into this stellar six-speed gearbox. The throws are short and quick, and the shifter finds its way from one gear to another swiftly and crisply, with no ambiguity. The small leather-on-metal shift knob is reminiscent of that in the Honda Civic Si, sporty and satisfying to handle, so we were in love at first gear-change. With just quick wrist flicks, we were always able to be in the right gear before we even had a chance to think about it.

Which brings us back to that clutch. Once our right hand started to get into the fast shifts, our left foot simply fell into line. While the pedal never communicated to us, it engaged and disengaged just as quickly as the stick plowed through the gears. Meanwhile, the throttle response was sharp, and power was always at hand, like a dog pulling on its leash. All of a sudden, we realized what was happening as we found ourselves maneuvering nimbly through the traffic. It was almost like a point-and-click, “zone”-inducing sensation, where the car responded instantly to our every whim, ready for our next move as soon as we were, especially if it required a change in velocity.

With one exception. The TL was happy to nose into any turn as quickly as we wanted it, but sometimes, it felt like it took just a brief moment too long for the load to right itself back over all wheels. We could change lanes with the blink of an eye, but after a quick deke, it wasn’t always eager to switch back to the opposite direction. It felt to be an issue of weight shift, and the slight elasticity of the steering didn’t help with precision. In all, though, it was a minor flaw, and not one that ever made us feel unsafe. Call us picky if you want.

While Acura is Honda’s luxury brand, the ride wasn’t tuned too much for comfort. Yes, the suspension ate up a lot of the harshness, the car still communicated the feeling of the road. The tires talked just enough to keep us aware of what was going on below us. So, while the TL SH-AWD would be a fine vehicle in which to take your grandmother to brunch, it still inspired confidence when we needed it.

The interior was comfortable, yet restrained, as we’ve found before. The gauges were attractive and easy to read. The instruments (and there were a fair share included in the Technology Package included in this example) were laid out well, and didn’t feel cluttered. Not that it mattered all that much, as we were too involved in the driving experience to care too much about trivialities.

After our time with the Acura TL SH-AWD, we found ourselves daydreaming about it while driving other cars.  We told our friends about the quick shifting and sweet helpings of torque. And the same vehicle whose looks originally left us feeling like a child at a parent-teacher conference, we were now gazing upon it from the window, our blood pumping a little bit faster when we thought about carving the inspired TL SH-AWD along our favorite roads, looking forward to our next opportunity to get behind the wheel.