Test Drive: 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD Advance

Lessons in chrome.

In America, when we want to make something better, we usually make it bigger and flashier. Take anything Donald Trump has ever done. “Sure, that’s a good looking building. But it could really use some gold. And my name in 100-foot lettering on the side.” Rarely do the golden, bejeweled skyscrapers look better or more impressive then their understated counterparts.

This is what happened with the 2011 Acura TL: it was Trumped. Underneath, the 2011 TL was a spectacular car. But Acura stepped outside its norm and fitted a chrome snout that put Rick Ross to shame. Subsequently, they didn?t sell many. So Acura quickly ran back to the drawing board and toned the nose down a bit for 2012.

This should be a good thing, right? Well, generally speaking it is. But the 2012 doesn?t stand out like the 2011 did. My mechanic friend said it looked like a nicer Toyota Camry. And he?s right. It does. The one thing you could say for the hideous fascia of the 2011 was that it was distinctive. It didn?t look like anything else on the road mostly because no other automaker had the gall to design a grille like it. People had to decide whether they loved it or hated it. With the 2011 TL, there was no middle ground

I love cars like that. Shrug your shoulders cars are a dime a dozen. It takes something special for people to stand up and rail against it. Sure people were saying bad things about the 2011?s looks but at least they were talking about it.

For those who could look past the front end and climb into the cabin, they were greatly rewarded: spot-on interior appointments, firm but luxurious ride quality, an American-built 3.7-liter 305-horsepower V6 that was nearly better than sex, and–if you were smart??–a six-speed manual gearbox.

Unfortunately, my 2012 press car doesn?t have a six-speed manual. Instead it has the standard Acura go-to transmission, the six-speed auto with Sequential Sport Shift. The automatic is nonetheless brilliant. Sporty when you need, smooth when you don?t.

My 2012 TL also has the Super-Handling all-wheel-drive system (SH-AWD), which I love. In many cases, specifically extreme handling situations, I find the SH-AWD grips better and feels more sure-footed than the Audi Quattro system. Audi tends to under-steer in a crisis as where the Acura remains sure-footed and confidence inspiring.

The 2012 starts at just above $35,000 and as tested was just shy of $46,000. I think it?s well worth the money. There is something so effortless about the Acura line, especially the TL. It has the kind of confidence that Cadillac wishes they could harness. They?re quiet, comfortable, sleek, unassuming but also undeniably masculine. Not to mention Acura?s stellar reliability ratings.

Though it doesn?t look quite as flashy as it did last year, the 2012 is still just as exhilarating to drive. I like it so much in fact that the 2012 Acura TL has officially joined my ?Five Cars I?d Actually Buy? list. I just can?t get enough of it.

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