1997 Acura 3.2TL
The Acura Vigor was for many observers the first indication
that Honda didn't always get it right. An Accord clone with a
five cylinder engine, cramped interior and clumsy handling, it
was also a strong contender for the title of least appropriately
It may just be coincidence that Acura's new strategy of
dumping names in favor of alpha-numeric codes started, in 1995,
with the Vigor's replacement. The TL series — for Touring Luxury
– consists of two models, the TL 2.5, retaining the Vigor's
five-cylinder engine, and the TL 3.2, with a V6 borrowed from
the old Legend.
Today's subject is the 2.5.
Stylewise, the TL is definitely a Honda. There's a fine line
between family resemblance (desirable) and
they-all-look-the-same (not). Honda doesn't always tread on the correct side of this line.
The TL is pleasant to look at, with a strength, a muscularity,
to its lines, and a decent stance on the road. But it's not
particularly exciting, or as eye-catching as you might hope from
a car being proffered as a sporting sedan.
The engine is mounted longitudinally, a relatively rare
configuration in this transverse-engined front-wheel drive
world. Acura claims benefits in body rigidity, weight
distribution and impact protection, but it also reduces interior
room, since the drivetrain extends further into the cabin.
A longer wheelbase than Vigor's claws some of this room back.
I had to jiggle the seat and wheel adjustments to find an
acceptable driving position, and still my right knee rested
against the centre console. It is well-shaped, however (the
console, not my knee) so it wasn't too uncomfortable.
The rear-seat cushion is low and short. Some of the passenger
capacity back there is visual rather than genuine. Thin roof
pillars and deep window glass provide excellent visibility all
around, which also contributes to a sense of spaciousness.
The interior decor is typically Honda subdued colors,
traditional shapes, same slick hardware you'll find on other
products with the H-Mark (for Honda) or the A-Mark (Acura).
The front-seat cushions are short, but lateral support from
the seatback is good. Too bad the leather upholstery (new for
1997; cloth was used previously) is so slippery.
The digital readouts for radio and climate controls
automatically dim when the headlights are on, as they do on most
The theory is that the headlights will be on only at night,
when driver's perfer less interior illumination. But all
right-thinking drivers switch their headlights on all the time, since
daytime running lights usually don't include the taillights.
With lights on in the daytime, the read-outs pale into
invisibility. Wearing polarized sunglasses makes the readouts
even harder to see.
If memoery serves, the Vigor was the first car to sport a
digital signal processing radio, a high-tech feature which could
make your big-buck radio sound like a $29.95 Radio Shack
special. This has been dropped from the TL, and it's not missed.
A red velvet-lined coin box labelled "No Smoking" replaces the
ash tray in the centre console. Yet right beside it sits a
lighter, complete with a lit cigarette logo!
Switches for fog lights and cruise control are hidden by the
turn signal lever, but the two buttons are shaped differently so
you can tell them apart.
Now that Audi has abandoned the idea, the TL's engine is one
of the few fives left in the business.
The single overhead-camshaft four-valve-per-cylinder aluminum
mill makes 176 horsepower at 6,300 r.p.m. and 170 footpounds of
torque at a respectable 3,900 r.p.m.
It's a nice engine, eager and responsive.
An odd number of cylinders typically generates a unique and,
to me, not unpleasant exhaust note, which morphs into a muted
growl on hard acceleration. Entirely appropriate that a sporty
sedan should sound sporty, don't you think? At cruising speeds,
the noise fades to silence.
The musical exhaust is enhanced with a unique dual-passage
muffler. At higher speeds, a spring-loaded valve opens,
diverting the gasses to a less restrictive path and increasing
sonic volume. Wanna bet Midas will have one of these in stock?
A nicely-shaped shift knob on a thin chromed stalk, working in
a Mercedes-Benz-style shift gate, makes manual control of the
four-speed automatic transaxle easier than most. Good job, as
the tranny's electronic brain didn't always seem to be perking
at maximum synaptic rate, occasionally diving into a downshift
when I didn't expect one or think one was necessary. Most
upshifts, especially on full throttle, were accompanied by a
If a car is to make it as a sports sedan, it's got to shine in
handling and, most of all, steering. This is the TL's major
The TL will likely be as reliable as a brick through a plate glass window.
Honda has offered variable-assist power steering for years,
and you'd think they'd have it sussed by now. This latest
version varies assist level not just with road speed, but also
with engine speed and the amount of torque generated between
pavement and tire.
But unless you're the sort of person for whom "handling" means
the ability to hook your thumb on a steering wheel spoke and
spin the wheel from lock to lock, the TL's steering is always
far, far too light.
It doesn't give the driver any sense of what's happening down
at what we professional auto writers (do not attempt at home)
pretentiously like to call the "tire-road interface." To borrow
a line from former AutoWeek columnist Satch Carlson, the TL
feels like the wheel is connected to the steering gear by a
length of surgical tubing.
There's also a bit of torque steer when accelerating hard on
lessthan perfect pavement, as the wheels patter, searching for
grip. This is unusual with a longitudinally mounted engine,
since the driveshafts are nearly equal in length (unequal
drive-shaft length is a common cause of torque steer).
A FIRM RIDE
The ride is on the firm side, tending to harsh on certain
types of pavement. Honda has poured all the hightech stuff into
the suspension — multilink independent front and rear. I'm not
convinced the fine tuning is fully sorted yet.
The ride quality may, oddly enough, be affected by the
frameless side windows. No carmaker has been able to make this
design completely squeak or rustle-proof on rough roads — making
the ride seem worse than perhaps it really is.
Unique among carmakers, Honda designs and builds its own ABS
systems, rather than buying from a brake manufacturer. The
binders on the TL worked all right, but the pedal was distinctly
soft. At rest, you could, with constant pressure, shove it
nearly to the floor, which didn't inspire a great deal of
The Acura TL 2.5 is a difficult car to evaluate. It is better
than the Vigor, not that this is, in itself, much of an
It is positioned as a sports sedan, against the likes of the
BMW 3-Series, but doesn't have the handling to carry that off.
Is it then the world's best-built Buick? Even Buicks have
better steering than this these days.
A $36,600 price tag makes the TL considerably more affordable
than Lexus's ES300, Infiniti's I30 or Mazda's Millenia. It's
technically more interesting too, even if it gives away a
half-litre of engine displacement to each of those cars.
Because it's a Honda, the TL will likely be as reliable as a
brick through a plate glass window. Perhaps its main role in
life is to give happy Accord owners a car to move up to within
the Honda family.
Freelance journalist Jim Kenzie prepared this report based on
driving a vehicle provided by the automaker. You can catch
Kenzie each Saturday on Talk 640 Radio at 4 p.m.
1997 Acura 2.5 TL
Body style: 4-door sedan
Drivetrain: Rong-Wheel drive
Engine: 176hp 2.5L SOHC 2OV I5
Transaxle: 4-Speed automatic
Exterior mm (in.)
Wheelbase: 2840 (111.8)
Width: 1785 (70.3)
Trackrear: 1510 (59.5)
Front seat mm (in.)
Legroom: 1110 (43.7)
Headroom: 987 (38.9)
Curb weight: 1480 kg (3263 lb.)
These specifications are supplied by the manufacturer and can
change at any time