NVH. It stands for Noise, Vibration and Harshness. In the automotive industry, the NVH department of an automobile manufacturer is responsible for making sure that a new model is quieter, smoother and gives the feeling of being more solidly put together. A decade or two ago, the NVH department consisted of a few engineers that had the responsibility of tracking down rattles and stray squeaks on new prototype vehicles and recommending where to place that extra fastener or clip to solve the problem. Today, NVH has grown into a science of tuning the sounds heard by occupants of a motor vehicle in order to impart a sense that you are in an expensive machine that sounds and feels as though it will last forever.
I bring this up because, after spending a week with the new 2006 Acura TL, I can tell you that this car has received more than its share of massaging by the NVH folks. The new TL feels like it is honed from a solid block of steel that was molded into a car body. The sound of the exhaust while accelerating could easily be mistaken for the almost musical tones of a Mercedes or BMW V8. Slam a door and you are greeted with a satisfying "Wump". Wind noise? Doesn't exist. Road noise? A distant sultry murmur.
Build quality on my test car was impeccable as was the fit and finish. Acura has always been good in these departments, but I do believe they outdid themselves here.
When you walk into an Acura showroom to order a TL, aside from color, you must make just two decisions. You must choose between stick or automatic, and you must decide whether you want your TL with or without GPS Navigation. Everything else comes standard on these cars. Well, actually there is a third choice. If you get the stick, you can choose between all season tires or sticky high performance summer treads.
Not everything was rosy, however. If you are like me, when you have an opportunity to drive a refined sport sedan like this one, the tendency is to get the car out on a winding country road where there is no traffic in order to "see what she's got". While this TL is extremely capable and fun to drive hard, it really begs for rear wheel drive. If this buggy laid its power down through its rear wheels instead of the fronts, it would be perfect. While front-wheel drive is safer for the average driver and will tend to keep a novice out of trouble, a rear-wheel drive car will handle better at the limit, stop better and ride better. That is why every vehicle made that costs fifty grand or more is either rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive.
The biggest issue with a high performance front-wheel drive car is a condition known as torque steer. Torque steer is the tugging that you feel in the steering wheel during hard acceleration when one front wheel momentarily loses traction causing the other wheel to try to pull the car off course. While torque steer on this TL was well controlled for a front-wheel drive car, I could still feel the tugging when I put this great engine through its paces. Don't get me wrong, this condition is just a mild annoyance to a person who appreciates driving a fine machine and is by no means unsafe as long as you are holding the steering wheel. (you do hold the steering wheel while you're driving, don't you?) The only reason that I mention it here is because it is one of the few things that keeps this car from being the perfect touring sedan.
Sitting behind the wheel, I found the perforated leather driver's seat to be quite comfortable and easy to adjust to your ideal driving position. The steering wheel is adjustable for both angle and reach with the flip of a single manual lever.
The instrument cluster is illuminated both day and night and is bright and easy to read at a glance. The steering wheel has fingertip controls for the audio system, cruise control, cell phone and even has a button in Nav equipped cars so that you can talk to the computer and have it talk back to you (you: "What time is it?" the car: "It is ten thirty one am"). Or you can say "Find the nearest Chinese Restaurant" for which the car will reply... "Would you like to have a route plotted to Chung How Gardens?". You can even choose between a man's voice or a woman's voice.
The center stack has controls on either side of the large navigation screen for the his & hers climate control system. Below the screen are controls for the nav system. Below that is the Acura/ELS Premium 8-speaker Surround Sound System that includes XM Satalite radio. The system even has genuine station-select push buttons, a feature that is becoming rare on cars with a navigation system. The TL is the first car to offer a standard DVD-Audio 5.1 surround sound system as standard equipment in a car.
All of the controls, including the ones on the steering wheel are illuminated at night. The moonroof controls have finally been moved from the dash next to the driver's door (a Honda & Acura idiosyncrasy) to the overhead console by the center of the windshield where moonroof controls belong.
Other interior features include a 10 way power driver's seat with memory and a 4 way power passenger seat. The front seats are also heated. A glaring omission on a car of this caliber is that there is no automatic headlamp control. The headlights do shut themselves off after 15 seconds if you exit the car and leave them on.
The TL comes with Bluetooth wireless technology built in. This communications standard is becoming more and more popular in devices such as computers, PDA's and cell phones. Bluetooth allows hands-free access to your Bluetooth compatible cell phone using the TL's voice recognition system and audio speakers to place your call.
Driving this car on winding roads is a pleasure. Steering is tight and direct and gives an excellent feeling of control. Throttle response is instantaneous with plenty of power to keep you pressed back into the seat well past highway speeds. The five speed automatic will shift almost imperceptibly during light throttle cruising, but is quite up to the task during heavy acceleration with firm positive gear changes. Or you can slap the shifter into the shift-it-yourself gate and have full control over shift points (after it shifts from first to second on its own).
The ride is sports sedan firm, but by no means uncomfortable. On a smooth highway, you can feel the road irregularities in the seat, but they are muted and fall far below the annoyance threshold. Every car design tries to balance a smooth ride with sure-footed handling. But unless you are looking at an expensive upscale car with computer controlled air suspension, compromises must be made. The TL falls close to the middle of the road with a slight leaning toward good handling.
You can choose one of four interior colors for your new TL. The Parchment and Camel (beige & tan) interiors include a rich looking wood trim on the console and doors while the Quartz and Ebony (gray & black) interiors replace the wood with carbon fiber accents for a more hi-tech look. I prefer the wood myself.
Safety features that come standard in the TL include:
4-wheel disc brakes with Emergency Brake Assist and ABS
Dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags
Seamless airbag lid for the passenger airbag.
Front seat mounted side impact airbags with occupant position sensors
Side curtain airbag system for front and rear passengers.
Everything that you can see, hear and feel has been massaged to a level of quality that makes this car seem much more costly than it actually is. In the $35,000 sports sedan category, this car is hard to beat.