2011 Acura TL a contender in the mid-size luxury class

The Acura TL for 2011 is available in front-or all-wheel drive versions. With front-drive

The Acura TL for 2011 is available in front-or all-wheel drive versions. With front-drive

The midsize luxury sedan segment is a highly competitive one where almost every manufacturer has a significant entry.

But it would be vehicles like the 2011 Acura TL, which offer an all-wheel drive version that would be on my wish list here in the Great White North.

While we may not get as much snow as we used to, having all-wheel drive available when inclement weather strikes is important for many drivers.

The 2011 version of the TL is the fourth generation of Acura’s entry-luxury model. It was completely redesigned back in 2009 from the ground up.

Featuring extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminum, the TL offers a choice of two VTEC SOHC V6 engines, a 280 hp 3.5-litre and a 305 hp 3.7-litre.

It was the first Acura ever to offer the choice of either front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive when it was introduced in 2009.

Starting at $39,490 for the front-wheel-drive base model, four trim levels are available on the TL for 2011. My tester was a top-of-the-line TL SH-AWD (which stands for Super Handling- All-Wheel Drive) with the Technology Package that priced out at $46,990. In between are the TL with Technology Package $42,990 and the TL SH-AWD $43,490.

The SH-AWD provides more than just traction in poor weather conditions.

According to Acura, the package is designed for the enthusiast driver and also includes special suspension and steering tuned to “dramatically enhance sporty handling in addition to enhancing the vehicle’s winter driving capability.”

From a pure driving standpoint, there’s no denying the TL is a fine driver’s car. It contends quite nicely in the class against the best that Europe, Asia and North America have to offer.

However, from a styling standpoint, it’s a vehicle that polarizes optionsã you either love it or you hate it. There’s doesn’t seem to be much middle ground.

The prominent chrome grille and the chopped rear end seem to the styling features that draw the bulk of the negative attention. While styling is such a subjective thing, it can make or break sales of a vehicle and there’s no doubt this has hurt sales of the TL.

But if you’re one of the people who love the look, there’s a lot more to like with the TL.

Both front-drive TL’s come with the 3.5-litre 24-valve SOHC VTEC V6 engine. You have to move up to the SH-AWD to get the 305 hp 3.7-litre VTEC engine. Both come with a five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and Grade Logic Control. Front-drive versions get 17-inch aluminum-alloy wheels, while the SH-AWD gets 18-inchers.

The TL features four-wheel independent double wishbone suspension with multi-line rear and stabilizer bars front and rear.

Electronic power steering is standard.

Inside, the TL has a modern look with aluminum trim in place of the traditional wood found on most luxury offerings. Most surfaces are soft to the touch and the two-tone interior treatment of the SH-AWD tester was nicely done.

The heated leather seats up front are comfy and interior room is spacious. The driver’s seat has 10 power settings, while the passenger side

Unlike the interior, the trunk is not so spacious. The cargo capacity of 371 litres (13.1 cu ft) is less than many of the competitors.

I also gauge the cargo area by how easily my bulky hockey bag is to get in and out, and with the TL the wide trunk opening makes it a snap.

Honda/Acura has always been known for its abundance of safety features and the TL is no exception. Four wheel anti-lock brakes with electronic brake distribution and brake assist are standard.

The usual assortment of airbags are standard as are vehicle stability assist with traction control and tire pressure monitoring system. The SH-AWD gets co-operative vehicle stability assist with traction control along with hill start assist, which applies brake pressure on an incline until you punch the throttle.

The 3.7-litre V6 in the SH-AWD model gets to speed well, accelerating from 0-100 km/h in under six seconds. The brakes also performed well in my time with the vehicle, although thankfully, no panic stops were required.

The Technology Package adds $3,500 to the price of the TL or SH-AWD and is a welcome addition with features like a navigation system with voice recognition, 440-watt, 10-speaker Dolby Pro Logic sound system, rearview camera and a 12.4 GB hard drive.

If you want keyless entry you have to buy this package because it also includes push button start.

Even the base TL is well equipped, though, with items like power moonroof, fog lights, hands-free BlueTooth phone interface, paddle shifters, leather trimmed interior and a 276-watt, eight-speaker Pro Logic sound system.

If it was my choice and within my budget, I’d definitely go for the SH-AWD model. The sport-tuned suspension and steering make it more of a driver’s car and the all-wheel drive adds a sense of security in our unpredictable winter weather.

The competition is stiff in this class with competitors like the Lexus ES350, Buick LaCrosse, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Hyundai Genesis and Infiniti G37. But the Acura TL is a worthy entry in the segment. Now in its fourth generation, it has attracted a legion of fans and many are now on their second or third TL.

Acura TL 2011

Body Style: Mid-size entry luxury sedan.

Drive Method: Front-engine, front- or all-wheel drive.

Engine: 3.5-litre 24-valve SOHC VTEC V6 (280 hp, 254 lb/ft of torque); 3.7-litre 24-valve SOHC VTEC V6 (305 hp, 273 lb/ft of torque).

Fuel Economy: TL (city/highway) 11.6L/100 km/ 7.5L/100 km; SH-AWD 12.3L/100 km/8.1L/100 km.

Price: $39,490 to $46,990. As tested $46,990.

Web: www.acura.ca

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