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Cars Worth Noting: 2004 Acura TL

2004 Acura TL

Acura’s new 2004 TL is parent company Honda’s take on BMW’s 3-Series formula. It’s quick, agile and impeccably screwed together. Its 3.2L 24-valve VTEC V-6 delivers 270 hp vs. 225 from BMW’s available 3.0L straight six, yet its 20/28 City/Highway EPA economy (with a 5-speed automatic) bests the BMW 3.0L automatic’s 19/27 mpg.

Also, compared to the bottom-line Bimmer, the TL’s crisply handsome new body is 13 in. longer, four in. wider and 300-lb. heavier on a 6- in. longer wheelbase with a slightly roomier interior and a 1.5-cu.ft. larger trunk. And perhaps the industry’s best standard audio system.

So why is BMW’s aging 3-Series still handily outselling this new Acura despite higher prices — $31-56K vs. the Acura’s $35K? Might be the BMW’s hallowed reputation, the rich variety of 3-Series models (325i coupe to 333-hp M3 convertible) and the fact that no-one this side of the sales lot understands Acura’s inscrutable model designations: RL, TL, MDX, TSX…huh? It might have much to do with Acura’s failure to field a rear-drive entry against a growing phalanx of rwd sport sedans led by BMW and followed by Cadillac (CTS), Infiniti (G35) and others. There’s nothing wrong with fwd, but conventional carguy wisdom holds that rwd “handles better” and is therefore required for a serious sport sedan. Fact is, rwd handles differently, not necessarily better, especially in slick conditions.

Fact is, the TL — which we’ve tested on a race track as well as curvy roads, handles terrifically well. Fact is, rwd is simply more fun for trained drivers who know what they’re doing. The TL is derived from Honda’s highly popular Accord, and it would be hugely expensive to design, tool and develop a rwd platform just to satisfy serious enthusiast drivers.

But Honda just might be thinking about it.

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