Acura TL, fun-to-drive but not a family car

2010 Acura TL 2010 Acura TL Photo Credit: Lori Hindman / TMS

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The 2010 Acura TL is a sporty sedan that's great fun to drive, but it doesn't exactly bend over backward to accommodate families. It's more of a "make-it-work" car rather than one that simply works. I was willing to accommodate the TL's lack of family-friendliness because it was so much fun to drive, but in the end of my test drive I was happy to move on.

My test car, which was the higher trim level, cost $42,385; the base model has an MSRP of $35,105.

With its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the TL clings to the road while the V-6 engine launches you down it. It's quick and quietly powerful without being obnoxious. I had a great time touring around my mountainous hometown, revisiting curvier roads just for fun. The TL walks that fine line between youthful exuberance and mature wisdom, as far as the driving goes. The ride is sporty and firm, but not hard, so the TL handles most bumps without causing my chiropractor to flinch.

What caused me to flinch and not give the TL my full approval is its funky design and the grudging amount of storage inside. The TL isn't anti-family -- it can work as a family car -- but it takes more work than I care to put into most things.

Exterior

Acura upped the bold factor with a redesign in 2009. I like the TL's profile, with its bold shoulder, sculpted lines and contoured chrome around the windows and on the door handles.

The front view is less appealing but not off-putting. The TL's face has Acura's familiar five-point grille. It doesn't even look like a grille, but more like something designed for space. The xenon headlights are narrow and slanted and come on automatically when it gets dark outside. I love not having to think about turning on the headlights. The smallish side mirrors have integrated turn signals and tilt down when the TL is in Reverse.

The rear looks more like a face than the front does. With the taillights set high on the outside corners like eyes, it reminds me of a grinning Cheshire cat. The oversize Acura badge in the rear's center looks like a nose and a strip of metal at the trunk's bottom gives it a smile. The chrome-tipped quad exhaust does nothing to distract from that grin.

On the upside, the TL's exterior is functional, with doors that are easy for little ones to manage and close with a solid-sounding "thump." There's plenty of headroom in the front and back.

My test car had a 305-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 engine that made driving exciting. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard, and a six-speed manual is available. It uses premium gas and gets an EPA-estimated 17/25 mpg city/highway. The base model with front-wheel drive has a smaller V-6 engine that makes 280 hp and uses a five-speed automatic transmission. It gets slightly better gas mileage of 18/26 mpg.

The cargo area is sizable; I managed to fit my kids' bikes in there. However, there are no bag hooks or grocery containment methods, so your eggs may very well be an omelet by the time you get home from the grocery store. Visibility is good to the front and sides, though a small rear window limits the view. I was grateful for the backup camera and parking sensors that come with the navigation system as part of the Technology Package ($3,730).

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Interior

I hate to sound girly, but the TL's interior felt too cold and harsh to me. It's all the black on black with metallic-looking trim that does it. I like a little warmth, a bit of softness in my interiors, but even though the inside of the TL isn't exactly to my taste, it's fairly easy to navigate all of its buttons and controls.

One thing I like about Acura is they put words on most of the buttons, instead of cryptic symbols. I like buttons that say things like "radio" or "map" or "A/C." Most of the systems are governed by a big knob in the middle of the center stack, and it's easy to use. I also liked the sleek, white-on-black gauges, which are easy to read. A small screen provides fuel-economy information and exterior temperatures. I loved the audio system with XM Satellite Radio and multiple ways to play my music, from an MP3 jack to USB interface for my iPod to a Bluetooth connection that not only lets me talk hands-free but also streams music.

The seats are comfortable and look great with contrast stitching. They're power adjustable in eight ways, so I had no trouble getting comfortable. However, I had problems finding places to stash all of my stuff. The center console bin is small and houses the MP3 jack and USB input as well as a power outlet, so much of the room is taken up by cords. I stuck my sunglasses case in there since the sunglasses holder in the overhead console was too small to fit my glasses. A sliding armrest covers the bin and slides forward to cover the two front cupholders, as well. While it certainly looks nice to hide the cupholders, it's never going to happen in any car I'm driving. I always have too many beverages and loose stuff rolling around in there to cover them up.

In the back seat, storage is at even more of a premium. There are seatback pockets and small bins in the doors, but that's it. Two cupholders are in the folding armrest, but when it's down it's really hard for little folks in booster seats to buckle their seat belts. My older child had no difficulties buckling up since he doesn't need a booster any more, but my little guy struggled daily.

Safety

Although the TL is technically a five-passenger car, the center seat in the rear is an old-school "hump seat" that sits about 2 inches higher than the outboard seats. This makes installing a rear-facing infant-safety seat in the middle position tricky, and a booster seat just won't fit there. When I had an extra kid in the car, my 9-year-old had to sit in the front passenger seat (I made sure the airbag was deactivated). There's enough legroom in the second row for a rear-facing child-safety seat to fit when placed in the outboard seats. Tellingly, the two sets of lower Latch anchors are buried under the seat cushions.

In the outboard seats, my younger son's booster seat slid over the floppy seat belt receptor. Every time we got in the car he'd have to scoot his booster seat over, grab the receptor and buckle up, and then scoot the booster seat back to its normal position.

The 2010 TL received the highest score of Good in frontal-offset, side-impact and rear crash tests conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. In past years these scores when coupled with the TL's standard stability control would have qualified it for Top Safety Pick status, but this year IIHS added a roof-strength test to its requirements. The TL hasn't undergone this test.

Besides standard stability control, the TL also has standard antilock brakes with brake assist, traction control, active head restraints, front- and side-impact airbags for the front row, and side curtain airbags for both rows.

An optional backup camera with rear parking sensors is available as part of the Technology Package. All-wheel drive is also available.

2010 Acura TL sense and style Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Fair Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove-On Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Puny Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

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