In its prior incarnation, the grille was hideously toylike. And the car, as a whole, lacked the sort of styling panache buyers of luxury sport sedans demand when they lay down $40,000-plus.
But the Acura TL for 2012 has gone under the knife and gotten a makeover to enhance its physique and overall allure. Now in its fourth generation, the TL has been plumped to slightly larger proportions and pumped up under the hood.
I tested the most performance-oriented incarnation of the mid-size sedan: the super-handling, all-wheel-drive version, or SH-AWD, with the 3.7-liter V-6 -- the most powerful engine ever used on an Acura.
Outfitted with a six-speed manual transmission, it accelerates quickly and shifts smoothly without a lot of leg and hand effort. Even better, its 18-inch wheels and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive kept the car planted.
For the 2012 TL, Acura has upgraded its onboard technology. Particularly pleasing is the larger, 8-inch monitor holding court in the center of the dash.
Backlit with LEDs, the screen is bright and HD-TV crisp. I've always found the navigation system on Acuras intuitive and easy to use. The enhanced color makes it more aesthetically appealing and easy to read.
The number of songs drivers can store on the car's new 60-gigabyte hard drive has increased to 3,500. The information about those songs also has been enhanced with Bluetooth audio that can access songs and artists when drivers speak their names.
When the stereo fades, drivers probably will notice how calming and quiet it is in the TL's well-appointed cabin with its soft, stitched leather seats and LED mood lighting.
Many of the criticisms of the prior-generation TL weren't so much about its interior but exterior style, which Acura has attempted to remedy with a more sculptured and sophisticated silhouette.
The 2012 model is much improved, especially its front end. The plastic-looking grille has been refined and diminished so it's less distracting. And the rear has a pleasing crease that's similar, if inverse, to the elegant Cadillac CTS.
But overall, its looks continue to lack drama and excitement. There's a disconnect between the satisfying and enhanced performance under the hood and its overall appearance, which points to this vehicle's biggest flaw. This model is a high-functioning prestige product. If only Acura itself had as much prestige, considering the money spent.
SPECS: 2012 ACURA TL SH-AWD
Base price: $40,040 (includes destination charge)
Price as tested: $43,770
Powertrain: 3.7-liter, single overhead camshaft, VTEC V-6, 4 valves per cylinder, all-wheel drive, six-speed manual
Horsepower: 305 at 6,300 rpm
Torque: 273 pound-feet at 5,000 rpm
Wheel base: 109.3 inches
Overall length: 194 inches
Curb weight: 3,994 pounds
0 to 60 mph: 6.2 seconds
EPA fuel economy: 17 mpg city/25 mpg highway
Bottom line: Luxurious fun.