If you're reading this, you've probably already seen our early assessment of the 2009 Acura TL, which we drove back in July. During our first drive of the 2009 TL, we were clued in by Acura staffers that an event involving the 2010 Acura TL would be taking place in September, and alas, they were right!
Given the reactions surrounding the 2009 TL thus far, it would seem that Acura has an interest in maintaining the mind share of enthusiasts, and that's probably a key reason why Acura was keen to show off their very early prototypes of the 2010 TL. These cars won't be hitting showrooms for another full year, but Acura is hopeful that this early look will persuade potential buyers to hold tight.
According to Acura's market research figures, somewhere around 5% of '04-'08 TL buyers have opted for the 6MT TL. That contrasts to an overall 25% take rate for BMW models. 5% seems like a small number, but let's be realistic. In the past, the TL's FF platform has been a major limiting factor in terms of driving enjoyment. The TL has always been competitive with its peers (a recent major magazine test pitting the FWD TL Type-S against the G35 and Lexus IS350 at Willow Springs had the TL turning faster laptimes than its rear-wheel-drive competitors), but subjectively the characteristics of the FWD layout have detracted from the overall driving experience.
Since the 2004 model year, the TL has offered a 6-speed manual transmission. This has always been a bit of a give and take affair. The gear ratios of the TL's speed manual transmission offered a tremendous benefit in terms of outright scoot. On top of that, 6MT models were exclusively equipped with a limited slip differential and Brembo brakes. All of this meant that the 6MT TLs performed considerably better than their 5AT counterparts. On the flipside, the compromise involved a clutch and transmission that were never quite up to Honda's standards, and the levels of horsepower and torque that were coursing through the front wheels occasionally led to undesirable side effects.
SH-AWD is new to the 2009 TL, but it has been in the Acura lineup since debuting with the 2005 RL. To date, SH-AWD has never been paired with a 6-speed manual transmission, but that all changes next year when the 2010 TL goes on sale. This is huge news, because we've always felt that the benefits of SH-AWD have been blurred by the nature of automatic transmissions.
While the mere fact that SH-AWD is finally getting its due is reason enough to celebrate, we are ecstatic that the SH-AWD system was incompatible with the TL's existing 6-speed transmission. 'Why?', you might ask. We're ecstatic because this forced Acura to engineer a completely new transmission. While they were developing the new gearbox, they decided to do it right and eliminate the aggravating hitch that plagued the clutch takeup in the old 'box. The result is a gearbox and clutch that truly lives up to the very high standards that have been set by Honda.
In spirit, the only difference between the 5AT and 6MT TL SH-AWD models is the transmissions, but since the manual gearbox weighs 110lbs less than the slushbox, a number of other things have been tweaked. Spring and damper rates have been revised, as has the SH-AWD system's calibration. Where the 3rd generation 6MT model was "sported" up compared to the 5AT model, the changes in this case were intended to keep the 6MT closer in attitude to the 5AT model.