I first laid eyes upon the 2004 TL as three units were being ferried across Lake Washington to our base camp, the Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland. For the first evening's reception dinner, Acura arranged to have the cars displayed on the shoreside lawn of the hotel, and as it turns out, the only practical way to get the cars on the lawn was by boat. I just happened to be lunching under perfectly blue skies when the boat appeared in the distance. Spotting the cars, I dutifully ran upstairs to my room and grabbed my camera to capture the grand entrance.
Though the TL's lines are very handsome, I feel that the timing of the TSX's release ahead of the TL has stolen some of its thunder. Interestingly, the TL's design was penned first but the TSX was the first to hit the streets, and in my eyes it is still one of Acura's best looking sedans to date. While the TSX strikes a muscular stance with its classic wedge shape and sharp proportions, the TL takes that same basic formula and adds more surface details in an effort to create an even more imposing presence. Beyond the obvious stuff (front and rear sidemarker lamps, embedded along with the doorhandles in a "body groove") there are several details that can really only be appreciated in person, such as the compound curvature of the rear decklid. Overall, the TL is extremely handsome, but next to the TSX's clean cut, some may find it to be a bit overwrought. After seeing photos of the car, many people comment on the engraved "ACURA" lettering in the front bumper, but in person the effect is more subtle.
Along with the basic overall shape, the TL shares the TSX's excellent road presence. The additional width, shortened overhangs, reduced wheelwell gap, large wheels, low-profile tires, and sculpted fenders all lend the car a very hunkered down appearance. Acura's intent of projecting the image of a muscle-bound athlete has been realized. Compared to the humdrum styling of the outgoing TL, this new model is a knockout, and the strong family resemblance to the TSX strengthens the Acura bloodline.
Beyond the styling, one of the areas where the previous generation TL had been criticized was in the build quality of the body. For the first generation of TLs that were built in the US, the tolerances for the panel gaps seemed a bit loose, and the paint finish quality was not always quite fitting of a premium brand. While the cars we had were preproduction examples, all of them exhibited nice, tight panel gaps. A good part of the panel gap issue has obviously been addressed at the production level, but it also appears that the designers have taken note of the cutlines of the top European makes, lending the car a more expensive look overall. I didn't have a chance to closely examine the paint finish on any of the cars, but I did not notice any glaring defects either.