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It's nice to see some car companies still believe in the importance of offering a manual transmission. A year after the new TL debuted with SH-AWD, Acura brings us a six-speed manual version to catch the attention of enthusiasts. For the 2009 model year, the SH-AWD was only offered with a five-speed automatic gearbox.

We can thank the engineers at Honda R&D America for getting the plan for the manual SH-AWD approved and developing it. This is the first time a manual has been used in conjunction with Acura's SH-AWD system, and a few things had to be reworked to make it happen, including the development of stronger engine and transmission cradles and half-shafts.

Joining the manual in Acura's push to appeal to car enthusiasts is specific suspension tuning for the SH-AWD models with manual transmission. It's noticeably firmer to make this TL feel that much more eager to hustle around. Looking at the curb weight, I find it a bit surprising that it weighs almost 3,900 pounds because it certainly doesn't feel like it when you're behind the wheel.

Maybe we can credit the potent 305-hp V6, which is more powerful than the late, great NSX which had 252 hp. It's an incredibly smooth powerplant that delivers a strong and consistent pull throughout the band. This along with the six-speed manual gearbox helps make this TL a fun car to drive. I will say that the gearbox isn't the best one found in an Acura (that award goes to the TSX's six-speed), but it's still very good and offers better shift action than ones found in BMWs, in my opinion.

I only got one night with this TL, but from my short drive you can tell that the ride is a little more stiffly sprung, but there is still some give dialed in to handle and ruts. When pressed, the car rotates well around corners with power seemingly biased toward the rear some. Steering has a pleasing amount of heft to it with good response. Buyers have the option of purchasing their TL SH-AWD with high-performance tires installed, which no doubt will makes things even more interesting in warm weather. We need to get one of those back in the office during the warmer months.

When it comes to looks, I have to say that it's starting to grow on me. There is a lot going on with the grille and all the exterior lines. Part of me longs for the cleaner body of the previous car in Type S trim, though. I do really like the interior with the great and supportive seats, great-looking materials and the busy center stack. Yes, there are lots of buttons, but it's not long before you learn where everything is and it becomes a cinch to operate.

In all, this is a great sporty midsize-luxury entry that is rather affordably priced. To compare, a base BMW 5-series with xDrive starts at $48,000, while a base Audi A6 sedan begins at $45,000.

The Acura TL is a nice blend of refinement, athleticism and comfort. It's like the proverbial white dress shirt, suitable for all occasions.

This six-speed manual returns solid shifts and makes you feel like you're driving something sporty. Staid, button-downed old money is far from your mind. Still, the gearbox is a bit notchy and I found myself regearing at times, though that was probably unnecessary. Regardless, the transmission gives you an interactive feeling. It channels the 305 hp of this excellent V6 efficiently, and passing and acceleration is a breeze. Blitzing away from lights and clipping by slower motorists on the expressways are no problem with this smooth powerplant.

All-wheel drive added a nice element of safety and peace of mind while navigating snowy conditions. You can even chirp the tires to amuse yourself. It returns respectable fuel economy, too.

I give props to Acura for taking some risks with this design. The front end is gutsy--Acura is trying here--though it is a bit locomotive-esque. It still stands out more than Lexus models in my opinion, and all the lines and chrome parts on the Acura say sophistication. Is this as good as the eye-catching Mercedes-Benz E-class or the angular, simply gorgeous Cadillac CTS? No, but it's still a solid effort and offers a mainstream look. I liked the lights and casings front and rear, though the fascia in front seems a bit too busy. The appearance is capped by the wheels, which have a very cool design. Oh, and you have to love the exhaust outlets. Can anyone say Acura hot rod?

Inside I found the cabin to be a pleasing setting with nice leather and a general feeling of comfort. The center stack was a bit too spread out; it just seemed as if there are a lot of buttons and numbers.

Crisp steering, stout brakes--overall this is a solid competitor in a fierce segment. I wouldn't say it's the best or boldest, but it's a consistently a nice performer in nearly all areas.

2010 Acura TL SH-AWD Tech

Base Price: $43,195

As-Tested Price: $43,195

Drivetrain: 3.7-liter V6; AWD, six-speed manual

Output: 305 hp @ 6,300 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 5,000 rpm

Curb Weight: 3,889 lb

Fuel Economy (EPA) : 21 mpg

Options: None​
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