A Nimble Warrior in Open-Road, Urban Combat

By Warren Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 9, 2007

NEW YORK -- The streets of this city and the roadways leading into it were vehicular combat zones. Big trucks ruled the highways. But their size turned against them in tight urban quarters, where motorized guerrilla warfare raged and speed and agility were needed to do battle with yellow cabs.

We were prepared. We drove the 2008 Acura TL Type-S sedan, a car brought back to service in 2007 after a four-year furlough -- an absence partly stemming from debate within the ranks of Honda Motor, Acura's corporate parent, about the appropriateness of boosting horsepower at a time of increased global demand for dwindling exploitable reserves of oil.

The horsepower hawks won. They delivered a new TL Type-S with a 3.5-liter, 286-horsepower V-6 -- 26 more horses than the 260-horsepower, 3.2-liter V-6 engines installed in previous TL Type-S cars.

The extra horsepower served us well here. The TL Type-S was fast enough to escape the wrath of highway bullies and nimble enough to avoid being hit by city cabs-turned-MIDs (Motorized Impact Devices).

We would have preferred to describe the car in a more peaceful context -- perhaps as a sleek automobile cruising down a tranquil parkway, dancing beautifully in the curves, blending nicely with the road's undulations. The TL Type-S, with its well-engineered four-wheel independent suspension (double wishbone up front, multi-link in the rear), is worthy of such portrayal.

But our driving landscape -- Interstate 95, the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway, New York streets gridlocked with preparations for Fashion Week, all on a Labor Day weekend crowded with drivers rushing home from vacation or racing toward a beachfront view of summer's setting sun -- was anything but tranquil.

It was madness, an insanity that turned otherwise kind and gentle people into deranged predators fighting for every inch of road space, a craziness that converted cars and trucks into weapons often used without mercy.

Fuel economy meant nothing in that driving environment where the need for speed, or, at least, the perceived need to drive excessively fast, morphed into greed. Motorists who were foolish enough to obey posted speed limits were pushed along -- or out of the way -- by tailgaters, some of whom flashed their high beams and sounded horns to intimidate their slowpoke victims. On one such occasion on northbound Interstate 95, the light-flashing and horn-blowing were not enough to satisfy one pickup truck driver who, after forcing a slow driver to another lane, celebrated his victory with a middle finger raised in ignoble digital salute.

There was no refuge in the right lane, no safe harbor in the middle. And the left lane -- the passing lane -- was the equivalent of a free-fire zone.

And so it was fortunate that our TL Type-S came with an aggressive paint job and exterior posture in addition to those extra horses under the hood. The color was gun metal gray, or what Acura's designers in euphemistic fantasy called "carbon bronze pearl." Painting the car's 17-inch diameter wheels the same color seemed to bring the TL Type-S closer to the ground, thus giving it a more aggressive, down-and-dirty look -- a stance enhanced by treatment of the car's rear quarters with four tailpipe outlets, two each jutting left and right.

Interior comfort was compromised by leather-covered seating surfaces that were slippery and hard -- odd for an Acura, or for anything coming from Honda, which normally has an impeccable reputation for quality in materials and fit and finish. Also oddly off-cue were instrument panel ergonomics with, for example, an MP3-player portal so well hidden, an owner who failed to read the owner's manual could drive the TL Type-S for years without ever knowing it was there. And there was the car's sub-par backup camera, which rendered screen images so grainy and lacking in resolution they were hardly worth watching.

But, with the exception of the seats, we did not dwell on those flaws. The TL Type-S, under the circumstances, was exactly what we needed: a nimble warrior, a car whose Brembo-caliper brakes stopped it as quickly as its engine helped it to move into battle.

We came. We fought. We accomplished what needed to be accomplished in New York and drove home to Northern Virginia unscratched and unbowed. All combatants should be so lucky.

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