The number of cars that come with manual transmissions has been dwindling for decades. So it's intriguing to find a car, especially a sedan, that suddenly offers an honest-to-goodness shifter and clutch pedal.
It's even more unusual when the manual tranny model costs thousands of dollars more than the base car with automatic.
Officials at luxury carmaker Acura aren't expecting shoppers to flock to the 2010 mid-size TL sedan because it has a new, six-speed manual. Maybe 5 percent of TL buyers will opt for the manual, they said.
But the sporty transmission, combined with higher-power V-6 and retuned suspension for 2010, makes the TL a more compelling vehicle for drivers who need four-door room but want sporty, spirited driving.
The new equipment adds to an already appealing car whose reliability rating by Consumer Reports magazine is above average, and whose federal government crash test ratings are five out of five stars in frontal and side crashes.
The TL is the middle car in the Acura lineup -- above the TSX compact sedan and below the ritzier RL. Like all Acuras, it comes with many standard features. These include leather seat trim and front seats with power adjustment.
2010 Acura TL SH-AWD Tech HPT
- BASE PRICE: $35,105 for base TL; $38,655 for base TL with AWD; $38,835 for TL FWD with technology package; $39,835 for TL FWD with tech package and 18-inch wheels; $42,385 for TL AWD with tech package; $43,385 for TL AWD with tech package and high performance tires.
- AS TESTED: $44,195.
- TYPE: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, five-passenger, mid-size, luxury sedan.
- ENGINE: 3.7-liter, single overhead cam V-6 with VTEC.
- MILEAGE: 17 mpg (city), 25 mpg (highway).
- TOP SPEED: 134 mph.
- LENGTH: 195.5 inches.
- WHEELBASE: 109.3 inches.
- CURB WEIGHT: 3,975 pounds.
- BUILT AT: Marysville, Ohio.
- OPTIONS: None.
- DESTINATION CHARGE: $810
Starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, is $35,915 for a base, 2010 TL with automatic transmission, front-wheel drive and 280-horsepower V-6.
The manual transmission is available only on TLs with all-wheel drive. Thus, starting MSRP, including destination charge, for a manual-shift TL is $43,195.
This includes a 305-horsepower, larger-displacement V-6 than a base TL has, plus a technology package that adds navigation system with voice recognition and rearview camera.
Competitors to the TL include the rear-wheel drive BMW 5-Series. A base, 2010 528i has a starting retail price of $46,825 and comes with 230-horsepower, six-cylinder engine and manual transmission.
A 2010 Hyundai Genesis sedan has a starting retail price of $33,800 and comes with 290-horsepower V-6 and rear-wheel drive. But it's not available with a manual transmission.
The test TL was a top-of-the-line model with 19-inch, high-performance tires.
The tires gripped the pavement ferociously, but the tradeoff was road noise in the car nearly all the time. And new suspension settings meant I felt every manhole cover on the road. Bigger road bumps came through sharply.
The manual tranny gave a new dimension to the TL as I managed shifts to maximize power.
It's true that many cars today have electronically controlled automatic transmissions with settings that allow drivers to shift from one forward gear to another without a clutch pedal. But there's nothing that feels artificial when the driver pushes in the clutch pedal and shifts for himself.
The TL's new manual transmission shifter has relatively short throws, and while the shifter in the test car, with nearly 7,000 miles on it, had somewhat of a loose feel, I never missed a gear.
The effort needed to depress and control the clutch pedal was neither too heavy nor too light, and there was a satisfying, progressive feel of clutch engagement. This is not a manual-shift car that is touchy or difficult to drive.
The greater horsepower and torque of the 3.7-liter, single overhead cam V-6 that comes with the manual transmission is palpable compared with the base, 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6 in front-wheel drive TLs. Torque peaks at 273 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm in the TL with manual transmission compared with 254 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm with the base engine.
The test TL responded quickly when I wanted to pass other vehicles. The TL also powered down highways eagerly -- all accompanied by confident engine sounds.
The TL's all-wheel drive feature, which Acura named Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), did an excellent job of maintaining wheel and grip control as engine power came on.
And because SH-AWD can divide power between wheels from side to side, not just between front and back axles, the TL tracked impressively around corners.
I have to say, though, that the rectangular tailpipes out the back of the TL looked overdone, as if they came out of a customizer's shop. They also shook as the car idled. Additionally, a rubbing sound emanated from the steering column every time I turned the steering wheel.
Otherwise, the test TL had excellent fit and finish. I liked the detail of the top of the dashboard and tops of the inside doors having soft-touch plastic, not hard plastic.
Even the top of the center console between the front seats was padded to make it soft for elbows resting there.
Also, the large, colorful display screen atop the center of the dashboard was properly shaded by a plastic brow, so I could see it no matter how much sun shone through the windshield.
The TL's back seat could feel cramped for three adults. There are three adjustable head restraints back there, but the middle person sits on a rather hard, rectangular cushion. At 5 feet 4, I found my head was pushed into the ceiling while I sat there.
And rear-seat legroom of 36.2 inches is shy of the legroom in some other mid-size sedans. The 13.1-cubic-foot trunk is a bit small, too, especially since so much space is located under the rear window.
The TL uses premium gasoline, and government fuel economy ratings for the car with manual transmission actually are lower than those with the automatic. Specifically, the test car was rated at 17 miles per gallon in city driving and 25 mpg on the highway. I never saw anywhere near 25 mpg, and in mixed city/highway travel, I averaged 18.9 mpg.
All safety equipment is standard.