2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6MT(Photo: Justin Couture)

Subtle styling tweaks greatly improve TL's appeal

What is it?
Proving that a nip and tuck can do wonders for more than just B-list celebrities, this is the updated version of Acura's midsize TL sedan. Fundamentally, it's the same car that debuted back in 2009 — and a very good car, might I add — but now thanks to a bit of rhinoplasty it's a lot more handsome.

What's new?
In addition to trimming back the metal-finished beak of a grille, the new TL receives restyled front and rear bumpers that tighten its overall look, tinted headlamps, and new wheel designs. It's really quite amazing how these subtle tweaks can change the overall appearance; the visual effect is of a car that has a longer hood and a wider footprint.

Other than the requisite midlife shuffle of standard equipment and trim, the only other change of note is the adoption of a six-speed automatic courtesy of the flagship RL sedan. It improves fuel economy and acceleration. Our tester came with a six-speed manual, which is a true rarity in this segment. The shift-it-yourself option is offered exclusively with Super-Handling AWD and the Tech package that tosses in navigation, a premium stereo system with a built-in hard drive, and other goodies.

What's it like to drive?
With 305 horsepower and 273 lb.-ft. of torque, the TL SH-AWD is the most powerful Acura ever made and it feels it. The big 3.7-litre V6 pulls strong and sounds great in the process, though a clutch with plenty of bite and a sensitive throttle pedal can make starts and one-two shifts a bit hard to master. Once you get used to it, it's smooth sailing.

Where front-drive TLs have a tendency to overwhelm their front tires, the AWD TL stays resolutely glued to the road. It leaps off the line with unexpected zeal and carves a clean arc through corners thanks to its torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system (the rear differential sends more power to the outside rear wheel to counteract pesky understeer). While the electric power steering has a bit too much assistance at higher speeds, it's easy to find yourself seeking out corners thanks to its neutral cornering attitude and flat ride. It's all the more impressive given that the TL tips the scale at nearly 3,900 lbs and offers more rear legroom and trunk space than the pricier RL.

If you like your sedans to waft down the road in plushness, this particular TL probably isn't for you as the SH-AWD model rests on the firm side of the luxury sedan continuum. With a ride that picks up on the nooks and crannies in the road, it can get jiggly on rougher surfaces. Hopefully the TL's next revisions will receive either the ILX's multi-amplitude dampers or the wonderful magnetorehological units from the MDX.

Should you buy one?
The TL has long offered buyers more for less, and that remains true with this latest model. This generously equipped model, which rang in at $47,390, would buy you a modestly equipped compact luxury sedan. In fact, should you want a spacious AWD sedan with a stick-shift, this is your only choice ... unless you squeeze down to a 335i xDrive or an Audi S4. But even without going the Bavarian route, there's much to recommend here: the TL is a slick, sleek sedan, and with its refreshed lines, a car we can truly get behind.

2012 Acura TL SH-AWD 6-MT
Base price / As-tested: $47,390 / $47,390
Type of vehicle: AWD midsize luxury sedan
Engine: 3.7L, 24-valve SOHC V6
Horsepower/Torque: 305 hp / 273 lb.-ft.
Transmission: Six-speed manual
Fuel economy (city/hwy/as-tested): 11.9 / 8.0 / 10.7 L/100 km
Competition: Audi S4, BMW 335i xDrive

QUICK SPIN SUMMARY

PROS
Improved looks
Sporty and sophisticated drivetrain
Value for money

CONS
Could do with a bit of a diet
Stiff ride
Grabby clutch