The TL debuted as 1996 model, first with the 1996 2.5 TL available with the 2.5 L 176 hp (131 kW) SOHC 20-valve 5-cylinder engine from the Vigor. The 3.2 TL used the 3.2 L 230 hp (170 kW) SOHC 24v V6 from the second-generation Acura Legend. The 2.5 TL was positioned as the sporty model and the 3.2 focused more upon a luxurious ride. The very first 1996 Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on March 28, 1995.
In 1998, Honda revealed the TL-X concept car, showing a preview of the second-generation TL which would debut a year later. The second-generation TL (now called 3.2 TL) was released in 1999 and was now derived off the US-market Honda Accord platform. It was available with a newly-designed 3.2 L 225 hp (168 kW) SOHC VTEC J32 V6 mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transmission with SportShift.
The second-generation 3.2 TL (the 2.5 was dropped) was built in Marysville, Ohio, alongside the Honda Accord, at Marysville Auto Plant. These cars were imported into Japan and sold as Honda Inspire in the Honda Clio dealer network, and as Honda Saber in the Honda Primo and Honda Verno dealer networks. The main difference between the two cars were the front grille; the Inspire and Saber were also available with a 2.5 L Honda J-series V6 exclusive to the Japanese market.
The very first 1999 Acura TL (2G) rolled off the assembly line on August 4, 1998. The only option on the sedan was a hard drive-based navigation system. The 1999 TL's navigation system stored the maps in zones; there were 5 different zones for the U.S.
Other notable changes include the addition of side impact airbags for the front passengers and a change of format for the navigation system. The 2000 TL switched the CD for a DVD-based navigation system. The entire continental United States became accessible with the navigation system; it was possible to drive from one coast to the other with the new navigation system.
In 2002, the TL got a minor makeover, with a refreshed front fascia, redesigned taillights, a 6 CD in-dash changer as well as a few other features. A Type-S model was also added, adding 35 hp (26 kW) as well as wheels, firmer seats and suspension. The automatic transmission in a large number of these cars were also defective. In response to the recurring problem, the manufacturer extended the warranty covering the transmission to or 7.75 years for all 99 to 02 and 03 partial per VIN. Acura dealers replace the transmissions under warranty. Transmissions replaced prior to March 2005 usually fail again. Transmissions replaced 3/2005 and later include a redesigned 3rd gear clutch pack reported to fix the problem.
The first third generation Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on September 30, 2003. On October 6, 2003, the third generation Acura TL (the 3.2 moniker was dropped) was released for sale in North America. Developed mainly in the United States by a team led by Erik Berkman with bodywork by American Honda designer Jon Ikeda, the new TL is built in Marysville, Ohio, and is derived from the 7th generation US-market Honda Accord. It is powered by a 270 hp (201 kW; later revised to , based on the new SAE measurement standard for horsepower and of torque), 3.2 L 24 valve SOHC VTEC V6 engine mated to either a 5-speed automatic with SportShift or 6-speed manual. Manual transmission models featured Brembo 4 Piston front brake calipers, a Torsen-type limited slip differential, and stiffer anti-roll bars front and rear.
As of March 2004, Honda offers to the public a factory-sanctioned "tuner package" version of the TL: the TL A-SPEC. This version features a suspension tuned by Makoto Tamamura, an indication of the TL A-SPEC's aggressive engineering. In addition, an underbody kit, spoiler, limited edition A-SPEC steering wheel, "A-SPEC" badge on the back, and wheels are standard issue on the A-SPEC package. When installed at purchase, the car's 4 year/ warranty applies to the package as well.
The third generation TL is also the first car in the American market to include a 6 disc DVD-Audio system, output through an 8-speaker 225-watt system, engineered by Panasonic and tuned by Elliot Scheiner. The system also plays back normal audio CDs as well as DTS audio discs, CD-Audio, CD-Rs and CD-RWs. The car is also equipped with a Bluetooth HandsFree Link (HFL) system, integrated with the audio system, to allow for hands-free usage of one's cell phone (provided the phone also supports Bluetooth and is compatible with the HFL's hands-free profile). The driver can simply voice-dial the number and carry the entire conversation over the car's built-in audio system; when receiving a phone call a display will show caller ID if it is supported by the phone. The driver also has the capability to transfer current calls between the car and his phone when exiting or entering the TL. There is also a phone book which can store personal phone numbers within the car's memory. With the built-in XM Radio tuner, owners can elect to pay a monthly subscription after the complimentary 3 months subscription expires from Acura for XM radio, which provides over 100 digital channels via satellite.
Sporting an Alpine-designed navigation system, the third generation TL also accepts voice commands like "Find nearest police station" to "Go home." The navigation system features an touch-screen LCD, which allows for easy viewing of the road ahead.
The JDM Honda Inspire debuted around 4 and a half months earlier (on June 11, 2003) and marked the branching out of the TL line from the Inspire. The Inspire is basically a seventh generation US-market Honda Accord V6 with minor trim changes, and the addition of Variable Cylinder Management, which shuts off half of the engine when not needed to boost fuel economy. The Saber was discontinued and the new Inspire is being sold at Clio, Primo, and Verno dealerships.
The TL became Acura's best selling luxury sedan in 2004 with more than 79,000 sold that year.
The 2005 TL received a passenger airbag cutoff switch and extra stitching on the front seats. There were several minor changes made (such as changes in seat belt anchor mounts) which are not published.
The most notable revision is the return of the Type-S edition of the TL. The Acura TL Type-S will receive the Acura RL's 3.5-liter V6 engine tuned for and . of torque with either a 5-speed automatic with paddle shifters or a 6-speed manual transmission. Exterior differences include quad exhaust pipes, restyled rear lamps and front fascia, lip spoiler, wider side sills, Brembo brakes, dark silver 10-spoke wheels, a "black chrome" grille rather than the standard glossy grille, and exclusive Type-S badging, plus an exclusive new color option, Kinetic Blue Pearl. The interior has Type-S badging on the steering wheel and headrests, more highly bolstered front seats, two-tone seats (only with the Ebony/Silver interior), metal racing pedals, carbon fiber trim, and red interior lighting (as opposed to blue in the base TL). Touch screen navigation is standard and the suspension has been firmed up. The only options are the aforementioned transmission and high performance summer tires (Bridgestone Potenzas) rather than the standard all-season tires (Michelin Pilot MXM4s).
The 2009 Acura TL moves further upmarket with a more aggressive interpretation of Acura's latest styling vocabulary, known as "Keen Edge Dynamic." Featured prominently on the front is Acura's controversial "Power Plenum" upper grille. The size of the car has increased slightly as a consequence, and the wheelbase has been stretched to . The car is also longer overall, wider and taller. Rear legroom improves by and rear shoulder room increases by . The all-new package also improves structural rigidity significantly, thanks in part to the use of high-strength steel in 47.6 percent of the chassis.
The base TL will be front-wheel drive and is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 that makes and of torque, an increase of and over the previous 3.2-liter V6. The new TL SH-AWD ("Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive") replaces the previous TL Type-S and is powered by a 3.7-liter V6 that produces and of torque, an increase of and over the 3.5-liter V6 of the Type-S. The 3.7L engine also uses VTEC variable-lift timing on both the intake and exhaust valves (the base TL and previous models only applied VTEC to the intake valves). The SH-AWD model also includes some interior refinements over the base model and is tuned for slightly firmer suspension and steering feedback. It is visually distinguishable from the base model on the exterior by its SH-AWD badge on the trunk, quad exhaust pipes (as opposed to dual exhaust on the base model) and larger air ducts in the front bumper to cool the larger brakes (the base model's turn signal indicators in the bumper extend all the way to the center.) The TL rides on 245/50R17 tires, while the TL SH-AWD has 245/45R18 tires with optional 245/40ZR19 summer performance tires. Both models use electric power steering rather than hydraulic, and a revised five-speed automatic transmission featuring shift paddles on the steering wheel is standard equipment for both models. Acura has announced that a manual transmission will be offered in 2010, though it has not been specified which of the two models will have it as an option; it is even possible that the manual will be part of a new 4G Type-S model. The fourth generation TL (Base) came out on September 23, 2008 and the SH-AWD model goes on sale in late November 2008.
As before, the 2009 Acura TL continues to provide an extensive list of electronic convenience items, now including a central multifunction display, an eight-speaker 276-watt audio system with a six-disc CD changer, XM Satellite Radio, USB port connectivity (including full iPod control support), and Bluetooth Audio (for streaming music from a cell phone). Both models offer an optional Technology Package, which includes premium Milano leather seats, keyless start, a joystick-based (no longer touchscreen) navigation system updated with a new 8-inch full VGA display and the ability to provide weather information and traffic-based rerouting, and the Acura/ELS audio system with 10 speakers, 440 watts of power, DVD-A and DTS CD compatibility for 5.1 surround sound, as well as an internal hard drive with 13GB of storage dedicated for audio. With the ELS audio system, audio CDs are automatically ripped to the hard drive upon insertion for future playback. The navigation system also stores its map data on the hard drive (as opposed to the previous models' DVD-based storage), producing faster boot times..