I’ve been lucky enough to drive some truly incredible vehicles in the last few years; race cars, Lasers, airplanes– but I still love coming home to my 2005 Acura TL. Yes, I drive a rolling manifestation of middle-management. It’s not sexy, but I promise there are joys in a sensible daily-driver.
In some ways, my TL is exactly the kind of car we love to make fun of. It’s an economy-oriented near-luxury Accord-based peoplemover with a few factory performance bits that help you pretend “Sure, I could afford a German sport sedan... I just don’t want one.”
I might as well admit that’s exactly why I bought it, back when I was something of a middle-manager myself. All my superiors had BMWs, I bought the “best” used BMW I could afford, promptly realized I couldn’t afford it, and went scurrying back to the safety of a Japanese brand that got good rankings on Consumer Reports.
People love to tease me about my Acura because I’m professional critic of cars, dammit, and I really ought to drive something with a little more character. Besides the fact that I work out of my house; effectively eliminating the “need” for a lame, reliable, daily driver.
“What are you, a fifty year old man who wasn’t even cool enough to have a midlife crisis?”
First of all; in spirt, yes. Second-through-fourth; I have two motorcycles and a 1964 International Scout in various stages of decomposition in my driveway. You know, for the credibility and decoration. The bikes actually work pretty well, but none of my toys get as much use as the Acura... here’s why.
It just works
You know what sucks? Coming to long-term airport parking after thirty hours of traveling after a month of traipsing around the desert then having your car go clickclickclicksputteri’mdead.
You know what never happens to me? That.
About half an oil-change shy of the 200,000 mile, er, milestone, this car has not required any particularly complex service, starting procedure, or odd habits to be driven. Turn key, drive car.
It does not get any attention
My friend and colleague Doug DeMuro has told us what it’s like to daily drive a Ferrari; everybody wants you to read them the brochure and discuss how much it costs.
Now he’s got a Nissan Skyline, which apparently only elicits attention from cool people.
I mean, that’s fine, but some times you don’t want to talk to cool people. Some times you just want to put some gas in your car, buy a Snicker’s ice cream bar from the gas station freezer, maybe another one for later, and get on with your life.
Want to guess how many times I’ve been approached while gassing up my Acura? Once. By some lady who wanted me to move because she couldn’t get her Suburban passed me to the next pump. No quiz about horsepower, zero-to-60 times, or g’s in the skidpad. Nobody cares, so I drive in peace.
I can also leave it in lots for long periods of time without tweaking, see previous point.
But it is nicer than it looks
In spite of its whitebread-bland overall vibe, the third generation TL is actually a pretty nicely put together sedan. Legit Brembo brakes, LSD, and sway bars from the factory, plus seats that almost look like they could have come out of an NSX. Navigation screen’s enormous and the stereo really delivers on that smooth jazz. It also plays “audio DVDs,” whatever the hell those are. I still don’t know.
The six-speed manual is burned-bacon crispy and a genuine joy to operate, while the brakes are responsive and clutch is really nicely weighted. It’s not an invigorating drive, but that doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable.
It does not like to break the speed limit
Acura might have tried to sell the TL as a sport sedan when it was new, in fact I’m guessing they must have considering this “aero lip kit” was a factory option, but let’s be real- the car is not quick.
It will gallop along the highway at whatever pace I pick. But there’s no explosive onramp action, no addictive corner-carving that eggs you on to take the next one a little faster like some other cars you may have read about. (Looking at you Porsche Cayman GTS, which was just begging to be turned into a roadside memorial when I had it to myself).
So the TL keeps me out of trouble.
You won’t throw temper tantrums when you find new scratches
After I wrecked my first car (coincidentally another Acura) I got into an ‘89 RX-7. Clean, pristine. Then somebody knocked over a steel ladder in the garage. It came down on the car’s roof, and I... don’t really remember because I blacked out with rage.
The TL came pre-loaded with a few scratches. And while I’d like to say I’m just a more mellow-zen kinda guy than I was ten years ago, I think this has really helped keep me from Hulking out when I find little license-plate screw marks in my front or rear bumper. You know, from people who suck at parallel parking?
Yeah that’s a reality for city street-parkers. Which I’m just not sure I could accept if I had to drive around in something truly perfect.
It makes no first impression whatsoever
Pulling up someplace in a ten-year-old Acura TL lets people judge me based on my physical appearance, attire, and manner of speaking... because as I mentioned earlier, nobody notices the car.
Think about other vehicles you could be driving in the $5,000 to $10,000 price range. Some sort of appliance-y thing like a Kia or Corolla would look cheap, a used true luxury car has its own associations.
Even an old Lexus is, somehow, flashier. When my compatriot Raphael acquired the world’s worst Lexus for $600, non-car people were not amazed that it had a manual transmission, but by the fact that you could possibly buy something from that brand for the price of a crappy go-cart.
The TL is just so squarely in the middle of the venn diagram between “economy car” and “slightly nicer car” that it seems to be at home yet under-the-radar everywhere I park.
Anybody can work on it
I’ve moved around a lot while owning this car, so I’ve never really had a “go-to” mechanic. That’s also thanks to the fact that it doesn’t need a mechanic very often. But even OEM parts are cheap (protip: get ‘em through a Honda dealer instead of an Acura one, same part numbers, different sticker) and while I prefer to do basic maintenance myself I wouldn’t panic if I had to bring it to “whoever” in a tight spot.
So don’t discount the daily driver, boys and girls
Sometimes it’s good to be bland, and I’m sure there are other cars that, like my TL, offer just enough joy to keep you from killing yourself while providing economical transportation. We can’t all handle daily driving a Baja Bug, but we can certainly make the most of what we’ve got.
Images by the author, plus one Acura press shot.