Future Classic: 2004-2008 Acura TL – One Of The Best Japanese Designs Ever


It’s hard for me to pick favorites when it comes to cars. The older a car gets, it becomes easier to form an opinion based on how well it stands the test of time. So after a decade, I can now confidently say that the 2004-2008 Acura TL is one of my favorite cars of all time.


The TL has been Acura’s best selling sedan annually as far back as the late-’90s. For it’s entire life, the TL has offered a well-balanced trifecta of luxury, performance, and value in the typical-Acura understated fashion. I’ve liked all generations of the TL (yes, even the current one), but the 2004-2008 third generation is hands down the best-looking TL, and probably one of the most attractive Japanese cars of all time.


Not only does this car’s beautiful styling still look great a decade later, but its appeal of its design has not been recaptured by another Japanese car in years since. I often find this view shared by other Acura owners/enthusiasts in discussion.


They say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but that’s usually the first thing I do when I lay eyes upon a car for the first time. There are plenty of cars I didn’t like at first glance, but have warmed up to, and even have a love for. Thankfully this generation TL was a looker, and for me it was pure lust from the first brand new one I saw a decade ago.


The front starts from its shield-like grille and rising aggressive trapezoidal-shaped power dome. The grille is flanked by narrow, swept-back xenon headlights, which lead into flared wheel arches. From the side turn signals, a concave contour line runs along the entire side through the rear side-markers.


The dramatic roofline is sporty and formal at the same time. Then it all ends at a very upright, squared off rear. “Just right”-sized 17-inch 5-spoke wheels and side skirts complete the look. The look is Bold. Sharp. Elegant. Like the blade of a sword.

03 cts02 es300

The TL was easily the best-looking car among similarly-priced competitors. These included cars such as the Lexus ES and Cadillac CTS.


The taillights on many contemporary cars all look alike to me. Not here. While simple, these taillights are very distinct, and follow the contours of the sheet metal. 2007-08 TLs would get clear-lensed taillights with red LEDs; I like the original design here better.

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Most TLs were powered by a 3.2L SOHC V6 with Honda’s VTEC valve variable timing. This iteration of the 3.2L was unique to the TL, as the CL coupe was discontinued when the previous generation TL ended production. Originally rated at 270 horsepower and 233 lb ft of torque, the new horsepower measurements decreased ratings to still-respectable 258. Performance was competitive, with the TL’s 0-60 time under 6 seconds. For 2007 and 2008 only, the performance-oriented TL Type-S was available, with the RL’s larger 3.5L V6. Making the Ward’s 10 Best Engines list in 2008, it boasted 286 horsepower and 256 lb ft of torque. 0-60 time was 5.5 seconds.

tl interior

The interior is typical Acura “techy”, with neutral colors, lots of buttons, dark metal trim, and an arching center console as the focal point. The one I photographed sports my favorite “Parchment” colored leather with light wood-look trim for a warmer feel.


Although this car is approaching 10 years old, the driver’s seat leather still looks prematurely worn. The leather in my own 2010 TSX is actually showing signs of wear on the outboard side bolster.


Upon reading an Acura owner’s forum, I found out that this is a common problem in newer Acuras. Apparently Acura switched their supplier of standard-grade leather in the mid-’00s. The newer leather, while softer, tends to wear and scuff easier, especially in lighter colors.


Despite all the people I know who own or have owned one of these TLs, I am shocked to say that I’ve never driven or ridden in one. Maybe the mystique is part of my fascination with this car. I’m sure the driving experience would be similar to that of my own 2010 TSX (same powertrain, similar interior features and dimensions wrapped in different styling). Regardless, this was the car that made me think about Acura when it came time for me to get a new car last year. If I could’ve bought one of these I would have. But people hold onto these cars. My neighbor owns an ’07 royal blue TL, which I’m ashamed to admit he pampers even more than I do my car.

2014 mdx

Acura’s history has been one of peaks and valleys; I’m sad to say that things aren’t the best of times right now. As a brand, Acura’s sales levels are in the middle of the luxury brand field. But the majority comes from its family-oriented RDX, and the MDX, which I believe is Acura’s true flagship, not the RLX.

2014 rlx

Needless to say, I’ve always been an Acura fan. Yet I agree that current Acuras could use a serious injection of style and a dose more of luxury. Would it kill them to make their interiors a little more inviting with some warmer color schemes and real wood tones? Then there’s the elephant in the room: the fact that their entire lineup has always been front-wheel drive based. Many enthusiasts will never take Acura seriously until they (unlikely) build a rear-wheel drive car. Rear-wheel drive isn’t the one step solution that these critics would want you to believe though, just look at Infiniti.


I doubt I’ll ever get my hands on one of these TLs. Despite their high sales volume, finding a near-mint, low-mileage, and affordable example is harder than you’d think; trust me I’ve looked.