After a 5-year absence, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.'s Acura premium division has put the performance-enhanced '07 TL Type-S sedan back in the lineup.

Granted, the Type-S lacks rear-wheel drive — which can be said of all Acuras — and its 286 hp does not lead its class.

But the return of the performance variant of the front-wheel-drive TL no doubt will please Acura enthusiasts who are licking their wounds following the dismissal of the entry-level RSX coupe (and its Type-S variant) after the '06 model year.

The Type-S is a worthy competitor for RWD stalwarts in the lower-luxury category. All pertinent boxes can be checked: ride, handling, acceleration, exterior and interior design and technology features.

It gets a 28-hp boost over the already impressive base TL (286 hp vs. 258 hp) and a 23-lb.-ft. (31-Nm) jump in torque, to 256 lb.-ft. (347 Nm) in the Type-S.

Acura says most of the horsepower bump comes from increasing displacement of the DOHC V-6. The TL Type-S fronts a 3.5L mill vs. the 3.2L V-6 in the base TL, which accounts for an 18-hp jump. While the TL Type-S suffers from a hint of torque steer, it is negligible in run-of-the-mill driving.

Two transmissions are available: the standard 5-speed automatic with paddles to enable sequential self-shifting, or a close-ratio 6-speed manual.

Acura officials expect most customers to opt for the automatic, and those who do will not sacrifice performance. Shifting is brisk with the paddles, and the powertrain controllers cooperate for rev matching on downshifts for smoother transitions.

The Type-S rides on an independent double wishbone front suspension and multi-link rear suspension, the same setup as the standard '07 TL. Acura has increased the damping and rear spring rates for the Type-S and employed a solid, 1.1-in. (2.7-cm) front anti-roll bar, which replaces the TL's same-size hollow bar, claiming improved body control.

The suspension makes for a relatively smooth ride on the many bombed-out surface roads of southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland. The forgiving chassis, increased horsepower, direct steering feel and quick upshifts provide an outstanding sport-sedan experience in a vehicle of this size and class.

Never does the Type-S feel heavy or hesitant entering sharp corners or during full-throttle overtaking at highway speeds.

But for those wanting to push the envelope, there is a dealer-installed sport suspension kit with shocks and springs to drop the car 1.2 ins. (3 cm), as well as 18-in. wheels and performance brake pads for the automatic model.

The Type-S weighs in at 3,674 lbs. (1,666 kg) with the automatic and 3,559 lbs. (1,614 kg) with the manual.

The new TL Type-S is porkier than RWD competitors such as the Lexus IS 350 (3,527 lbs. [1,599 kg]) and '06 Infiniti G35 (3,449 lbs. [1,564 kg]), both with automatic gearboxes.

Still, rated fuel economy is 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km) city and 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) highway, on par with G35, IS 350 and BMW 330i, with automatics.

Stylistically, Acura designers didn't mess with the TL's winning formula, adding inconspicuous detailing such as a black-chrome grille, black-chrome crossbar and honeycomb mesh on the lower bumper.

Inside, the Type-S has red lighting to distinguish it from the TL's blue illumination, both on the gauges and console and in the footwells.

The TL Type-S is priced at $38,125 with either gearbox, plus an extra $200 for optional summer tires.

Already the best-selling model in Acura's lineup, officials expect annual TL sales to remain in the 70,000-unit range in light of strong competition from the new Lexus IS, BMW 3-Series and upcoming '07 Infiniti G35.

The Type-S variant is expected to account for a surprising 40% of TL sales. That seems attainable, given the increased performance and still-digestible fuel-economy numbers.