FARMINGTON, PA – After a 5-year absence, American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Acura premium division has put the performance-enhanced 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 ’07 TL 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.

The TL Type-S 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, from 233 lb.-ft. (316 Nm) for the base model to 256 lb.-ft. (347 Nm) in the Type-S.

Acura says most of the horsepower bump for the Type-S 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. Meanwhile, increases in exhaust flow (6 hp) and intake flow (4 hp) account for the new power.

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 engine and transmission controllers cooperate for rev matching on downshifts for smoother transitions.

While one Type-S driven here has noticeable jerkiness on downshifts, officials insist it is an anomaly that will not appear in series-production cars.

The 6-speed manual is a cousin of the ’06 TL’s 6-speed, but with a redesigned bellhousing and smoother, more linear clutch takeup, Acura says.

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.

Also, the rear spring rate is increased 33% for manual-transmission Type-S models and 14% for cars with the automatic.

None of this toning equates to an overly rough ride on the many bombed-out surface roads of southern Pennsylvania and northern Maryland.

The combination of the forgiving chassis, increased horsepower, direct steering feel and quick upshifts provides 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, which comes standard with a navigation system, weighs in at 3,674 lbs. (1,666 kg) with the automatic and 3,559 lbs. (1,614 kg) with the manual.

Fuel Economy Comparison
City (mpg) Highway (mpg)
Acura TL Type-S 19 (12.4 L/100 km) 28 (8.4 L/100 km)
Infiniti G35 18 (13.1 L/100 km) 25 (9.4 L/100 km)
Lexus IS 350 21 (11.2 L/100 km) 28 (8.4 L/100 km)
BMW 330i 21 (11.2 L/100 km) 29 (8.1 L/100 km)
Note: All equipped with automatic transmissions.

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, fuel economy is expected to be 19 mpg (12.4 L/100 km) city and 28 mpg (8.4 L/100 km) highway for the Type-S, on par with G35, IS 350 and BMW 330i, with automatics.

Acura engineers managed to keep down the weight of the Type-S by using lighter engine materials, such as a magnesium intake manifold and cylinder head covers.

Stylistically, Acura designers didn’t mess with the TL’s winning formula, adding fairly inconspicuous detailing such as a black-chrome grille, black-chrome crossbar and honeycomb mesh on the lower bumper, as well as quad exhausts and a rear spoiler.

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. Dark aluminum trim and carbon fiber touches also are present inside the Type-S.

Standard leather seats have an embossed Type-S logo, contrast stitching and more lateral bolsters for better support.

All TLs have a new navigation system with crisper graphics, a standard rear-view camera and AcuraLink satellite information system with expanded real-time traffic data.

And the Type-S has standard Active Noise Cancellation, which operates when the audio system is on or off, to hush exhaust sound in the front and rear. But aren’t performance sedans supposed to emphasize their throaty exhaust notes, not mask them?

Acura predicts pricing for the ’07 TL lineup to range from $34,000-$39,000, with the Type-S occupying the high end. Exact pricing will be announced closer to the fall on-sale date.

Already the best-selling model in Acura’s lineup, officials here 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.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com