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2010 Acura TL Midsize Near-Luxury Sedan

What was tested?: 2010 Acura TL SH-AWD with Technology Package ($43,385).

Options: None.

Price as tested (including $810 destination charge): $44,195.

Pros: It's a luxury bargain, with a combination of high-tech features, outstanding handling and an affordable price that sets it apart from the crowd.

Cons: Some people think it needs a rhinoplasty, and it doesn't have the cachet of a V8.

If you're thinking about buying the new Acura TL, do yourself a favor and don't take it on a boring, around-the-block test drive.

That simply won't do it justice.

Instead, find the salesperson with the strongest stomach and head straight for the nearest S curves in the countryside, because that's where the TL really comes alive.

This is an interesting car that, at first glance, you wouldn't expect to be so fun in the bends. It doesn't have racer-boy styling, a pavement-scraping suspension or a snarling V8 under the hood. In fact, it seems downright sensible with its V6 engine and four-door body style.

Somehow, though, it transforms from sensible to wild when you decide to push it. In normal driving, it feels quite Honda-like -- dry and slightly sporty -- with acceleration that's good but not breathtaking. But if you stab the gas pedal on a tight, winding road, it suddenly takes on a very different personality as it shows off its granite chassis and balanced handling.

The feeling is so striking, in fact, that Acura decided to do something shocking this year and offer a manual transmission in the TL. It may not seem like that big a deal, but when you realize the amount of engineering and tuning that has to be done to fit the new transmission, one thing becomes clear: Acura is making a statement with this car. It wants to impress the enthusiasts.

Inside, the TL has the kind of stylish interior you'd expect in a luxury car, with soft leather, upscale trim materials and the perfect execution that's become routine for Honda's luxury arm. One of the best features is an available navigation system that, like magic, can warn you about traffic problems and hazardous weather on your route. The exterior styling hasn't been as widely accepted, though. The nose has been controversial -- some people just don't like it -- but I tend to give Acura props for taking a chance. Too many of its recent cars have looked dull, so the TL's front end, even if polarizing, is a step in the right direction.

Another controversy is under the hood. Where other luxury cars often offer a couple of extra cylinders in a meaty V8, Acura has always preferred the smooth and responsive power of a high-strung V6.

Two engines are offered, both of which make plenty of refined power. Standard is a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 280 horsepower. If you want to go overboard, you can opt for the all-wheel-drive TL with its 3.7-liter, 305-horse V6 that's more performance oriented.

Either way, they make a strong case that those two extra cylinders really aren't necessary. The power delivery is so buttery, and the sound so exciting, that it's hard not to fall in love with these engines.

Pricing starts a hair above $35,000, which is a good price for this caliber of luxury car, and reaches up to $43,385 for the AWD version with the bigger engine and technology package.

Style: 6
Performance: 8
Price: 8
Handling: 9
Comfort: 8
Quality: 9
Overall: 7