Acura A-Spec performance package By MARK VAUGHN (08:30 Dec. 15, 2003) IN WHAT IS SURELY A vast oversimplification, it used to be Hondas were sporty and Acuras were luxurious. Nowadays, if you were so inclined and had a suitable platform from which to foment discussion, say a website or one of those big handheld megaphones, you could argue Acura is now aiming in the fun-to-drive direction, too. And not just because of screamers like the TSX, RSX Type-S and the new TL. Those are all fine, fun products, but the best argument that Acura is going sporty may be the launch of the new A-Spec line. A-Spec was formerly called Acura Factory Performance, a name marketeers thought sounded too much like its sister division Honda Factory Performance. The A-Spec name was introduced at last year’s SEMA show on an RSX Type-S concept. The production version of that car, after months of tuning, went on sale Nov. 30 with A-Spec springs, shocks, wheels, tires, aerodynamic add-ons and other handling enhancements. We drove one recently and found it to be a big step up in performance from the stock RSX, even the RSX Type-S from which it is ascended. Body roll in particular felt like it was about cut in half, maybe more so, and the improved response was easily worth the small price in ride harshness. The bigger news, however, may be that this month Acura will introduce an A-Spec version of the new 2004 TL, formerly just a sedate near-luxury sedan. If Acura can make the TL fun, anything can happen. Right out of the box the stock 2004 TL is different. It’s fun to drive, centered around that whompin’-smooth 270-hp 3.2-liter V6 and six-speed manual. Step on the gas in that car and you don’t even mind that the engine is driving the front wheels. Now, to that fine TL sedan Acura adds an A-Spec suspension and body kit to match. And it matches nicely. The shocks match the springs, the wheels and tires match the shocks and the suspension in general is more responsive without being overly harsh. We drove the A-Spec TL over twisting mountain roads in the San Gabriel mountains of California and through the short, tight Streets of Willow road course and came away happy. On the track the TL still felt its 3500-pound curb weight, especially downshifting into corners. And the engine was so quiet that it was hard to whack the Sport Shift automatic into the right gear at precisely the right time if you were doing it by sound rather than looking down at the tach. But that mass was better controlled on the A-Spec TL than on the stock TL. Engineers chose compression and rebound rates for the shocks that were closer to the NSX than the stock TL. The compression stroke of the shocks was firmed up, while rebound was softened. On stock shocks it is the opposite, with lots more softness on compression for that luxury Acura ride. The stiffer springs also lower the car by almost an inch, and improve the look of the TL as well as the ride. Many aftermarket tuners concentrate on just lowering the car with shorter, stiffer springs and often leave the shocks stock. The aero parts do more than improve the car’s looks, too. How many aftermarket aero kits have ever seen the inside of a wind tunnel? This package actually lowers the coefficient of drag from 0.29 to 0.28 and reduces lift by 0.088, figures virtually unheard of among aftermarket body kits. Most bolt-on wings slow the car down like tiny, stylish parachutes. The A-Spec TL includes front, side, rear and underbody spoilers, as well as your choice of a decklid wing or spoiler on the trailing edge of the car. The 18x8.5-inch wheels are forged and made thinner than stock for lightness, while the 235/40VR Yokohama AVS ES100 tires come with a thinner layer of rubber for both lightness and improved handling. The drawback is a shorter tread life, but that is the tradeoff for more grip. Tire and road noise is a little more than what you get with the stock TL 17-inch tires, but not as harsh as those on the RSX. As on the stock TL, the automatic-transmission cars come with performance brake pads. The manual-transmission models come with Brembo rotors and four-piston calipers up front. The A-Spec TL is such a nicely cohesive package (including unique steering wheel and nifty A-Spec badging) that, as with any HFP or A-Spec package, you can’t buy it in bits and pieces, you have to buy everything that is offered. They won’t even let you put it on your TL yourself, the dealer has to do it. And it ain’t cheap. It is $5,200 plus dealer installation, which will run you about $500 or so. Throw in taxes and you are up close to six grand. The A-Spec RSX is $4,200 plus installation. Parts aficionados will quickly leap to their keyboards saying they could get similar parts upgrades for a TL at half the price right now on some website, so why spend twice as much for an A-Spec? Several reasons. It can all be financed with the same loan that pays for your new car. Website suppliers usually haven’t tested their parts for 155,000 miles on roads and tracks all over the world like Tochigi, the Nürburgring, the autobahn and the San Diego freeway (okay, most have tested on the San Diego freeway). Few if any offer a four-year, 50,000-mile warranty. And few have made such a concerted effort to find parts that complement one another and balance out performance such that everything feels like it belongs with everything else. Acura expects to sell 1000 TLs with the A-Spec package. Once Acura has reached that goal and recovered its tooling costs, it may offer the suspension upgrades separate from the aero kit. You can buy the aero kit separately now. The plan is to sell 500 A-Spec RSXs. Acura sells about 65,000 TLs a year, so 1000 A-Spec versions make up only about 1.5 percent of the total. Acura sells 25,000 RSXs, so 500 would be 2 percent. That is not a whole lot in volume. But it is not sales figures that make A-Spec important, the important thing is the direction Acura is now headed.