Honda Alters Acura TL ‘Beaver’ Grille to Reverse Sedan’s Slide

Honda Motor Co., seeking to restore sales of its top-selling luxury sedan, altered the looks of its Acura TL to replace a grille derided by a critic for making the car look like a “robot beaver.”

The refreshed 2012 TL, shown today at the Chicago Auto Show, has new front and rear designs, including a smaller grille, modified bumpers and lights, as well as a six-speed transmission to boost fuel economy, Jeff Conrad, vice president of Acura sales, told reporters today. Efficiency improves to 29 mpg on the highway from 26 mpg currently.

While both overall Acura sales and TL deliveries rose last year, demand for the midsize luxury sedan in 2010 was 34,049 units, half the model’s volume peak of 78,218 in 2005. Styling changes in 2008 “may have been a bit too bold,” Conrad said.

Acura was the first premium auto brand in the U.S. by a Japanese automaker when models bearing the name arrived 25 years ago. Unlike Toyota Motor Corp.’s Lexus line, the top-selling luxury make in the U.S. for 11 years, Acura sales have fallen from a peak of 209,610 cars and light trucks in 2005 to 105,723 in 2009.

Designs and lack of a rear-wheel-drive model account for the brand’s problems, said Bill Visnic, senior product analyst for

“Acura is dialing back its controversial styling, and that is a step in the right direction,” Visnic said. “Even if buyers respond to the new TL it won’t propel Acura into parity with the volume rear-wheel-drive luxury automakers.”

The Marysville, Ohio-built car’s 3.5-liter V-6 engine was also improved to further aid fuel efficiency, Conrad said. City mileage increased to 20 mpg, up from 18 mpg.

Auto reviewer Dan Neil, writing for the Los Angeles Times in October 2008 when the TL underwent a complete design change, said the grille created a “buck-toothed visage, like a very large anime robot beaver.”

Honda’s U.S. sales unit is based in Torrance, California.

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