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The Honda Saber was a Japan-market version of the second-generation Acura TL sedan. It was built by American Honda in Marysville, Ohio and exported to Japan along with the similar Honda Inspire. The model lasted from 1996 to 2004, and has not yet been replaced.
The Acura TL is a midsize luxury car from Honda's luxury Acura marque. It was introduced in 1996 to supplant the Acura Vigor and was a badge engineered Japan-market Honda Inspire sedan until the third-generation version.
The 1996 2.5 TL was available with the 2.5 L 176 hp (131 kW) SOHC 20v 5-cylinder engine from the Vigor. The 3.2 TL used the 3.2 L 200 hp (149 kW) SOHC 24v V6 from the second-generation Acura Legend. The very first 1996 Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on March 28, 1995.
Although it was designed to replace the Vigor, it also technically replaced the Acura Legend coupe. The 3.5 RL (JDM Honda Legend) that debuted alongside the TL was a large car designed for a soft ride, in marked contrast to the previous two generations of Legends which were sport sedans with taut proportions.
The second-generation 3.2TL (the 2.5 was dropped) was built in Marysville, Ohio, alongside the Honda Accord. These cars were imported into Japan and sold as Honda Inspire in the Honda Clio dealer network, and as Honda Saber in the Honda Primo and Verno dealer networks. The only difference between the two cars were the front grille; the Inspire/Saber were also available with a 2.5 L Honda J-series VTEC V6 engine exclusive to the Japanese Domestic Market (JDM).
In 1998, Honda revealed the TL-X concept car, showing a preview of the second-generation TL which would debut a year later. The second-generation TL (now called 3.2 TL) was released in 1999 and was now derived off the USDM Honda Accord platform. It was available with a newly-designed 3.2 L 225 hp (168 kW) SOHC VTEC J32 V6 mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transmission with SportShift. The very first 1999 Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on August 4, 1998. The only option on the sedan was a hard drive based navigation system.
In the second year of production, the Acura TL was given slightly more features, including a five speed automatic transmssion, with sportshift. The added gear allowed for slightly better fuel economy and acceleration when compared to the previous 4 speed automatic transmission with sportshift. Other notable changes include the addition of side impact airbags for the front passengers and a change of format for the navigation system. The 2000 TL switched the hard drive for a dvd based navigation system. Now, the entire continental United States was accessible with the navigation system. One could theoretically drive from one coast to the other with the new navigation system. The 1999 TL navigation system stored the maps in zones; there were 5 different zones for the U.S.
In 2002, the TL got a minor makeover, with a refreshed front fascia in addition to the five-speed automatic transaxle, which debuted in 2000. Also, the tailights were revised to no longer include amber, they were now only red and white. A Type-S model was also added, adding 35 hp (26 kW).
A coupe version of the TL debuted this year, called the 3.2CL. Being mechanically identical to the TL, sales never took off due to its milquetoast styling and absence from the Japanese market. The 3.2CL was discontinued in May 2003, to make way for the new Acura TSX.
The first third-generation Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on September 30, 2003. On October 6, 2003, the third-generation Acura TL (the 3.2 moniker was dropped) was released for sale in North America. Developed mainly in the United States by a team led by Erik Berkman with bodywork penned by American Honda designer Jon Ikeda, the new TL is built in Marysville, Ohio, and is derived from the latest USDM Honda Accord. It is powered by a 270 hp (201 kW) 3.2 L 24 valve SOHC VTEC V6 engine mated to either a 5-speed automatic with SportShift or 6-speed manual.
As of March, 2004, Honda offers to the public a factory-sanctioned "tuner package" version of the TL: the TL A-SPEC. This version features a suspension tuned by Makoto Tamamura, an indication of the TL A-SPEC's aggressive engineering. In addition, a underbody kit, spoiler, limited edition A-SPEC steering wheel,"a-spec" badge on the back, and 18" rims are standard issue on the A-SPEC package. When installed at purchase, the car's 4 year/50,000 mi warranty applies to the package as well.
The 3rd generation TL is also the first car in the US market to include a 6 disc DVD-Audio system, output through a 8-speaker system, engineered by Panasonic and tuned by Elliot Scheiner. The system also plays back normal audio CDs as well as DTS audio discs, CD-Audio, CD-Rs and CD-RWs. The car is also equipped with a Bluetooth HandsFree Link (HFL) system, integrated with the audio system, to allow for hands-free usage of your cell phone (provided the phone also supports Bluetooth). The driver can simply voice-dial the number and carry the entire conversation over the car's built-in audio system; when receiving a phone call a display will show caller ID if it is supported by the phone. The driver also has the capability to transfer current calls between the car and his phone when exiting or entering the TL. There is also a phone book which can store personal phone numbers within the car's memory. With the built-in XM Radio tuner, owners can elect to pay a monthly subscription after the complimentary 3 months subscription expires from Acura for XM radio, which provides over 100 digital channels via satellite.
Sporting an Alpine-designed navigation system, the 3rd generation TL also accepts voice-commands like "Find nearest police station" to "Go home." The navigation system features an 8" touch-screen LCD which allows for easy viewing of the road ahead.
The JDM Honda Inspire debuted around 4.5 months earlier (on June 11, 2003) and marked the branching out of the TL line from the Inspire. The Inspire is basically a 7th-generation USDM Honda Accord V6 with minor trim changes, and the addition of Variable Cylinder Displacement, which shuts off half of the engine when not needed to boost fuel economy. The Saber was discontinued and the new Inspire is being sold at Clio, Primo, and Verno dealerships.
Honda is currently mum on the prospects of exporting the newest Acura TL to Japan, but sources point it out as highly likely, either being badged Honda Vigor (most likely) or Honda Saber. It is rumored that the TL might also make it to Europe, as the first and second-generation Legends were beloved there.Acura TL became the best selling luxury sedan with more than 79,000 sold in 2004.