The TL debuted as 1996 model, first with the 1996 2.5 TL available with the 2.5L 176hp (131kW) SOHC 20-valve 5-cylinder engine from the Vigor. The 3.2 TL used the 3.2L 200hp (149kW) SOHC 24v V6 from the second-generation Acura Legend. The 2.5 TL was positioned as the sporty model and the 3.2 focused more upon a luxurious ride. The very first 1996 Acura TL rolled off the assembly line on March 28, 1995. Sales of the 2.5 TL began in spring 1995, but the 3.2 TL was delayed until fall because of a U.S.-Japan trade dispute.
The first generation Acura TL had standard features including dual airbags, antilock brakes, automatic climate control, a cassette/CD player sound system, and power windows and locks. Leather was standard on the more upscale 3.2 TL, while the 2.5 TL featured a firmer suspension setup.
In 1997, Acura added a standard power moonroof to all TL models. Additionally, all Acura TLs received an added variable-speed intermittent wiper setting. The 3.2 TL has 205/65/15 Tires, a V6 motor, rimless windows and a Bose music system. The sport-targeted, 5-cylinder 2.5 TL was further fitted with new alloy wheels.
For 1998, Acura made several optional features standard on the 2.5 TL. 1998 was the last year of TL production in Japan, as the model was being redesigned for production in the United States.
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 US-market Honda Accord platform. It was available with a newly-designed 3.2L 225hp (168kW) SOHC VTEC J32 V6 mated to a four-speed electronic automatic transmission with SportShift.
The second-generation 3.2 TL (the 2.5 was dropped) was built in Marysville, Ohio, alongside the Honda Accord, at Marysville Auto Plant. 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 Honda Verno dealer networks. The main difference between the two cars were the front grille; the Inspire and Saber were also available with a 2.5L Honda J-series V6 exclusive to the Japanese market.