When a car salesman tells you an expensive model’s pointless, nine times out of ten, it’s pointless. If he proffers this opinion in the depths of a recession, with new car sales lower than Bernie Madoff’s morals, it’s a dead cert. I’ve experienced this vehicular vertigo twice in the last week. First, when contemplating a zero-mile Honda Civic Mugen Si gathering dust in an otherwise empty former Saturn showroom. Second, whilst sitting in an Acura RL, moments away from an extended test drive. The salesman told me flat out that the Acura TL is a better car than the RL, hinting that anyone who buys an RL is a sap. As I’ve rated the TL as a one-star car, where do you go from there?
Nowhere. And not very fast, either. The main difference between the new top-spec TL and the five-year-old face lifted RL: the über-Acura’s less powerful, even less torquey engine. OK, it’s only a five horsepower deficit (300 HP @ 6300 rpm vs. 305 HP @ 6200 rpm). But luxury brands like Porsche didn’t bank the big bucks by dismissing the importance of insignificant differences in engine power. Other than that, you could be looking at, sitting in and driving the exact same car, crashing over broken pavement, safe in the knowledge that you paid $8k for the privilege of . . . a solid piece of wood embedded in the instrument panel.
Strange to say, this indistinguishableousity is something of a triumph. The RL is made in Saitama, Japan. The TL in Marysville, Ohio, alongside Honda Accords. While the RL feels slightly more upmarket, it’s entirely psychological. Which is stupid to the point of imbecility. While Acura customers await the arrival of a V8 RL (or not, on both counts), Honda should have tuned their instantly demoted flagship for comfort. Put them torques (sorry, couldn’t resist) lower down in the rev range and added huge dollops of mush to the suspension. How much could it cost to detune the damn thing?
More to the point, how much did it cost Acura to debase the RL nameplate by replacing it with a less expensive alternative? Not a lot, one imagines, as the company has already sacrificed the legendary Legend to the gods of German-aping alpha numeric model designations. And priced the RL right off any sane comparison shopper’s vehicle list. And, generally, screwed the pooch. So it’s lose-lose for all concerned—save those who wouldn’t dream of buying an $50k RL. Which is a large and ever-increasing population.