Acura RL Review

acura rl review

After a foot of fresh snow fell on New England, I was ready to take the Acura RL out for an action traction thrash. Unfortunately, the RL is a keyless wonder. When you twist the ignition knob into the off position, it's not really off– it's in accessory mode. You have to depress the plastic do-hickey and twist it another notch. Who knew? OK, there was an electronic warning. But modern cars bong more than Hawaiian dope smokers. I'd checked that the RL's lights were off the previous night and called it good.

Anyway, I wasn't the only car hack to flatten the battery. And the thing is, the $50k RL can't afford such a basic misstep. Acura's "I-swear-I'm-not-a-bling-Honda" is competing deep inside Caddy, Merc, Bimmer, Audi and Lexus territory. As BMW learned with its iDrive You Nuts debacle, any luxury car that makes you think too much starts from the back of the pack. A car that won't start, well…

After a quick defibrillation, I hit the slopes. The slippery stuff couldn't flummox the Acura's Super Handling [if they don't say so themselves] All-Wheel Drive. The system sends power from back to front or left to right, depending on which wheel or wheels need traction. In other words, an RL has an arrow-like ability to keep heading where you point it. Unless, of course, you head for some ice, boot it and throw the steering wheel hard over; at which point the RL will drift sideways with the best of them.

That's big fun, but it's beside the point. The RL is made for imperious wafters. Or is it? The design doesn't say luxury car to me. While the rear angle and side profile are reassuringly sedate, the car's nose is a disaster. It's too small for the RL's frame, poorly positioned, badly angled and over-creased. What's more, the car's squinting headlights and lower grill make it look like it's sniggering at someone who just fell down. Empathetic Europhiles need not apply.

From inside, the RL's ugly snout isn't much of a problem; the windscreen is so steeply raked you can't see the hood. For those who find this TV screen driving perspective disconcerting, the digital 5.1 surround sound audio system provides ample distraction. On the other hand, maybe it's best to keep your eyes on the road. The RL's multi-layered dashboard is an unsightly farrago of curves, angles, materials, textures, displays, typestyles and switchgear. The steering wheel's thin rim is a particularly egregious example of the RL's failure to pass the 50G taste and tactility test.

On the positive side, the Acura's cabin seats four large adults in reasonable comfort, and comes equipped with every toy known to carkind: sat nav, real-time traffic info, voice recognition, Bluetooth compatibility, heated memory seats and dual-zone climate control that automatically adjusts the fan speed according to the sun's position (determined by optical sensors and the onboard GPS positioning system). You can even press a button, call OnStar and ask them how it works.

What the Acura doesn't have is a V8 engine. The RL's V6 churns out 300hp– enough oomph to push the two-ton sedan from zero to 60mph in an entirely useful 6.7 seconds. You can switch to semi-auto mode and use the wheel-mounted paddle shifts to hold the gears for extended urge. Even so, the RL's sweet-spinning six is like bringing a knife to a gunfight. At this price point, customers expect the unruffled progress provided by a powerplant with two more cylinders. If nothing else, the RL sounds unduly stressed at anything more than partial throttle– even though it isn't.

In fact, you can hustle an RL without breaking a sweat. The hard-riding suspension will go all floaty-drifty if pushed, but there's enough body control to accommodate an enthusiast in a hurry. By the same token, the RL's brakes lack feel, but slow the car with real conviction. The rack and pinion steering is over-assisted, but still manages to keep you abreast of handling events as they occur. And that Super-Handling stuff really is the biz, facilitating some seriously squirrelly maneuvers.

Taken as a whole, the RL is an aesthetically-challenged gizmo-lover's Honda with admirable road manners– unless you drive it at night. Then, suddenly, it all comes together. The RL beckons with gently glowing door handles, welcomes with blue light in the foot wells and cossets with leather and air. The active noise cancellation creates a hushed atmosphere, the switchgear stops shouting and the car's well-sorted dynamics offer perfect poise. Gliding through the gloaming, the RL is its own man: cool, calm, collected and… debonair.

With a V8 engine, a nose job and an interior makeover, the Acura RL would give BMW's 5-Series a decent run for the money. Meanwhile, fixing the key slot would make a good start.

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2 of 4 comments
  • Chimaera2005 Chimaera2005 on Oct 24, 2006

    I love the reviews here at TTAC, but there is a universal truth that needs to be accepted about Hondas and Acuras, instead of griped about in every review. VTEC engines almost always seem winded, because of the way they are designed to perform. I don't need to explain how it works, because you already know. VTEC exists because Honda is a company that strives to achieve great fuel efficiency across the board. To me, 'V8' and 'fuel efficiency' don't seem like they can be in the same sentence together. As for the plastic ignition, well, all I can say is that every Honda I have ever owned has had the "push in to turn off." The only misstep I see here is the fact that you left the car knowing that the accessories were still on (or maybe not realizing it at all). Perhaps if there was a key that wouldn't come out of the ignition, you would have seen the "push" reminder.

  • Skysharad Skysharad on Apr 08, 2008

    I agree with the second last para in the article. If you are undecided between a 5 series or a Lexus GS and so on, just have a look at the car in the night and it will change your mind. I don't see not having a V8 option as an impediment. We all need to be environmentally conscious.

  • DenverMike When was it ever a mystery? The Fairmont maybe, but only the 4-door "Futura" trim, that was distinctively upscale. The Citation and Volare didn't have competing trims, nor was there a base stripper Maxima at the time, if ever, crank windows, vinyl seats, 2-doors, etc. So it wasn't a "massacre", not even in spirit, just different market segments. It could be that the Maxima was intended to compete with those, but everything coming from Japan at the time had to take it up a notch, if not two.Thanks to the Japanese "voluntary" trade restriction, everything had extra options, if not hard loaded. The restriction limited how many vehicles were shipped, not what they retailed at. So Japanese automakers naturally raised the "price" (or stakes) without raising MSRP. What the dealers charged (gouged) was a different story.Realistically, the Maxima was going up against entry luxury sedans (except Cimarron lol), especially Euro/German, same as the Cressida. It definitely worked in Japanese automaker's favor, not to mention inspiring Lexus, Acura and Infiniti.
  • Ronnie Schreiber Hydrocarbon based fuels have become unreliable? More expensive at the moment but I haven't seen any lines gathering around gas stations lately, have you? I'm old enough to remember actual gasoline shortages in 1973 and 1979 (of course, since then there have been many recoverable oil deposits discovered around the world plus the introduction of fracking). Consumers Power is still supplying me with natural gas. I recently went camping and had no problem buying propane.Texas had grid problems last winter because they replaced fossil fueled power plants with wind and solar, which didn't work in the cold weather. That's the definition of unreliable.I'm an "all of the above" guy when it comes to energy: fossil fuels, hydro, wind (where it makes sense), nuclear (including funding for fusion research), and possibly solar.Environmental activists, it seems to me, have no interest in energy diversity. Based on what's happened in Sri Lanka and the push against agriculture in Europe and Canada, I think it's safe to say that some folks want most of us to live like medieval peasants to save the planet for their own private jets.
  • Car65688392 thankyou for the information
  • Car65688392 Thankyou for your valuable information
  • MaintenanceCosts There's no mystery anymore about how the Japanese took over the prestige spot in the US mass market (especially on the west coast) when you realize that this thing was up against the likes of the Fairmont, Citation, and Volaré. A massacre.