Redesigned for the 2005 model year, this latest-generation RL is fully capable of competing with the benchmark German sedans. And it's certainly more fun to drive than a Mercedes E-Class.
Acura's innovative all-wheel-drive system makes the RL easy to drive and helps keep its driver out of trouble. Called Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, the system overdrives the outside rear wheel when motoring around corners, improving the handling balance and enhancing stability. It feels solid in corners, smoothes over minor driver errors and makes the driver look and feel skillful. And it works exceptionally well in adverse weather. The 290-horsepower VTEC V6 provides plenty of power yet the RL is rated 26 mpg on the highway.
For 2006, a new Collision Mitigation Braking System is available that works with a new Adaptive Cruise Control system. Using radar, the system will alert the driver, pretension the seatbelts, and slam on the brakes when it senses an imminent impact. We tested this system in a controlled exercise and were very impressed with its ability to warn the driver and help avoid an accident or, in the worst case, reduce the severity of the impact.
Acura RL ($49,300)
In front, a dramatically sloping hood leads down to an aggressive front fascia with angular headlight treatments, Acura's signature five-sided grille, and distinctive lower air intake openings. The front end is smooth with nicely integrated bumpers and headlamps.
The rear is short to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve maneuverability. The rear three-quarter view is vaguely suggestive of some of the newest designs from BMW, which are controversial. Viewed from the side, the rear deck seems separated from the fenders.
The RL's high-intensity discharge headlamps employ Acura's Active Front Lighting System, which swivels the headlight beams up to 20 degrees in either direction when the steering wheel is turned for better visibility when cornering.
The cabin is finished in handsome leather with attractive stitching. Real wood is used sparingly, tastefully around the cabin and it's not too shiny. Acura says it used the finest materials and exacting attention to detail in the interior design. It shows.
The display is not a touch screen. Instead, an interface dial is used to control all functions. Positioned on the center stack, in front of the shifter, the dial is rotated like a knob and rocked like a joystick to select among function menus displayed on the navigation screen. Pushing down on the knob selects the highlighted function. Functions controlled by the interface dial include the climate control system, audio, navigation, and the AcuraLink satellite communications system. This interface dial is similar in concept to that of BMW's controversial iDrive, but Acura added redundant buttons on the instrument panel and steering wheel for most of the commonly used functions, making this system easier to use than BMW's. For its part, the interface dial has great feel.
As mentioned, everything described here comes as standard equipment, including the navigation system with voice recognition, which features a large, eight-inch screen. The AcuraLink satellite communications system delivers in-car traffic information in real time for major cities. It's an impressive feature that could make commuting easier by helping drivers avoid heavily congested areas. It works best in cities that have the infrastructure to support it, and Los Angeles is the best example. Traffic flow is shown by color-coding the highways in three levels (low, normal, and hopeless). Unlike radio reports, which just hit the highlights and don't provide detailed instructions for getting around tangles, this system uses live data from the highway departments and technology developed by XM Satellite Radio to give the RL driver the level of detail needed to change routes on the fly. The RL is on the leading edge of this technology, and commuters may find it's well worth taking the time to fully master this navigation aid.
Even without this twist, Acura's navigation systems are perennially among the best available. In the past, we've praised them for their ease of operation, clear instructions, speedy route calculations, and absence of errors. As with all of these systems, there is a learning curve. You'll need to study the owner's manual and exercise patience before you can fully master the system and use it to its maximum advantage. Even then, trying to program navigation or other functions while driving is very dangerous; you should pull over, program your destination, get organized, then set out.
OnStar also comes standard. Having OnStar and a navigation system should ensure you are always guided to your destination. Pressing the OnStar button calls up an operator ready to assist you in any way possible, whether you need directions to the nearest gas station or ATM or the best sushi bar in town. OnStar operators can quickly pinpoint your exact location and the direction you're headed and won't hesitate to tell you to turn around. They can unlock the doors should you lock the keys inside. They can direct the police to your car should it be stolen. They will direct emergency crews to you should the airbags go off and you not respond to their calls. We've found most of them cheerful, friendly and engaging, patient, often with a sense of humor, though as always the case when dealing with other human beings, that isn't always true. Their voice comes through a speaker and you talk to them in normal tones while driving. Your voice is picked up through a microphone and there
Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive improves the handling of the RL considerably. SH-AWD distributes power not only between the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right rear wheels. The system controls this distribution of power precisely to enhance handling. Essentially, the system overdrives the outside rear wheel in corners to reduce the understeer that is inherent with all-wheel-drive layouts. As a result, the RL doesn't plow in corners. It simply motors around them.
We found the RL's sophisticated all-wheel-drive setup particularly helpful in tight corners where it keeps the nose of the car tucked in. The car seemed to respond well to throttle in the corners. The effects of overdriving one of the rear wheels is most noticeable at racing speeds, but the system improves handling feel even at a moderate pace. The RL just feels precise. It goes exactly where you want to go. You get improved handling stability on dry or wet roads. The all-wheel drive also brings improved traction and stability on snow and ice. The system is biased to the front. When cruising along, 70 percent of the engine's power goes to the front wheels, and 30 percent goes to the rear wheels. Stand on it, however, and up to 70 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels. That means little or no wheel spin when accelerating.
On a tight road racing circuit, the Shenandoah 1.2-mile road course at Summit Point in West Virginia, the RL felt much more agile than a 2005 Mercedes E320 4Matic (all-wheel drive). The E320 felt heavy and lethargic, like an old Mercedes. Compared with the Acura, the Mercedes lacked grip and suffered from understeer and slow steering; plus it was hard to modulate brakes and hard to modulate the throttle. (The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has been upgraded somewhat for 2006.) The RL was easy drive, and easy to drive quickly. A BMW 530i we drove felt livelier and more fun with its rear-wheel drive and sports suspension than the RL, which is based on a front-drive platform. Whether the BMW would ultimately be quicker in timed lap sessions wasn't clear. What was clear was that the RL was the easiest to push to the limit in unfamiliar corners. The Acura RL would be an excellent choice if you had to choose a car to try to outrun bad guys over an unfamiliar mountain road, and that would be particularly true if the conditions were slippery or unpredictable.
There's plenty of power on tap. Acura's 3.5-liter V6 engine generates 290 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. That's impressive power from a V6. (You may note the 2005 RL was rated at 300 horsepower. That's because of a new horsepower rating system set by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The 2006 RL is every bit as powerful as the 2005 model; nothing has changed. It's just measured differently.)
Luxury cars with V8 models offer more power and more low-end response, but the RL delivers solid performance. The Acura RL can accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds, so it can compete with a BMW 530i. Acura's 24-valve, single overhead-cam, aluminum VTEC V6 combines strong power with low emissions and reasonable fuel economy: The RL meets the government's stringent standards as a LEV2-ULEV Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle and earns an EPA-estimated City/Highway 18/26 mpg.
In everyday driving, it's smooth, responsive and enjoyable. The driving experience is aided considerably by the excellent five-speed automatic transmission. Shifting is cr
The Acura RL embraces the agile handling and quick acceleration performance of a sports sedan. The RL is easy to drive and helps keep its drivers out of harm's way, with the latest in all-wheel drive technology. Yet it rides nicely, coddles its occupants and exudes a sporty, luxurious ambience. Technology enhances convenience, comfort and safety. The new Collision Mitigation Braking System, optional on the 2006 RL, significantly enhances safety.
NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Washington, D.C., and Pasadena, California.