Few market segments are as competitive as the luxury sedan category, where the world’s finest automakers vie for the hard-earned dollars from among the shrewdest consumers. Acura has not been a frontline fighter in this battle, as its respectable RL could not outshine the more powerful, more feature-rich competition from Japan and Germany. Until now.
For 2005, the all-new RL boasts a thorough, ground-up redesign with the engineers focused on styling, power, handling, and leading-edge technology. These key ingredients were essential to move up on the shopping list for well-heeled consumers, and we consider this multi-year initiative to be an unmitigated success. Gone is the vanilla competence of the 2004 model, replaced by new passion-igniting verve and a gadget-lover’s dream cockpit. The roster of standard features reads like the options list on more expensive cars, and just as significant, these technical treats are smartly integrated.
The fine-lined shape has been honed down to a wind-cheating .29 coefficient of aerodynamic drag, putting it on par with wedge-like sports cars. More than a sleek profile, the RL boasts aero-tuned undercovers for the engine, suspension, exhaust, and muffler. Smoothing every possible edge, the RL even features flush-mounted side glass, rather than the typical slight recess to accommodate the window frame. The benefit for carving a smooth path through the air is reduced wind noise and elevated fuel efficiency.
The overall package took on a “taut and wide” theme, with the new RL measuring three inches shorter than the ’04 3.5RL, an inch wider, and 2.6 inches taller, yet the overall wheelbase is 4.4 inches shorter. The dimensional changes give the car more athletic stance that demonstrably aids handling, yet packaging efficiencies were able to enlarge several prime interior measurements.
The interior provides noticeably roomier accommodations, with deep, richly padded leather seats, generous legroom, and modest headroom. Drivers benefit from eight-way power adjustments including lumbar, and these settings can be stored and later activated with the Keyless Access System. The front passenger seat has four-way adjustability, including lumbar. When the rear seat is not in use, the headrests can be folded down electrically, improving rearward visibility.
Aesthetically, a number of contrasting materials complement one another, to create a modern, well-dressed cockpit. In Honda fashion, the control ergonomics are masterful. A true centerpiece, the Interface Dial is the best application of a rotary multi-function control since BMW popularized the concept with its controversial iDrive. Ultimately the keys to its success are the one-touch redundant buttons that don’t require changing a lifetime of habits to turn the fan down, or change a radio station.
The standard entertainment system is quite impressive, with DVD Audio ability, six-disc in-dash changer, Bose Cabin Surround sound, and deftly integrated XM satellite radio. The head unit can play not only DVDs and CDs, but also MP3 and WMA files. The 10-speaker system’s reproduction is enhanced by simulated surround and an active noise cancellation system.
An advanced dual-zone automatic climate control goes beyond the basic temperature settings by tapping the GPS system to determine the direction of the sun on the car and a dash-mounted solar sensor to measure intensity. With this information, the system can make continuous adjustments to maintain an even temperature throughout the cabin. There are rear vents for second-row passengers, as well as sun shades.
Wide and deep, the 13.1-cu-ft trunk is easy to access, and it features a pass-through ski door for transporting long, narrow objects. Under the floor is a space-saving spare tire.
The standard front, side, and curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control, electronic brake force distribution, and even stability control are all now the price of entry in this class. Combined with a new body structure, the passive safety elements have enabled the RL to earn a coveted five-star rating in front and side crash tests and rollover test from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
Other elements add to the RL’s safety, such as the Xenon high-intensity discharge headlamps that angle in to turns, bright LED taillamps, tire pressure monitors, integrated mirror turn signals, and daytime running lights.
Underhood is the most powerful engine ever offered by Acura, trumping even its exotic NSX sports car. The sole powertrain is a 3.5-liter/300-horsepower V-6 paired with a five-speed automatic transmission. While most competing luxury sedans are available with V-8 engines, the vast majority of segment sales are for six-cylinder models. Acura offers much more power than the competing sixes, and even has a strong showing against V-8s.
Power is routed through a standard “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive” system, giving the RL a distinct market advantage. Traditional AWD systems route power forward and aft as needed, but the Acura system also distinguishes between left and right.
Behind the Wheel
The effect of the SH-AWD system is in fine-tuning the car’s character, while also exacting maximum performance. This is most evident when accelerating through hard turns, with the tires clawing for traction. Compared against its AWD German competitors, the RL possesses a refined poise, holding the road commendably and predictably. It is an effortless car to drive harder than socially acceptable, and the AWD works its power transfer so seamlessly the driver is only aware that it is working, not how it is.
A full 75 more horsepower than last year’s RL is quite evident, with the aluminum V-6 delivering invigorating performance. It revs smoothly, and it is entertaining to modulate with the steering-wheel-mounted shifters. With only 260 pound-feet of torque, and its horsepower peak coming at 6200 rpm, the V-6 does concede grunt to the V-8 competitors.
Priced just under $50,000, the Acura RL delivers a compelling package for the money, supported by a Better than Average cost of ownership. The sedan speaks to a tech-savvy car shopper seeking to be both pampered and entertained, whether from vehicle dynamics or the audio system. The ability for the car to adapt to driving conditions broadens its appeal, as its owner spectrum runs from the avid driving enthusiast to the mature driver.
Backed by a 4-year, 50,000-mile warranty, the Acura RL is an easy car to recommend and a hard car to fault, by any measure.
Designed for 21st-century luxury living, the all-new Acura RL sets a high-water market for sophistication, technology, and safety.
- What’s Hot Super-Handling AWDPremium high-tech featuresPerformance/luxury balance What’s Not V-6 torqueOnly available loadedConservative exterior
All-new design for ’05, this RL significantly advances the Acura flagship, offering more passion, luxury, and technology than its less ambitious predecessor.
There are no noteworthy options for the RL, as Acura packs in nigh every high-tech feature on the market today as standard equipment. Premium standout elements are AWD, DVD Audio, navigation system, and active HID headlamps.
Others to Consider
, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS