We journalists tend to dismiss the RL based on more or less abstract standards – it’s not pretty enough, not sporty enough, not premium enough. But I suspect real owners absolutely love it. And why shouldn’t they? The RL is quick, comfortable, quiet, and likely more reliable than many of its sexier European competitors.
The RL’s quality remains its foremost achievement. Run your fingers along the perfectly aligned exterior panels, the thick slab of wood that runs across the dashboard, and the soft-touch plastics found under the dashboard. Even in a time when most cars are built to a high standard, Acura flagship’s stands a notch above.
Such careful execution is also evident in the suspension tuning. Southeast Michigan potholes couldn’t disturb the RL enough to spill my coffee, and a few decent switchbacks exposed very little body roll. The steering wheel, nicely trimmed with perforated leather and wood, transmits enough feel and feedback to make the car feel smaller than it actually is, a trick Acura engineers also put to good use in the larger ZDX. The RL’s 3.7-liter V-6 lacks the grunt of its German rivals, but it’s hardly impotent and is amazingly refined. Someone at Infiniti needs to take this engine apart and figure out how to build a large-displacement V-6 that’s this creamy. The SH-AWD system makes the most of that power, further shrinking the car’s footprint as it dances through turns.
The only way the RL might frustrate an actual owner is with its telematics. I’ve had plenty of time to master Acura’s navigation and radio controls from my time with our long-term ZDX, but I still find them harder to use and less attractive than competitors’ solutions. The nav screen graphics look a few years out of date. The RL recoups a few technology points, though, when you turn up the volume on the sound system.
All this competence doesn’t erase the RL’s shortcomings. Its anonymous styling in particular does not make the statement most are looking for in a $55,000 car, and the interior, well-constructed though it may be, lacks that extra bit of flair and grace you’ll find in an Audi A6 or an Infiniti M37. For these reasons, the RL doesn’t live on my shortlist of favorite sedans. And yet, it’s still one of the first cars I mention when people ask me for a recommendation, simply because I can be certain it will never disappoint.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
Ok, let me start off with a few gripes: I can’t seem to get the active cruise control-it’s just normal cruise control for me; also, I wish the RL’s Advance Package included blind-spot warning, as I found myself sometimes having some trouble with the rearward sightlines; my last gripe is that I found the new-for-2011 transmission too sluggish in regular driving and too aggressive in sport mode.
The engine, on the other hand, I really loved. This car is like a more mature TL SH-AWD. It’s initially a touch sluggish but picks up speed in a hurried and hushed manner, with the suspension transmitting just enough feel for a sporty luxury sedan (think more Lexus GS than BMW 5-series). The SH-AWD handles curves well, although I would not call this a fun car per se; it’s just more … grown up.
Everything is logically laid out and designed such that those controls of higher importance are easier to see and reach. All the leather, switchgear, and plastics are top-notch, too. The exterior look is neither offensive nor desirable.
My biggest worry for this car is the price: at $56k it’s not cheap, and with no V-8 or rear-wheel-drive option, it’s not a real competitor to the 5, E, or M, in my mind. It lives in that strange land with the Lincoln MKS, where the cars are more than competent but slightly overpriced. The RL has good bones, but they’re getting on in age and competitiveness. Acura has shown that it can make fantastic cars, so I’m looking forward to the next-generation RL. Final note: I have a good family friend who bought this model RL when it came out and absolutely raved about it the entire time he had it. He drives a TL SH-AWD now.
Donny Nordlicht, Associate Online Editor
The RL is a largely forgotten model that’s vastly outsold by the Audi A6, the Lexus GS, and the Cadillac STS, not to mention volume leaders like the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and the BMW 5-Series. As Donny pointed out, the best comparison for the RL might be the Lincoln MKS: both are sub-$50K flagships for luxury brands that have lost their way, and both cars are perfectly fine unless you take a test-drive in one of their more exciting, more up-to-date, and more feature-filled rivals.
Long-in-the-tooth is right: the navigation system has terrible graphics, and switchgear is relatively ancient (check out the lock/unlock flippers on the front doors). Still, this RL drove better (read: more sportily) than RLs previous versions I’ve sampled. The thin, grippy steering wheel even promotes brisk driving, and the refined Honda V-6 is more than up to the task of hustling this 4100-pound sedan down the road. The new six-speed automatic also helps the RL’s cause, but it’s too little to transform this iteration of the RL into a top-tier competitor.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
Objectively, it’s hard to find fault with the Acura RL. It’s comfortable, refined, and very high quality. To me, what the RL lacks is personality. The exterior is not unattractive, but it’s anonymous and bland, despite its unusual nose. The interior is nicely designed and of very high quality but it lacks style and flair. Hopefully with the redesigned RL, Acura will inject some personality into this otherwise excellent automobile.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
Because I’ve spent enough time in our long-term ZDX, I’ve become accustomed to Acura’s somewhat confounding nav/stereo controls. That doesn’t mean that I like them, just that I’ve learned how to use them, scrolling through menus and submenus just to do things like use the change the satellite radio station. Sigh. On the plus side, the nav screen is nicely recessed so that light reflections are minimized.
The rest of the interior of the car is very nice, however. The wood-and-leather steering wheel feels solid and fits nicely in the driver’s hands. The leather upholstery is supple and the seats are nicely supportive and comfortable. The cupholders can be adjusted to fit your drink size. The wood trim that sweeps across the entire dash is very attractive.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
2011 Acura RL Advance
Base price (with destination): $56,010
Price as tested: $56,010
3.7-liter V-6 engine
6-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Vehicle stability assist
Tire pressure monitoring system
Acura/Bose surround-sound system with 10 speakers
AM/FM/6-disc DVD-A, CD, DTS, MP3
XM satellite radio
MP3/auxiliary audio input
USB audio interface
Power tilt/telescoping steering column
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Power rear sunshade
Power moonroof with tilt
18-inch alloy wheels
Xenon HID headlights
Keyless access system
Acura navigation system with voice recognition
Heated/ventilated front seats
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Rear parking sensors
Collision mitigation braking system
Adaptive cruise control
Options on this vehicle:
Key options not on vehicle:
17 / 24 / 20 mpg
Size: 3.7L SOHC V-6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 271 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Curb weight: 4112 lb
Wheels/tires: 18 x 8.0-inch alloy wheels
245/45R18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 all-season tires