REVIEWS: 2009 Acura RL AWD

By Joe DeMatio - February 25, 2009
0902 12 Z+2009 Acura RL+front Three Quarter View
Wow, this Acura RL is a respectable car, but $54,860? Really? And I don't even get a six-speed automatic for that price?
Price complaints aside, the RL has a spectacular all-wheel-drive system. I had a blast drifting around corners last night on the snowy roads, and there was a lot of power going to the rear wheels. The chassis still isn't as brilliant as a BMW, but an all-wheel-drive 5-series would be a lot more money with a comparable engine.
I wish Acura/Honda would revisit the human-machine interface for everything related to climate control, audio system, and navigation system functions. Despite the plethora of buttons, knobs, and displays, none of the functions - ranging from adjusting the temperature to changing a radio station - strike me as intuitive. I think the right controls are present, but you don't find the correct set of buttons where you expect them. Why are the climate controls near the top of the dash? Why is the multifunction controller not where your right arm normally rests, the way it is in all the German sedans? I found the joystick/dial control to be awkward to use while driving. The previous generation products from Acura/Honda were much easier to use than the current crop.
0902 07 Z+2009 Acura RL+rear View
I'm not crazy on the new corporate face Acura is attaching to the new vehicles, but I think it looks best on the RL. From the back, I had no idea what car this was as I stared out the window at the gym this morning. The silver paint doesn't do anything to make the back end look less generic, either.
I'd be content with the V-6's power if the fuel economy were better, but 16/22 mpg matches a Ford Flex with four-wheel drive and three rows of seats. How did Acura end up with mediocre fuel economy and mediocre performance from this engine? A BMW 535xi is rated at 17/25 mpg with the automatic, and it certainly moves better than this RL.
That said, for someone more concerned less with sideways vehicular shenanigans and instead desiring a quiet, luxurious sedan that will eat up highway miles, I can see how the RL is appealing. I guess I'm just too far removed from that demographic.
Phil Floraday, Senior Online Editor
0902 06 Z+2009 Acura RL+sH AWD
Like Phil Floraday, I was very impressed by the Acura RL's all-wheel-drive system. You can easily detect the torque heading to the rear axle and from side to side. The RL also passed my steep, snow-covered driveway test with flying colors, powering its way to the summit with no problems. I also have no complaints with the 300-hp V-6 and quite honestly didn't miss the sixth forward gear in the automatic transmission.
Phil and I are also in agreement on the RL's looks, which are inoffensive but anodyne. The interior is very well appointed, comfortable, and well crafted, but as Phil says, the HMI (human-machine interface) factors definitely need a re-think. That said, once you get the hang of the Acura interfaces, you'll be pleased by the performance of both the stereo and the navigation system.
0902 01 Z+2009 Acura RL+front Three Quarter View
Yep, for $55K, there are all-wheel-drive sedans I'd rather have, but, then again, they would be German, and they probably wouldn't have the stellar reliability that I bet this Acura will provide over the long haul. And I think it's wise that Acura makes all-wheel drive standard rather than optional, as Lincoln does with its MKS sedan. Front-wheel-drive luxury sedans are a little too oxymoronic to me.
Joe DeMatio, Executive Editor
0902 08 Z+2009 Acura RL+interior View
Considered on its own merits - that is, without thinking of its price or competition - the RL is a fine car. Like everyone else, I loved the stability of the AWD system through the corners. It feels more confident and somehow smaller than the TL SH-AWD we had a few months ago (in fact the RL is a bit larger and heavier). It also has better weighted steering. The 3.7-liter V-6 provided impressive, if not amazing, power and made for great highway cruising.
I, too, had some trouble working the multi-button interface, but my girlfriend, whose father owned an RL, hardly had to glance at it when entering a destination in the navigation system.
My only real issue was with the styling. Acura's new BIC razor face works well enough on its newer, heavily creased models, but looks rather forced and out of place on the RL's older, more conservative sheet metal - sort of like putting a nose ring on your grandmother.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
0902 03 Z+2009 Acura RL+grille
Unlike these other folks, I find Acura's razor-blade grille to be unattractive on all of the new/updated Acura cars (the SUVs aren't as bad, to my eyes). I'm all for a cohesive brand look, but to me, this theme doesn't cut it. The taillights look like something from the Mercury parts bin - but I think they'd look better on a Mercury.
Going down the road, though, the RL is extremely comfortable and up to most passing-lane challenges. I found the ride to be a bit harsh on a couple of especially rough sections of Michigan tarmac, but few if any vehicles (Jaguar XJ? Cadillac DTS? Hovercraft?) can completely mask such conditions. As others have pointed out, the SH-AWD system is superb. (It's fun to watch the torque-split graphic on the IP, which tells you how much of the thrust is going to which wheels; for instance, take a quick ninety-degree right turn, mash the throttle, and watch as SH-AWD feeds most of the power to the left rear wheel, maintaining the vehicle's stability.)
0902 10 Z+2009 Acura RL+front View
My primary beef with the so-called HMI is the fact that, despite the plethora of buttons and dials on the dash, you have to use voice commands to activate Bluetooth. And unlike Chrysler's MyGig, which gives you an audible list of options, I'm quite sure that you have to leaf through the owners' manual to find the proper Acura-ese terms to make it work. After taking the time to pair my phone, the Bluetooth didn't automatically relink to my mobile the next time I got into the car. Then the next time, it did. The next - didn't. I'll generously chalk this one up to user error, but I will say this, if you buy an RL, have the salesperson setup your Bluetooth for you, making sure that the auto-detect setting (if one even exists) is "ON." And please don't get me started on the XM controls...if I know what station I want, why can't I just keep cranking a tuning knob, rather than tapping one button until I get to the right category, then another button on the other side of the dash to tap through the stations in that category until I get to my channel of choice? If you owned this car, you'd get used to it, I know. But if you came from another manufacturer's products, I can almost guarantee that you'd be pretty frustrated with it for the first couple weeks.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
0902 14 Z+2009 Acura RL+rear Three Quarter View
Not all Bluetooth systems are created equal, even if you compare those offered within Acura vehicles. I was able to pair my lowly Motorola with a brand new TL without a hitch, but it wouldn't link up with the RL. The process, which involves those mysterious oral commands Rusty mentions, seems more involved than that on the newer TL.
Oddly, the opposite describes the RL's interior. Drivers are still faced with a litany of buttons and switchgear, but they're arranged in a more sensible manner than in the TL. I think part of this stems from designers channeling most buttons into a svelte center stack and spacing them so they're actually legible.
I'm not the biggest fan of Acura's latest design DNA, but the RL's exterior is the least offensive to my tastes. Then again, as Phil mentioned, it's also a bit generic. Remove the ungainly proboscis, and it's there's little that identifies the car as being an Acura.
Evan McCausland, Web Producer
0902 02 Z+2009 Acura RL+headlights
I agree with Rusty on Acura's new face; not only is it unattractive, it looks forced and not special enough for a luxury brand. The rest of the car is a bit non-descript but it's definitely more handsome than homely.
The interior environment is comfortable and nicely appointed but the central dash is far too busy and yet, as Rusty noted, there isn't a knob for quickly scrolling through satellite stations. I thought the centered volume button would also prove frustrating but it wasn't an issue, probably because the central dash is fairly small and narrow so locating and reaching the knob was not a problem. The small dash also makes the infotainment control knob seem comically large and its placement, like Phil mentioned, is less than ideal. The blueish purple background on the tach and speedo gauges is nice and it gives them a sporty look that livens up the otherwise fairly straightforward interior.
I am really amazed that there isn't a not-in-use location for the windshield wipers. They don't stow away under the hood or even sit flush at the bottom of the windshield. Even when off, they sit several inches above the base of the windshield so they are always in the driver's line of site. After I noticed them, I found their presence really intrusive and a surprising detail to be overlooked on a luxury sedan.
Jennifer Misaros, Production Editor
0902 11 Z+2009 Acura RL+front Three Quarter View
2009 Acura RL AWD
Base Price (with destination): $54,860
Price as tested: $54,860
Options: None
Fuel Economy: 16 / 22 / 18 mpg (city/hwy/combined)
Engine:
Size: 3.7L V6
Horsepower: 300 hp @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 271 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm
Safety Ratings (in stars, 1-5):
Frontal Crash Driver: 5
Frontal Crash Passenger: 5
Side Crash Front Seat: 5
Side Crash Rear Seat: 5
Rollover: 5
Transmission: 5-Speed Automatic
Weight: 4083 lb
Wheel/Tire Info:
- 18" Aluminum Wheels (size)
- P245/45 R18 98V All-Season Tires
0902 04 Z+2009 Acura RL+badge

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