Also, like BMW, the Acura RL features a satin-finished aluminum knob in the center of the dash. It is rotated to select from a menu of electronic communications functions, climate control, audio, and navigation and pushed to activate the function selected. The number and variety of functions are probably just as complex as those offered by BMW, but somehow the Acura system seems more user-friendly, more logical in everyday use.
The crown jewel in this array is the Acura-Link satellite system. AcuraLink was jointly developed with the XM Satellite Radio people and delivers up-to-the-minute traffic information to the RL's navigation screen. It also can provide operating tips for the driver, diagnostic information, translation of malfunction signals, maintenance reminders, and the ability to auto-dial dealers or emergency service. Unlike radio or television traffic reports, the RL's real-time system gives a steady flow of useful information pertaining to the driver's chosen route and works hand-in-glove with a compatible hands-free Bluetooth telephone. The real-time traffic service is currently available in twenty major American cities, but the system is expanding, and AcuraLink is set up to operate in all forty-eight contiguous states.
There is, of course, a sound system that is at least as ambitious as AcuraLink. The Acura/ Bose DVD-audio system was developed to be a fundamental component within the RL's infrastructure, not an add-on system. It is a ten-speaker system with 360-degree surround-sound at every seat. It includes an in-dash six-disc changer and standard XM Satellite Radio. There is an important point here. Every feature on this lavishly equipped sport-luxury sedan, from all-wheel drive to XM Satellite Radio, is standard equipment. Everything its driver might require, from local traffic information to awesome passing acceleration on slick roads, is part of the deal. It is a comprehensively complete car.
We drove a small fleet of RLs in conditions from Washington, D.C., rush-hour traffic to wide-open laps on the Summit Point circuit. For our three-hour sojourn at Summit Point, we also had access to an Audi A6, a BMW 530i, and a Mercedes-Benz E320-all with automatic transmissions-for comparison purposes. It is impossible to get a perfect match from among the competitors, but these cars came fairly close. The Acura RL more than held its own and felt absolutely terrific at speed. For those who really wanted to go fast, IRL driver Dan Wheldon was on hand to provide astonishingly fast demonstration laps around the Summit Point circuit. He sold me, and I wasn't even in the car with him.