3.5 RL: Cushy Technology
By Jim Bray
Acura’s top-of-the-line sedan is all new, offering a handsome new suit
of clothes inside and out, more power, and enough technological goodies to
please the gadget geek in all of us.
It also comes with a nifty new all wheel drive system that strikes a balance
between Acura’s penchant for front wheel drive with the market segment’s
penchant for rear wheel drive vehicles.
The new RL is sleek and classy looking right from Acura’s typical “bird
of prey” grille to its relatively svelte rear end. The new version of
the car is shorter, wider and taller than the model it replaces, yet it’s
roomier inside. The interior is classy and comfortable and up to date, but
it’s saddled with a cursor control-type wheel/button thingy whose interface
seems to have been created by Rube Goldberg. Compared with the simple system
in the Infiniti M, the RL’s borders on incoherent.
Acura’s flagship sedan is powered by a ULEV-rated 3.5 liter, 24 valve,
single overhead cam V6 that cranks out 300 hp @ 6200 rpm and 260 lbs-ft @ 5000
rpm. Those are very good numbers, especially for a V6. It’s also 75 horsepower
and 29 pound-feet more than the last generation RL.
The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with pretend manual
setting and – get this! – steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters
like you’d get on some ultra expensive sports cars.
was my first experience with paddle shifters and they work very well when you
aren’t turning corners, at which time it can be a tad confusing when
your hands are twisted around. The tranny occasionally feels reluctant to downshift
quickly and is definitely not the best auto/manual I’ve tried, but it’s
a good example of the species.
The paddle shifters seem like an unusual touch in a vehicle that, while high
tech, isn’t really that sporty. And when you aren’t using them
they get in the way a bit when you’re holding the steering wheel normally.
They are cool, though!
The RL’s new all-wheel-drive system is called Super Handling (SH-AWD)
which, rather than routing power to the front and rear wheels as needed (as
it traditional), can also send power between the left and right rear wheels.
If you don’t believe it, you can watch it happen on the instrument panel-mounted
In normal driving, most of the torque goes to the front wheels but when you
goose it in a straight line, the system sends up to 40 percent of the power
to the rears. To lessen understeer, help turns and maintain balance, the car’s
brain can also increase the spin of the outside rear wheel. If it weren’t
for the display on the dash you’d never really know it’s working
under normal conditions, but it does: the RL handles very well. I’m sure
the Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) doesn’t hurt, either.
RL features 4-wheel independent double-wishbone suspension with stabilizer
bars and speed-sensitive, variable power-assist rack-and-pinion steering. The
standard tires are all-season 245/50 R17 inchers, which could be a tad lower
profile if they want this car to be sporty. Braking is power-assisted, four
wheel discs with ABS.
Driving the RL is very nice, but it feels more like a luxury car than a driver's
car, not that there’s anything wrong with that. The feel is very different
from the TL, which is a real blast to drive
even with an automatic transmission. The RL is more sedate, not that it objects
to being spurred, mind you. 300 horses are nothing to sneeze at.
The RL’s handsome, wood- and leather-trimmed cabin seats five (four
in superb comfort for the most part), looks terrific and is very well appointed.
As is typical of Acura, switches and controls have a feel of quality and are
placed just where I wanted them. The LCD screen displays the stuff operated
by that cursor control thingy and there are other controls integrated conveniently
into the handsome center panel that reminded me a bit of the classy Volvo S40’s.
The gauges are clear and well laid out.
Acura was the first to offer DVD Audio and dts surround sound capability,
and the Bose system in the RL continues that delightful tradition. The 6 disc
in dash changer offers excellent surround sound and playing the different types
of disc is seamless: the car figures out which type of disc you’ve loaded
and acts accordingly. That’s as it should be, and I also appreciated
the fact that you can stuff all your discs into the one changer, unlike the
Infiniti M in which DVD A and dts discs had to be inserted into a separate
player from the CD changer.
cabin is very quiet, thanks perhaps to a noise-canceling trick whereby the
stereo speakers emit “negative sound” to fight “positive
sound.” I would have loved to have seen if it would turn a rap CD into
Strauss through noise-canceling but I didn’t have a rap CD to try.
You also get Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free action of your cell phone
(a wonderful feature) and get this: Acura can download messages such as service
reminders right to the car.
The leather, heated and cooled seats are very comfortable, but something inside
the seat bothered my back somewhat – and that surprised me a lot: I usually
love Honda/Acura seats.
A nice touch Acura has included is a switch up front by which the driver can
lower the rear seat headrests, getting them out of the way of the rear view
mirror’s view. It’s also a neat way to freak out rear seat passengers
if you do it without warning them. Or so I would imagine….
Those rear seat passengers get lift-up sunshades that are built into the side
windows; there’s also a power-operated rear window sunshade.
The sunroof is of a reasonable size and opens and closes with one touch of
the button. HVAC consists of dual zone, dual mode automatic climate control
that works very well.
The RL also offers true keyless entry, in that you can keep the fob in your
pocket or purse. Or, usually, at least; in our week with the RL we found the
system quite frustrating, working well sometimes and refusing to work at others.
Unlike competitors which have “start” buttons on the dash, RL is
started by twisting a thingy on the steering column where the key would normally
be, which makes the keyless aspect seem almost like an afterthought.
trunk is comparatively small and the rear seats don't fold down, so if you’re
hauling long stuff like skis they have to pass through a little hole behind
the center armrest.
As is becoming popular, the RL has swiveling headlights that work very well,
and this is a wonderful feature. The car also boasts the usual selection of
safety equipment, including driver and front passenger dual-stage, dual-threshold
front airbags, driver and front passenger side airbags with front passenger
Occupant Position Detection System (OPDS). You also get side curtain airbags,
3-point seat belts front and rear, front seat belt pretensioners and a tire
pressure monitoring system in case your tires have trouble handling pressure
The Acura RL is truly a beautiful car, lovely to look at, comfortable and
refined and full of wonderful amenities. But…
I had driven the Infiniti M35x the previous
week and perhaps that coloured my RL experience. While the M isn’t as
attractive as the RL, and has less horsepower (though slightly more torque),
it’s a lot more fun to drive. And the M’s electronic wizardry (especially
its cursor control thingy wheel) is much easier to use.
It’s also cheaper!
The Acura RL lists for $70,700.00 Canadian/$49,470 US, which puts it about
five grand dearer than a comparably equipped M in Canadian loonies and six
thousand when you count American greenbacks. On the other hand, it’s
about $7000 Canadian/$4000 US cheaper than a comparable Lexus GS 300AWD, with
which it also competes.
To be fair, the RL probably splits the differences between the Lexus and the
Infiniti very well.
So if you can’t make up your mind between the three vehicles, you can’t
go too far wrong with any of them, including the Acura RL. In fact, you probably
can’t go too far wrong with it anyway; it’s a fine car.