What, exactly, is going on with the Acura RL?
That’s the question that kept going through my mind as I tooled around for a week in the flagship sedan.
Don’t get me wrong. I found nothing particularly disappointing about the car. It’s a solid luxury sedan that still stacks up reasonably well against other six-cylinder premium sedans despite the fact that the current generation, introduced in 2004 and mildly upgraded over the years, is getting a little long in the tooth.
The five-speed automatic transmission, in particular, has fallen behind the competition, which now offer six- and seven-speed shifters. And. it would be nice if the manual-shift paddles put more control of gear selection in the hands of the driver, including rev-matching downshifts.
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In addition, V-8 power, an option on all of the primary competitors, is not and never has been available in the RL.
But, generally speaking, the car is pretty much all you can expect from a premium mid-size car in terms of build quality, driving dynamics and upscale amenities.
What puzzles me is that I can get nearly the same car from the same manufacturer at a huge discount—more than $10,000.
I’m talking about the top-of-the-line Acura TL model, which has virtually the same engine, same transmission, same Super Handling-All-Wheel-Drive system and very similar dimensions.
For example, the RL’s 3.7-liter, 300-horsepower V-6 engine runs silent and smooth but, oddly, its rated at five horsepower less than the powerplant in the Acura TL.
What’s more, the RL’s fuel mileage is EPA-rated at 16 miles per gallon in the city and 22 on the highway, while the TL is estimated at 17 to 25 miles per gallon. In my week with an RL, I averaged between 15 and 24 mpg.
Top-of-the-line Acura RL bottom line: $54,250. Top-of-the-Line Acura TL bottom line: $43,385.
Yes, the RL has a collision mitigation braking system, which the TL does not. It automatically brakes the car to lessen the severity of an accident once it becomes apparent that one is unavoidable. That’s an important feature, no doubt about it.
And, I’m sure if I scoured the many features available in both cars I would find more that are available in the conservatively styled RL but not the TL.
What my research seems to suggest is that the Acura RL is soon due for a major upgrade. The always genial and always tight-lipped folks at parent Honda never tip their hands on what they are up to, so my observation is pure speculation. We’ll just have to wait and see.
This I do know. Back in 2004 when I leased an Acura TL as my personal transportation there was a distinct line between TL and RL sedans. For the time being, at least, that line has been blurred.
But, aging or not, the Acura RL still has what it takes to play in the major leagues.
With its independent suspension—double wishbones in the front, a multi-link setup at the rear—and torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, the Acura offers a pleasing blend of ride and handling.
The torque-vectoring all-wheel drive not only gives the Acura added capability on slippery roads, it also enhances handling on dry roads by apportioning power to the wheels that provide the most grip.
In addition to its collision mitigation system, the Acura RL offer a long list of safety equipment, including traction control; stability control; antilock disc brakes with electronic brake force distribution and emergency brake assist; and a full complement of, seatbelts, airbags and side curtains,
Inside, the cabin exudes an upscale ambience and there is a long list of comfort and convenience amenities, including a navigation system with voice recognition and rear-view camera, communication system with real-time traffic and weather reports, dual-zone climate control, perforated leather seats that can heat or cool front-seat passengers, adaptive cruise control, Bluetooth hands-free cell phone link, 10-way power front seats, power rear sunshade, sunroof, keyless access and start, and 10-speaker surround-sound audio system with Ipod and USB audio connectivity.
All in all, the Acura is still a player in the mid-size premium sedan segment. The question is when the flagship will be updated to conform more fully with Acura’s new design language and when it will appear with upgrades to match the competition in all categories.
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