2009 Acura RL First Impressions: Year 12 of the Identity Crisis

Tuesday October 21st, 2008 at 7:1010 AM
Posted by: John G.

2009 Acura RL
By John G.

Up:

  • Perfectly tuned suspension, excellent road feel. SH-AWD really works
  • Comfortable yet firmly supportive seats, great driving ergonomics
  • A luxury car for people that understand performance isn’t just how fast you can leave a stoplight

Down:

  • Can’t decide whether it’s futuristic or conservative. The result just looks strange
  • Dash has too much plastic trim, too many plastic buttons for a $50K car
  • Needs something more to differentiate it from the TL

Ever since they stopped naming their cars and started using cryptic acronyms, Acura has always had a major brand identity problem. Is it a luxury marque, or a performance marque?

The RL’s identity crisis starts with the exterior styling: jarringly random chrome bits make it look like the love child of a Lexus and a Decepticon. The interior has its own issues: comfortable yet firmly supportive leather seats with heating and cooling, wood trimmed dash and steering wheel — and chromed plastic around the navigation system that looks out of place on a $50K luxury sedan.

2009 Acura RL interior2009 Acura RL 5-speed automatic tranmission

Turn the keyless ignition, though, and pull out into traffic…and all is forgiven. The RL drives effortlessly, and feels like a much smaller, lighter car than the two ton mid-size sedan it actually is. The suspension is perfectly tuned and damped: firm enough to offer excellent road feedback and well-controlled cornering, but not so firm as to be distracting over bad pavement or long freeway commutes. Add usable paddle shifters and that intoxicating VTEC induction roar at high RPMs — and Acura’s excellent SH-AWD system, which makes understeer nearly impossible — and you’ll find yourself carving both corners and freeway traffic with a big, stupid grin.

Yet, unlike most Acuras, the RL is quiet enough inside, even at highway speed, to feel like a real luxury vehicle, and there is enough rear headroom (thanks to strategic dents in the headliner) to seat four reasonably tall adults.

Luxury sports sedans are a tricky balance between comfort and performance. The 2009 Acura RL splits that difference as well as any car I’ve driven, setting a standard for “grin-inducing performance in the twisties while still remaining a totally practical everyday driver.” Now Acura needs to figure out how to make it look as sharp as it drives.


AcuraThe official website of Acura – www.acura.com




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