2009 Acura RL Review – Acura achieves balance once again with the RL

Monday November 3rd, 2008 at 11:1111 AM
Posted by: peter

2009 Acura RL
By Peter N.

Pros

  • Smooth, but powerful driving
  • Excellent ergonomics and practicality
  • Packed with advanced technology

Cons

  • Bland styling

Introduction
I have long been a fan of Honda’s premier brand of cars, which has delivered many cars with solid performance at attractive price points. Lately, the Acura brand has put a significant emphasis on the technology they offer, touting their ability to bring the latest advancements in luxury automotive electronics to their customers. Has Acura created the next M-Drive or is this something humans can actually use?

Driving Impressions
I drove a dark Grigio metallic gray RL complete with the top of the line technology and CMBS package, offering navigation with traffic and weather updates, XM® Satellite Radio, adaptive cruise control (ACC) and lots of other technical goodies. The amount of advancements crammed into the RL could make your head spin, but they are intelligently integrated into the experience of the car and quickly become second nature. For example, this RL featured Acura’s Active Front Lighting system, which rotates the headlights in the direction of a turn. There are no levers to pull or buttons to push, the car simply knows when it makes sense for your headlights to move a bit so that you have improved visibility at night. By the way, the High Intensity Discharge headlights give off blazing white light, clearly illuminating the road, the curbs- and the next five states! Acura has featured their new all-wheel drive system as a major enhancement for this car. Having all four tires pulling me forward probably did help the acceleration, but the prime benefit of the system is the overall feeling of control and a sense of being firmly connected to the pavement.

2009 Acura RL

Build
Acura has built a reputation for assembling quality cars and they continue the tradition with the RL. The doors have a little more heft to them and close with a solid ‘chunk’ that gives the impression of a very solidly built car. Indeed, the RL has a five-star rating on every crash angle tested. Throughout the cabin, every component has been designed well and installed correctly, showing no visible flaws. The extensive walnut paneling across the cockpit and accents on the steering wheel add to the luster and premium image of the RL, complementing the leather seats, which came with both heating and cooling capabilities. The cabin maintained a quiet atmosphere, indicating sufficient insulation and precision construction. Overall, the car gave every possible indication that it would continue Acura’s reputation for cars that are built to last.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics
Ergonomics sometimes get scant attention by automakers, but Acura clearly put a lot of focus on it. The RL’s greatest strengths lie in how well every instrument and lever is appropriately placed and intuitive to operate. The climate control system maintains separate driver and passenger temperatures, which are neatly displayed in a slim readout on the middle of the dashboard, which also provides a short listing of the audio selection. The central display effectively combines the navigation, on-board computer, audio and iPod controls into an easily managed interface. While I did use the very thick owner’s manual to figure out how to pair my phone to the car’s Bluetooth settings (clearly explained and easily accomplished), I was able to control every other feature of the car simply by looking at the options and making the right choices. Excellent iPod integration allowed for detailed information on the central display. As expected, the 10-speaker Bose Surround Sound stereo system performed very well and was controllable via the buttons embedded into the steering-wheel.

5-speed automatic with manual shift modeabundant storage spaceACC / CMBS

One example of the thoughtfulness of the Acura engineers is their design of the keyless operation. Keeping the key fob in my pocket, I would unlock the doors by pulling on the handle, standard fare for the new keyless feature that many brands offer. However, where some cars have a button the start the engine, the RL mimics the old key systems by placing a turning knob where the key used to go, offering the ability to power just the accessories or to fully start the car. And it just feels natural. Overall, the best summary of the RL, and highest praise I can offer for a car’s ease of use, is that I felt completely at ease operating all features of the car within the first day of driving it.

Performance
The RL packs 300 horses under the hood which leave plenty of raw oomph, but the overall driving experience strikes a balance of power and smoothness. The new all-wheel drive conveys control and stability. While the RL does not provide the raw g-force off the line that pure sport cars do, it does deliver strong, smooth acceleration so that merging with highway traffic does not make passengers spill their mochaccinos. It easily handles high speeds, so much so that drivers might be lulled into going faster than expected. The ventilated disc brakes provided plenty of stopping power.

Handling
The suspension provided a smooth ride, but did not hide all the bumps and curves of the road as appropriate for a luxury sports car. High speed turns had only a slight lean to them, leaving me confident for the next turn. The wheel has a little bit of play, which dampens the responsiveness of the car, but does not impact the handling performance. Overall, it felt that Acura took the aggressive driving dial and turned it down a notch or two to create a softer, more luxurious experience. The turning radius provided tight enough for a roomy residential street, but not much more.

2009 Acura RL

Styling
While I have been a big fan of the aggressive styling that Acura has put into its cars since 2000, the lines of the RL fall short. To fails to stand out as a car of significance and looks more like a variation of the mundane Honda Accord. The grill is the most noticeable feature, but it alone cannot deliver the edginess that the TL or MDX have demonstrated. Perhaps the designers sought to provide a balanced and smooth counterpoint to the sporty TL. Unfortunately, they ended up with a car that blends in with so many average sedans. The trunk does emulate the recent trend in premium cars with a two-level design (the infamous Bangle Butt), but the smaller length of the RL prevented me from making the association to a BMW 7-series. In Acura’s defense, the competition is not lighting it up in the styling category, either, with both the Infinity M35 and the Lexus GS350 providing equally bland offerings. In this race to the bottom, the RL does offer a slight distinction from the competition. Of all the characteristics of the car, I was most disappointed with the styling of the RL.

Value
The RL provides a highly competitive offering to the Infinity M35 AWD and the Lexus GS350, based on a comparison of the features. All three cars have about the same horsepower, similar sizes, and offer many of the same luxury features. The RL excels at offering those features in a well thought out manner, making the car easy to operate. We would recommend trying each of these cars to determine your own personal preference. Another car that is within the RL’s reach is the BMW 535i xDrive Sedan. Here, the RL offers better price for a car with comfortable drivability, excellent build quality and lots of advanced features. Buyers of the 535i will pay almost a $10,000 premium to get the more precise handling and active response offered by BMW’s suspension.

2009 Acura RL

Who should buy it?
The Acura RL makes a great choice for an everyday luxury sports car. It provides all the features to make the slog into work as comfortable as possible with excellent audio speakers, easy navigation interaction, and a suspension system that keeps the bumps to a minimum, while still providing horsepower and handling for confident high speed maneuvering. It’s not designed for thrilling driving and jack-rabbit starts, but neither is it a land yacht floating above the road.

Conclusion
Acura delivers on its promise of building advanced technology in a luxury sport package. If the styling appeals to you, the RL will put a smile on your face as you walk out your front door to head to work. Full of features that are easy to use, the car lets you focus on the traffic or the music or the meeting you have at 10am. It is not a car for those seeking driving fun, but it does provide a very balanced, complete package.

Build Interior Performance Handling Styling Value Overall
Rating 5.0 5.0 4.5 4.25 3.75 5.0 4.5/A-

AcuraThe official website of Acura – www.acura.com

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