2011 Acura RL Road Test Review

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Acura has always gone its own way with its flagship luxury car. Where the competition all put V8s in their top sedans, Acura made a V6 work. Unfortunately though, where other manufacturers have gone all out to make their top sedan a technological tour de force, Acura has allowed the RL to soldier on with precious few improvements since this current version of the car was introduced back in 2005.

The good news is an all-new version of the RL is expected for 2012. And frankly, it won't be a moment too soon-in fact, it's a bit past due. Long story short, the Acura RL is really showing its age.

Which is not to say it's a bad car. The RL's all-wheel drive system is one of the most sophisticated on the road today. Called "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" (SH-AWD), it was the first on the road to transfer the engine's output from side to side, in addition to front to back, in an effort to make the car corner more sharply. The SH-AWD system can concentrate up to seventy percent of the engine's available torque into the outside rear wheel during a cornering maneuver to incite the rear end to come around more quickly. It does this by speeding the one wheel up in relation to the others and thereby creating a steering effect from it. Those of you familiar with the way skids work; know they happen when one set of wheels starts turning faster than the other. By creating a controlled skid situation, SH-AWD improves handling.

Another high point for the RL is its electric steering system. Fitted to reduce the losses incurred from running a mechanical system off engine power, the RL's electric steering system is one of the few that does not compromise steering feel in the process. In the Acura, electric steering feels connected to the front wheels in a way much of the competition does not match.

So if all of this is so good, what are we griping about?

Well, let's start with the audio system. With the introduction of the previous generation TL, Acura offered one of the most amazing surround audio systems we'd ever heard. Developed in conjunction with Eliot Schiener, the audio engineer responsible for making Steely Dan albums sound so rich and lustrous, the ELS audio system delivers outstanding detail and clarity with an absolutely amazing sound stage. And, it's available in every Acura - except the RL.

Proximity sensing keyless entry and start are de rigueur in luxury cars these days, and to be sure it was retrofitted to the RL as well, coming into vogue as it did after the RL's introduction. However, one look at the knob on the steering column where the key used to go tells you Acura indeed retrofitted the system, and rather than including a pushbutton to start and stop the engine, the company just prescribed a permanent key plugged into the already existing ignition switch.


Similarly, other tech innovations debuting after the car's on sale date have been incorporated; iPod connectivity and Bluetooth audio streaming, to name a couple, but there's no hard drive for storing music, even though you can get it in the much less expensive TSX. The navigation system and the telephone system are voice activated, but once again-since they were add-ons-they operate using two different buttons. It's like voice mail hell, right inside the car! To reach the phone, press button number one. To reach the nav system press button number two. To be connected to the operator….

You get it-right?

It's like the family got a new flat-screen TV, but didn't know what to do with the old tube TV. So they just sat the new one on top of the old one.

And speaking of the nav screen/telematics interface monitor, the graphics are hopelessly dated. The functionalities you need are there, but the interface is just plain old and cheap looking. Which is something one should never be able to say about anything in a car with pricing starting in the $65,000 range.

Remarkably, the RL had many of these tech features at launch, and back then it was all cutting edge stuff, catapulting the big Acura to the front of the line-tech-wise. Honda simply hasn't kept pace in terms of upgrades. Today, the competition is running Version 4.0, while the RL is making do with Version 1.5.


Mechanically, the RL is still first rate (more or less). The six-speed automatic transmission is something of an anachronism in an age when nearly everyone else in the category is running seven and even eight speeds, but six gets the job done. The unit shifts smoothly and is quite competent at keeping the engine in the sweet part of its rev range, so torque is almost always available.

It's also starting to look like Honda was right about the V6 being quite adequate, as it makes 300 horsepower and 271 ft-lbs of torque from 3.7-litres. But again, time has passed it by. Everything in this category is direct injected these days and so 300 horsepower out of 3.7-litres isn't the sterling achievement it once was. Similarly, 12.2-city and 8.2-hwy fuel economy is a bit lackluster as well.

Bottom line, the Acura RL was a nice car when it was introduced back in 2005, and frankly it's still a nice car today. The problem is that now there are so many nicer cars available with more cutting edge stuff for the same money.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Luxury Sedan, Acura, 2011, RL, $50,000 - $74,999,

Organizations: Acura

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