2009 Acura RL Review

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Trevor Wild Trevor Wild Author
July 16, 2009

The 2009 Acura RL tops safety rankings and bristles with technology, but its detached driving feel and over-the-top front-end styling remove it from the best-in-class competition.

The luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Acura RL for this hands-on Bottom Line road test. Editors also read reviews of the 2009 RL and compiled this conclusive profile of the big Acura sedan from that research. TheCarConnection.com also adds comparison information to help make an informed purchase decision.

It's a difficult task finding a car more technologically advanced than the 2009 Acura RL. There may not be one; the new RL sports a class-leading array of electronics that help it provide quick, supple transportation to four or five passengers. With a base price of about $47,000, the 2009 RL sits in a hotly contested segment of BMWs, Benzes, and Lexuses but is far more at home in a smaller subset of all-wheel-drive, near-luxury sedans that includes the Audi A6 and Volvo S80. While the Acura delivers very comfortable transportation—reliable too, according to nearly all sources—it's also among the safest sedans you can buy, if not one of the most engaging or best-looking.

The RL, Acura's largest four-door, receives a nose-and-tail makeover for 2009, and it's a mismatch made in some focus group. The huge, shield-shaped grille clashes with the subtle, innocuous roofline. The nose vaguely recalls a bottle opener. The rear end sits plainly, with a wide band of metallic trim and LED taillights to liven it up. None of the aggression of the front end works its way inside the Acura RL; the cabin's handsome waterfall of wood trim is punctuated by metallic-trimmed controls, muted tones of brown or gray, and lots of high-quality leather and plastic. It's a quiet, relaxed feel despite the array of buttons and knobs that run the show. A more extensive wood-trim package is quite handsome and well worth the upgrade price.

Review continues below

On paper, the 2009 Acura RL performs right on par with many luxury-sedan competitors. A big, 3.7-liter V-6 with direct injection pushes out 300 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, but power delivery peaks near the top of its rev range at and above 5,000 rpm. It gives the RL a somewhat hard-breathing feel, though step-off from a standstill feels brisk, and its five-speed, paddle-shifted automatic responds quickly to flicks of the fingertips. The impression of outright performance is blunted by a few factors: namely, a 4,000-pound curb weight, standard all-wheel drive controlled by computers, and throttle input also controlled by computers. The RL responds to inputs with less mechanical precision than you might expect from the company that built the NSX supercar and the Integra hatchback. It's a bit ponderous, not at all zestful, though technically accomplished. Ride quality is smooth and luxury-like, and fuel economy is like other luxury sedans in the same price class: a mediocre 16 mpg city, 22 highway.

It's amply comfortable inside, but the 2009 Acura RL is a four-seater at best. Sitting on a 110.2-inch wheelbase, just under 196 inches long and 72.7 inches wide, it's a large vehicle. Interior space, particularly in the backseat, seems less impressive because of the RL's tall body sides. The ten-way power front seats themselves are Volvo-like: soft, giving, and supportive when they need to be. The headroom isn't erased by a deep sunroof frame, and all the controls fall easily to hand—though figuring out some of them can be a challenge (more on that later). The rear seats are a little less impressive in the sensations of space, but knee room is still fine even when adults take up all four seats. The trunk is a bit skimpy—the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO is marginally longer and wider, and its trunk is 65 percent larger. Where the 2009 RL wins is in the construction quality and noise levels inside; the woods are glossy and rich, the leather inviting, and the noises filtered out with thicker glass and an active noise-cancellation system.

There are no safer sedans on the road than the 2009 RL. Acura's big four-door scores five stars in all safety tests from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and earns a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). A structurally sound frame filled with lots of safety equipment gets the credit, and it's complemented by six airbags as standard equipment, all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes with stability and traction control systems, and tire pressure monitors. Adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights that trace the road ahead are also optional.

Along with safety, the Acura RL's features are its best attributes. There's almost no end to the list of standard and optional equipment ladled into the RL. Each comes with a 10-speaker Bose sound system with a six-DVD-Audio changer, AM/FM/XM tuner, MP3 jack, and USB connectivity. Bluetooth is standard, as is a sunroof, a Smart Entry keyless system, xenon headlights, and active headlights. An industry-leading navigation system is also standard; it integrates with available real-time traffic data from XM for exceptional route and guidance information, though entry via the large knob in the center of the RL's dash can be a chore. Leather seats, power sunshades, and dual-zone automatic climate control complete the coddling.

Two of the best features add value to the 2009 Acura RL's price tag of more than $47,000. The first is Acura's reputation for reliability; the second is a four-year, 50,000-mile service package that pays for oil changes and major repairs in that term. Performance takes a backseat in the 2009 RL—but technology and durability certainly don't.

7

2009 Acura RL

Styling

The restyled 2009 Acura RL is polarizing at best. The new exterior doesn't garner enthusiastic applause, but the RL's interior is up to Acura's standards.

While the interior of the 2009 Acura RL meets with general praise, the restyled exterior offends the aesthetic palate of most reviewers.

Edmunds is vociferous in its condemnation of the new RL's exterior appearance, including its prominent "buck-tooth" face. Autoblog is just as damning: "Acura has implemented a new front end design for its sedans that has seemingly gone over with pundits like the proverbial lead balloon.

Automobile Magazine's reviewer offers some perspective on the RL's design woes by stating that while the beak isn't doing the RL any favors, it perhaps wears the look better than any other Acura.

The majority of the derision is focused on the RL's front end. From the side, MotherProof says, "It has a strong profile and seems to lean forward due to a couple of chrome strips lining the windows and the lower part of the body." They concluded that the overall look is strong, if somewhat subdued. And from the rear, Automobile Magazine commented that the look was cribbed from Mercury, although the defunct brand wore it better.

The good news is the 2009 Acura RL's unsightliness ends with the sheetmetal. Edmunds notes, "There's a pleasing symmetry to the 2009 Acura RL's interior. It's plush without being ostentatious and much of it comes off like quality home furnishings." MotherProof describes the RL's interior as "a subtle blend of neutral colors and textures that creates a peaceful haven." According to Automobile Magazine, the 2009 RL's interior is "well appointed, comfortable, and well crafted."

Overall, Edmunds sums up the 2009 Acura RL, saying that the car is no longer a "super Accord" but that it lacked style, which many of its competitors have.

7

2009 Acura RL

Performance

The 2009 Acura RL comes standard with a peppy V-6 engine, but there's no V-8 option and the transmission doesn't make the best of it.

The RL features the new 3.7-liter V-6 engine powering all 2009 Acura models. The majority of reviewers find the 300 hp and 271 lb-ft of torque to be effective but unexciting.

"Acceptably eager, but never thrilling," is how ConsumerGuide describes the RL's engine output. Compared to last year's model, Car and Driver says, "Acceleration also stays essentially flat, with the 0-to-60-mph run taking 6.5 seconds." Edmunds' 0-to-60 times are a bit slower: "The feeling of quick acceleration isn't supported by the test track numbers, where the 2009 Acura RL recorded a 0-60-mph time of 7.2 seconds (6.8 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip), and 15.3 seconds at 92.8 mph for the quarter-mile." However, Edmunds also notes that the new 3.7-liter V6 under the new car's hood "does not disappoint." Car and Driver says the Honda VTEC system utilized in the new engine has "similar power peaks as before but more pull in the lower revs."

Automobile took the RL's fuel economy to task saying that the RL managed similar fuel economy returns as a much bigger Ford Flex, but without the spacious interior and four-wheel drive. The reviewer wondered how the Acura just wasn't faster.

ConsumerGuide noted that the RL requires premium gas, and that their tester managed only 15.4 mpg in city driving. Edmunds noted that the RL could be forgiven if it were V-8 powered, but at 16 mpg city and 22 highway, the Acura isn't a fuel sipper.

The Acura RL's all-wheel drive receives kudos for its operation. "You can easily detect the torque heading to the rear axle and from side to side. The RL also passed my steep, snow-covered driveway test with flying colors, powering its way to the summit with no problems," asserts Automobile Magazine. Car and Driver concurs, saying "the RL's niftiest gizmo is its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, which selectively overspeeds outside wheels to induce yaw and create the impression of livelier steering. It works, keeping the RL near the top of our handling charts."

Edmunds reports the RL's handling was helped by the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system that could maneuver power around all four corners. The net effect is a big sedan that handles like a sports car. Consumer Guide was brief, but precise in saying that the RL was agile for a big car.

That the RL comes equipped with only a five-speed transmission doesn't go unnoticed. Edmunds wrote that the gears were well spaced, and the engine was eager to rev with the steering wheel-mounted shift paddles. Kelley Blue Book wrote that the 5-speed automatic could be slow to downshift, and was particularly noticeable when passing.

In the braking department, ConsumerGuide Automotive testers find the RL features "strong, fade-free brakes [that] offer drama-free stops." Edmunds experiences mixed results when brake testing. During their drives, they reported that the brakes had a firm feel and quick stopping distances on the road, but on the track they noticed severe brake fade. Kelley Blue Book reported the same, and said that their tester wasn't as confident in its stoppers after an afternoon of quick driving.

8

2009 Acura RL

Comfort & Quality

The 2009 Acura RL is amply comfortable, quiet, and roomy, but it's a four-seater at best.  

The 2009 Acura RL meets with general approval in delivering luxury car qualities of comfort and quality.

"As a flagship model, the 2009 Acura RL's interior disappoints as much as it impresses," says Kelley Blue Book. "Kudos go out for spacious accommodations, the Technology Package's triple-setting heated and cooled front seats, padding in all the right places, and a cabin that's both quiet and easy to enter and exit."

ConsumerGuide says, "Most adults will find sufficient headroom and legroom. Some shorter drivers may feel a bit 'buried,' but ample seat adjustments and a standard tilt and telescopic steering wheel help compensate." Edmunds comments on the ease of entering and exiting the RL due to its wide door openings and "for the driver, 10-way power-adjustable seats make finding just the right position easy." Kelley Blue Book isn't as impressed with the RL's front accommodations: "We were less enamored by the driver seat's lack of lower support during long drives, [and] perforated leather upholstery that felt like it had been borrowed from a Honda."

The reviewer at MotherProof says the backseat of the RL "is roomier than last year's and fit three kids in booster seats with no problem." They add, "There's a power sunshade on the rear window and manual, retractable sunshades in the rear doors." ConsumerGuide asserts the rear of the RL has "enough headroom for all but the very tall. There's fine knee space behind all but the tallest front occupants, though foot space is limited."

Automobile Magazine says the RL's interior is very well appointed, comfortable, and well crafted, but "the HMI (human-machine interface) factors definitely need a re-think. Despite the plethora of buttons, knobs, and displays, none of the functions - ranging from adjusting the temperature to changing a radio station - strike me as intuitive." Edmunds notes, "At first, all the buttons on the center stack can be confusing since there are just so many. Still, most buttons are nicely labeled, plus the size and shape vary depending on the function." ConsumerGuide Automotive also remarks on the center console controls, pointing out that the control knob required some learning and patience to master.

According to MotherProof the interior was quiet, but most engine and road noises were kept at bay. Car and Driver agreed by noting that the interior noise-canceling system managed to quell the harsh vibrations.

The RL provides ample trunk space but fails to deliver interior storage. "Cabin storage is unexceptional," observes ConsumerGuide. Also commenting on the RL's quality of build, ConsumerGuide says the RL's cabin is "an exercise in understated luxury. Most surfaces are padded or richly textured, and assembled quality is top notch. Our testers suffer from a few unseemly squeaks from the console area, however."

10

2009 Acura RL

Safety

There are no safer sedans on the road than the 2009 Acura RL.

The 2009 Acura RL scores five stars in all safety tests from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and earns a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety).

According to MotherProof, "The 2009 RL is packed with enough safety features to please even the most protective mommies," noting the full array of airbags and active head restraints.

A safety system impossible to ignore is Acura's Collision Mitigation Braking System. Mounted inside the front grille, CMBS detects potential rear-end collisions, warns the driver, and initiates automatic braking, monitoring vehicles ahead through its use of millimeter-wave radar technology.

CMBS also includes adaptive cruise control (ACC), which adjusts speed and distance to the preceding vehicle.

Car and Driver noted that the RL flashes a warning when a car is quickly approaching, and that if the driver doesn't respond it yanks the seatbelt and slams on the brakes. That's all good, they wrote, but it was too eager in slow traffic and the reviewers eventually had to disable the system.

Edmunds took a different approach and said the system could help an incapacitated driver, and that only chronic tailgaters would have a problem with the system being too eager on the road.

10

2009 Acura RL

Features

Performance takes a backseat in the 2009 RL—but technology certainly doesn't.

Besides its safety accolades, the Acura RL's features are its best attributes. There's almost no end to the list of standard and optional equipment ladled into the RL.

According to Kelley Blue Book, "Acura has fitted its largest sedan with not only the usual bits like a Bose sound system and power features tied to a driver-side memory function, but also a USB port located in the center console that offers quick and seamless access to tunes on your iPod, and an Active Sound Control system that does a commendable job of muting engine noise."

MotherProof appreciates the RL's features but finds faults other testers overlooked: A split-level console contains the AUX and USB inputs to keep them out of sight, but doesn't have enough room for a purse or other bulky items.

Some reviewers experience problems with Acura's Human-Machine Interface (HMI) system. "The HMI (human-machine interface) factors definitely need a re-think," says Automobile Magazine. None of the buttons can pair a phone, they wrote, and the system requires a voice command for Bluetooth connectivity. There's no voice prompt for how to connect a phone, so the reviewers wrote that they needed to dig through the instruction manual to find the proper commands to connect.

Edmunds reports that the base car can be equipped with the Technology package that adds adaptive headlights and a navigation bundle that includes real-time traffic and weather. Acura calls the navigation bundle Acura Link.

The 2009 Acura RL includes a four-year, 50,000 maintenance service package that includes oil changes and major repairs.

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8.4
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Styling 7.0
Performance 7.0
Comfort & Quality 8.0
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Features 10.0
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