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The 2011 Acura RL is an elegant, conservative sedan—at the large end of mid-size, powered by a strong, high-revving V-6 powertrain and sophisticated all-wheel drive system, and loaded with comfort, tech, and infotainment features. But simply put, compared to nearly any other sport luxury sedans from rival brands, it comes up short.
To start, in a fickle luxury market, the RL's design is simply no longer fresh. While the RL has been given a modest refresh for 2011, in the form of a new front end, revised interior tech and entertainment features, and a number of mechanical changes including a new six-speed automatic transmission, most of the car is carried over (and is now more than five years on). For some seasoned luxury car buyers, the anonymity might be appreciated, but as Acura's left it for 2011 this sedan looks derivative and lost from the outside. Inside, it's better, with the familiar Acura instrument panel layout—still close to that used in the TL—which has held up well, even if it's a bit restrained.
Going by the specs panel, or even by instrumented-testing numbers, the performance credentials for the 2011 Acura RL look great: The powerful 300-hp V-6, a new six-speed automatic with paddle-shifters, and a sophisticated SH-AWD all-wheel drive system help put the power to the pavement (and smartly manage it from side to side) even on tight, roughtly surfaced corners. But somehow, something's missing in the translation to the driver's seat. This year, a new six-speed automatic provides smoother, surer shifts, which helps make the powertrain more agreeable than ever, but numb, innocuous steering and all-around isolated feel keep you from pushing it hard. If you do, though, you'll find it's actually quite hard to fluster: Acura's SH-AWD system here simply delivers with composure and grip, whenever you need it.
If you don't watch it, you'll probably end up pushing well past the speed limit; with its quiet, supremely isolated interior and a suspension that keeps body motion very much under wraps yet without giving up comfort, it's a go-fast touring machine for the sorts of trips where you want to cover hundreds of miles a day while catching up with your road-trip companions. Even on the most roughly surfaced, tightest backroads, you'll only hear, faintly, the most jarring impacts, while being able to glide around tight, choppy curves very quickly—though again, without much of the satisfaction or involvement that usually comes with a sport sedan.
The interior of the 2011 Acura RL, while one of the quietest and very comfortable for those in the front seat, is far from the roomiest and really only fit for four adults. Front seats are firm and fine, but the backseat is surprisingly short on headroom and foot space, and the trunk feels like a compromised afterthought. Again, the RL's strong suit is quietness in the cabin, thanks to a host of true luxury-car measures, including an active noise cancellation system.
The feature list is strong, overall, with xenon headlamps with Active Front Lighting, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated seats, Bluetooth and USB features, and a great-sounding USB system all on offer, as well as a navigation system with real-time traffic and weather data. But the design is showing its age in a number of tech and feature details—especially in the overly sluggish, outdated navigation system, which compared to the latest systems in Lincoln and Audi vehicles feels a full decade behind.
Although Honda has yet to confirm a replacement, stay tuned in the Related News section; a fully redesigned RL might soon remedy that and provide Acura with a more competitive entry.