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The 2012 Acura RL offers up strong, surefooted all-wheel-drive performance, along with strong roster of comfort, tech, and infotainment features, all in an elegant, somewhat conservative package. But compared to nearly any other sport luxury sedans from rival brands, it comes up short.
Overall, we're not completely sure how Honda is distinguishing the RL from the more affordable TL, which also feels sportier and is, surprisingly, about the same size as the RL. Although no RL replacement has been announced, the current RL has been around since 2005, so it's definitely due. That said, while the RL's design is no longer fresh (despite a modest 2011 refresh), the RL still looks tasteful and sporty to most eyes. The proportions are nice, but the clean-sided, high-shouldered look gives it away as far from the cutting edge. Inside, the familiar Acura instrument panel has held up well; it's a little restrained, but still feels sporty and cockpit-like.
The Acura RL has promising performance credentials, but somehow from the driver's seat it doesn't quite provide the thrills you might expect. The powerful 300-hp V-6, a 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, roughly surfaced corners. The powertrain is one of the more agreeable, responsive ones in this class, but it's let down by numb, innocuous steering and overall, a dynamically isolated feel that keeps you from pushing it hard—even though it's hard to fluster, with outstanding composure and grip thanks to Acura's SH-AWD system.
Cruising on the open road, the RL shows its best side. 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. All the while, the interior is so quiet that you'll never need to raise your voice to converse with passengers.
The 2012 Acura RL has one of the one of the quietest and very comfortable interiors of any luxury car—for those in the front seat. But it's far from the roomiest in back, and really only fit for four adults. 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 RL's safety is blemished only by a 'moderate' rating from the IIHS for roof strength, but the feature list is robust. Six airbags are standard, plus active front headrests, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes. Radar-based cruise control and automatic curve-following headlights are available, and a Collision Mitigation Braking System is bundled with adaptive cruise control (ACC), which adapts speed and distance to the vehicle in front.
Tech and comfort features are on offer in abundance on the 2012 RL, with some including xenon headlamps with Active Front Lighting, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated seats, Bluetooth and USB connectivity is standard. The navigation system taps into real-time traffic and weather data, though we found it somewhat laggy and rudimentary compared to some of the latest infotainment systems.