If you go by the specs panel, or even by instrumented-testing numbers, the performance credentials for the 2011 Acura RL look great: There's an eager-to-rev V-6, a new 6-speed automatic with paddle shifters, and a capable all-wheel-drive system, which Acura calls SH-AWD, to manage power front to back, and side to side. Despite that impressive resume, something is missing from its overall feel.
While the RL's 3.7-liter V-6, making 300 horsepower and 271 pound-feet, isn't the torquiest off the line, it builds to a sonorous and impressive power peak, for as quick of a super-legal two-laner semi pass as we could ever see laid back drivers wanting. And one longtime problem with all V-6 Honda and Acura cars—lumpy, almost harsh shifts on gentle acceleration—seems to have been completely solved here; Acura says that the six-speed automatic has a new multi-clutch torque converter, which aids fuel economy and probably has something to do with that smoothness.
That said, there's something about the way the RL is tuned (and how well it's isolated, perhaps) that doesn't invite you to drive it hard, but it has no problem being driven fast. The numb, innocuous steering and all-around isolated feel keep you from pushing it hard, though if you do 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. And as for sheer velocity, if you don't watch it, you'll probably exceed the speed limit. It's easy to see how: it's a quiet sedan with a well-composed suspension that keeps body motion at bay without giving up comfort and is the kind of cruiser worth taking on long road trips and chewing through the miles.
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.
Aside from being able to order up a little more steering feel, the sport-sedan crowd would probably also like a little steadier brake feedback. The brakes have an initial, almost overboosted bite that seems to fade in longer stops; it can feel almost like fade, but add a little more pedal pressure and you'll find it isn't.