The Car Connection Acura RL Overview
Ever since its original introduction in 1996, the Acura RL has ranked as one of the most technologically advanced luxury sedans. Throughout its existence, it's been quick, supple transportation for four or five passengers. With a base price of about $47,000, the current 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.
The Acura RL had the unfortunate task of replacing the beloved Acura Legend. The latter car had been one of the brand's two founding cars--along with the Integra. When Acura decided to shift to alphanumeric names, something seemed lost in translation with the softer, less agile RL sedan. It bowed in 1996 with a 3.5-liter V-6, a four-speed automatic and front-wheel drive, in contrast to the rear-drivers from Germany that offered V-8 engines and manual transmissions and even fearsome AMG and M editions in their mid-size luxury sedans. The RL would prove to be a supple-riding, smoothly accelerating four door, but its anonymous styling and road manners didn't fit well with the Acura brand's image for light, sharp, responsive cars. However, the RL did offer cutting-edge features like a navigation system and high-end audio systems.
The second generation Acura RL arrived in the 2005 model year, and carries on today with some subtle changes to its shape and some more meaningful changes to its running gear. Offered first with a new 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a five-speed automatic and 290 horsepower, the RL also adopted an innovative all-wheel-drive system that could direct engine torque to any wheel, to aid traction and cornering. With the clumsy acronym SH-AWD, Acura made this "torque-vectoring" all-wheel drive its counterpunch to the likes of Audi's quattro and Mercedes-Benz' 4MATIC systems. Handling improved, but the RL had grown larger and heavier too--and even its paddle shifted automatic couldn't keep up with the six-, seven-, even eight-speed automatics from the competition. Over its current lifespan, the RL has added features such as adaptive cruise control, a rearview camera, satellite radio, and DVD-Audio tuned by music engineer Elliot Scheiner.
In the 2009 model year, the RL gained 10 horsepower and a major facelift, which added the new Acura corporate grille to its more traditional body. The styling theme hasn't played well with reviewers, who have likened it to a bottle opener or a Polynesian war canoe.
Since that recast, It's largely carried over unchanged. And in its current guise, it's been tough to differentiate from the same-sized TL, actually, which offers some of the same tech, along with an available manual transmission and all-wheel drive. Even though its audio and entertainment options haven't remained all that well updated, the interior is still a technophile's dream. Arguably, Acura hasn't kept up with other leading-edge tech the way it did in past generations of the RL, but it does offer items like Active Front Lighting, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventilated seats, and a nav system with real-time traffic and weather data.
A replacement for the RL, the all-new Acura RLX, is due to arrive for the 2014 model year. It's expected to reclaim Acura's reputation for tech advancement--including a new SH-AWD electric all-wheel drive and hybrid system. As a result, the 2012 model year will be the last for the current RL.