2002 Acura RL Review

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High Gear Media Staff High Gear Media Staff  
October 1, 2001

by Dan Carney

You review the '02 Acura RL

If Lexus has been charged with imitating Mercedes-Benz in building its high-end LS430, the Acura 3.5 RL might be seen as being more similar to a Cadillac Seville.

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The comparison may seem odd, but the driving dynamics of the cars are very similar, especially with the RL’s suspension changes for 2002, which improve its handling. There was a time long ago when comparing a Cadillac and a Honda — Acura’s parent company — would have seemed like an insult to the American icon. More recently, such comparisons would have seemed equally absurd, as Honda occupied the high end of the quality scale and Cadillac seemed camped at the low end.

We have reached equilibrium with the current generation of products from the two companies. In terms of price, quality, paint finish, comfort, ride, and handling, the Acura and the Cadillac are closely matched. Both cars even feature GM’s vaunted OnStar service.

Flagship divergence

The RL is not likely to be cross-shopped against rear-wheel- drive sport sedans, such as the BMW 5-Series or Lexus GS430, but might be matched against Mercedes E-class, Jaguar S-Type, and Audi A6 competitors. The Acura’s front-wheel-drive layout is a strong point among customers who worry about slippery conditions, but the configuration handicaps the car — at least in the view of some enthusiast customers — in its competition against competitors’ V-8, rear-wheel-drive flagships.

The current generation of the RL was introduced in 1996, and was refreshed in 1999, so it is due for replacement in the not-too-distant future (though Acura is not yet saying when). It will be interesting to see the direction the company takes the car, and if it moves to rear-wheel drive as has been rumored.

2002 Acura 3.5RL

2002 Acura 3.5RL

For 2002, Acura bumped up the RL’s horsepower to 225 (it was 210 previously). The aforementioned suspension tweaks included new shocks and springs designed to make the handle more taut. Finally, a one-touch up feature on the driver’s window and sporty 16-inch alloy wheels (an inch larger than before) are available. Too, the RL’s lustrous metallic silver paint would look right at home on cars that cost twice as much.

2002 Acura RL

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The similarities to Cadillac’s standard-bearer continue in and outside the RL. The spacious interior and trunk provide ample room for passengers and cargo. The silky-smooth engine (a V-6, not a Caddy-like V-8) moves the car with authority, and because of its longitudinal orientation under the hood there is no torque steer (which arises from the unequal-length halfshafts needed on transverse drivetrains). Like the Caddy, the Acura is a front-driver, and possesses very light, heavily boosted power steering, which is probably intended to mask the feedback that front-wheel-drive cars can send through the steering wheel as the tires tug the car forward over varying surfaces.

Content lacking

Acura has covered all of the fundamentals as thoroughly as we’ve come to expect from the company. Where it falls short, uncharacteristically, is in the details. The RL lacks content available, not just in its mid-sized luxury competitors, but in near-luxury and even some mainstream family cars.

The RL still uses a four-speed automatic transmission, when the standard for luxury cars is now five forward gears. It lacks one-touch up on three of its windows, and the rear windows don’t go all of the way down, as they do on mainstream family cars like the Passat and Camry. Those cars also include a rear sunshade, which the RL lacks. A car in the RL’s class should have a power rear sunshade, and maybe shades for windows in the rear doors as well.

The company is reluctant to employ one-touch closing windows universally for safety reasons, but perhaps the technology has become sufficiently safe to win over conservatives. However, on the issue of safety, most mid-sized luxury cars have side airbags front and rear (at least as an option) or even side air curtains or other head protection. The RL only has airbags for front seat occupants. It is the same for pre-tensioning seatbelts; front seats only, and there are no load limiters on any of the belts to reduce the strain in the event of an impact.

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2002 Acura RL

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2002 Acura 3.5RL

2002 Acura 3.5RL

Other oddities set it apart from the current luxury mainstream. The six-disc CD-changer is in the trunk, not in the dash or glove box as has become the norm, especially for cars that lack an in-dash single CD player (the Bose stereo produces excellent sound, there are no faults there). The buttons for the steering-wheel mounted volume controls require too much movement to work, and look and feel like they belong on an Accord, not an RL. They simply require too much effort to use because of the long travel of the switches and they make cheap, plasticky sounds when used.

Finally, the remote control for the power locks and trunk is a separate unit from the key. Other luxury cars, and even mainstream cars like Volkswagens, have integrated the remote functions into the key, instead of requiring a separate remote. It’s time for Acura to get aboard if it wants to compete.

These things don’t make the RL a bad car in any way. It’s a composed, supple drive. It holds the whole family and their luggage, a rare feature these days. The problem is, the competition makes wonderful cars too, and their cars include more thoughtful features. In fact, Acura’s newer models, such as the MDX and the TL include many of these same features. Acura knows this; expect to see that reflected when the new RL arrives.


Review continues below
2002 Acura 3.5 RL
Base Price: $43,150; as tested, $45,150
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 225 hp
Transmission: four-speed automatic, front-wheel drive
Wheelbase: 114.6 in
Length: 196.6 in
Width: 71.4 in
Height: 56.5 in
Weight: 3869 lb
Fuel economy (EPA mpg): 18 city/ 24 hwy
Major standard equipment: Four-speed automatic transmission, anti-lock brakes, traction control, stability control, high-intensity discharge headlamps, fog lamps, leather seating surfaces, electronic climate control, power windows (with one-touch up/down) and door locks, eight-speaker AM/FM/cassette stereo with trunk-mounted six-disc changer, power moonroof, OnStar telematics system
Major optional equipment: DVD-based navigation system
Warranty: Four years/50,000 miles
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April 13, 2015
For 2002 Acura RL

Most reliable car Honda makes!

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Long live the Legend! No really the 3.5RL has been a dream. Quiet and refined for the 2002 year. Powerful when needed. Ride is smooth and handling is great for this sedans size. Only thing not good is Acura... + More »
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