Acura's flagship combines all of the sterling qualities for which Honda has become famous quality, reliability, and economy and pushes them up to a dizzying level of performance, luxury and content.
The new RL doesn't offer a V8 engine, like most of the competition in the midsize sport/luxury segment. Don't worry, though it comes with a 3.7-liter V6 that produces a plentiful 300 horsepower and 271 lb.-ft. of torque.
Fuel economy ratings are 16 City, 22 Highway pretty good for a two-ton cruiser "with everything." I averaged 17.0 mpg for the week it lived with me.
The EPA's Green Vehicle Guide hands out a nice 7 on the Air Pollution rating but just a middling 4 on the Greenhouse Gas score. You can't have it both ways size and power will not earn you a 9.
Acura's styling has shifted to a more macho, angular look. For 2009, the RL receives new ends on its traditionally proportioned midsection. The jutting, pointed chin, thick chrome blade (Acura calls it a "s;power plenum") and eagle eyes give the car a more eager, alert look, although it couldn't be called pretty. At the tail, uplifted trunk and "bumper" lines create scalpel-sharp flush taillamps.
The nicely crafted interior gets a thorough reworking. This includes changes like softer armrests and easier to use seatbelts and climate control system. The steering wheel, leather or leather with wood, imparts British style opulence, as does the cascading, thick looking genuine wood trim. Insulated glass and improved insulation make it whisper quiet on the road.
The RL is as a showcase for every technological feature the clever Honda/Acura people can devise. The newest one is the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS). This technology helps prevent crashes by warning you before one occurs so you can act.
Or the car will act for you. CMBS uses radar to detect if you're closing in on another car too quickly. It flashes a red warning on the instrument panel and if necessary applies the brakes while tightening up the seatbelts.
I experienced CMBS when I had to stop suddenly during commute traffic. A red "BRAKE" message flashed on the instrument panel and I felt the brakes engage. I didn't strike the other car. I think I could have managed it myself, but I'm not certain, so I'm grateful.
The system uses the CMBS radar to provide Adaptive Cruise Control. This system goes beyond the usual cruise method it follows the car in front, and if that car slows down, the system brakes automatically to keep a safe distance. It can apply the throttle, too, so you hope that the driver ahead is paying attention. If it gets serious, the CMBS kicks in, presumably.
There is much more technology to get excited about. Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) returns, but has been fine tuned to be even more responsive. It increases wheel spin on the outside rear wheel during aggressive cornering to improve handling and grip. That doesn't mean you can drive like a maniac, of course.
The RL comes standard with the delightful ten-speaker AcuraBose system, which now includes the new XM Note feature for XM Radio. XM Note lets users record 10 seconds of live XM music along with the name of the artist, song title, and the XM channel name that can be referred to later.
The standard Acura Navigation System with Voice Activation now features real-time traffic information and Acuralink® real-time weather information as well. The RL is the first car to offer this in a single-screen format.
The RL rates at the top on crash safety. It earns a full five stars in all of the U.S. government's safety ratings for frontal crash, side crash, and rollover.
The big Acura comes in three trim packages. The RL starts at $47,440 with a very long list of standard features, including SH-AWD, the AcuraBose audio system and solar-sensing climate control.
The RL with Technology Package adds the navigation system, traffic and weather features, cool ventilation to the front seats, and a nicer leather/wood steering wheel. You pay an extra $3,620 for these upgrades.
The top model adds CMBS to the Technology Package. My Opulent Blue Pearl test vehicle had it. And, you get attractive, real wood trim on the dash and doors. This trim package will set you back $54,860.
The RL is fighting for customers in a very competitive area, and some shoppers have preset ideas about what luxury sport sedans should be and where they should come from. However, if you started with a little Civic, moved up to the family-size Accord and now want those qualities with all the extras, the RL is more than willing to accommodate you.