Nimble all-wheel drive makes Acura’s RL a luxurious, agile machine
Special to the Daily
Just for giggles, we thought we’d try to slip a curveball on the very elegant, speedy and luxurious Acura RL ” seeing if its sophisticated all-wheel drive system would suddenly make it as nimble as your average tall and dowdy SUV.
My wife has to traverse an impossibly steep gravel detour to get to her mountain office, so tall you see nothing but sky when heading back up; I gave the RL about a 50/50 shot of making it without a tow rope during a recent visit.
So I must admit my great surprise and pleasure as I enjoyed the RL’s mountain goat-like ability to scoot up the dusty, gravelly chute and deposit me back on pavement, with plenty of power to spare.
The RL’s SH-AWD system (“Super Handling” all-wheel drive) helps split up some 300 horsepower worth of VTEC V6 output and keep the vehicle nicely grounded, not only on snowy or wet roads but also during performance-style driving on dry tarmac. Tech-heads can even toggle a small screen under the speedometer to indicate the torque split when the AWD kicks in.
But all-wheel drive stability is just a small part of one very impressive package. Comfortable, well-appointed and very fun to drive, the Acura RL is certainly a heck of a lot more than a re-badged Honda Accord.
With heaps of power and some of the most spectacular interior finishing I’ve experienced in a while (not to mention an absolutely ear-shattering Bose audio system capable of playing the new DVD audio format, plus standard XM Satellite Radio), the RL is one sweet, BMW-class battling machine.
Having recently experienced an Accord (the Hybrid, to make things just a little different), some of the family lineage is still close to the surface, mostly in terms of the vehicle’s spacious overall four-door body style. But what’s been added and changed, including large, five-spoke wheels riding on high-performance Michelin Pilot HX 245/50R17 tires, takes the RL light years away.
The automobile features a much meaner, ground-oriented grille and nose with large monster eye-styled headlamps, that Star Trek-influenced Acura emblem on the grille and body-colored side mirrors with signal repeaters built in.
A chrome mid-body line, convenient lights inside the door handles, brakelights that wrap around from tail to side (with amazingly intricate inset lighting and reflectors) and a large set of oval exhaust ports help to accentuate the RL’s distinctive look.
Inside, a few things also make the RL a particularly interesting package. A set of Formula 1 style paddles on the inside of the steering wheel allow for crisp, sporty shifts through the five-speed automatic transmission; mixed with judicious use of the accelerator, you’ll experience head-snapping acceleration (0-60 in just over 6 and a half seconds) and superb passing power.
Teamed with a huge set of nearly Brembo-styled ventilated disc brakes and tight steering, vehicle control is astounding, with a consistently smooth and seemless ride.
You’ll also be impressed ” or eternally befuddled ” by the RL’s keyless access system. A key fob automatically tells the car when you’re close and unlocks the doors; sit down behind the wheel the first time and you’ll discover there’s no physical ignition key to insert, only a permanent switch where the key usually goes. You’ll be left wondering what to do, exactly, with the key fob, when driving; a series of chirps will at least remind you not to leave the key behind when you do leave the car.
The interior is full of buttery smooth leather and more technology than it seems like you may ever fully understand. There’s a deep, enveloping feel of comfort and control as you sit down, surrounded by wrap-around controls, comfortable armrests and an easy-to-reach but extremely busy and button-covered steering wheel.
A short dash with three large gauges (tachometer/gear position, speedometer/computer info screen and fuel/engine temperature) is surrounded by a hardwood arc from the door inserts to the mid-dash.
Hard reptile-like plastic tops the dash, with Honda/Acura’s soft ventilated leather on all of the surfaces.
The voice-recognition navigation system, which also controls the sound and heating system, definitely takes a bit of education to master but is utterly flawless when figured out.
Acura’s developed its own real-time traffic communication system which will help you avoid rush-hour accident snarls and such by illustrating and warning you of the problems, via the navigation screen; other niceties such as OnStar, a hands-free link for a cell phone and even AcuraLink (which sends maintenance updates and warning messages to your nav system) complete the wall of computerization, controlled by a combination spinning/clicking silver knob in the middle of the center stack.
Deep, comfortable seating with electric lumbar support and super-soft headrests creates a good body position during driving; rear seats are equally large and deep and rear passengers will appreciate their own direct head and air conditioning vents at the back of the center column.
– Best features
– Beautiful, comfortable interior finish
– Speed, power and poise
– Reliable all-wheel drive system steadies the ride
– Nav system tends to overwhelm
– Auto transmission saps a bit of power on takeoffs
– Large A-pillars block front vision with low seating
– Includes: 300 horsepower 3.5 liter V6 engine, five-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters, all-wheel drive system, four-wheel disc brakes, navigation system with voice recognition, AcuraLink real-time traffic system, leather-trimmed seats, Bose Surround Sound stereo with DVD CD, XM Satellite Radio, OnStar, power moonroof, 17-inch alloy wheels
– Stated mileage: 18 mpg city, 26 highway
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