The original Acura RL was not one of my favorite cars, not only because it represented everything that was wrong with the luxury car market at the time, the look was boring, the handling vague but it also pushed the accomplished Legend off the dealer’s lot. Its only saving grace was that it offered an alternative armchair to those pushed by Buick, Cadillac and Lincoln.
The replacement RL is about as far removed from its roots as it could be. Gone are the boring, boxy looks and numb ride characteristics, in favour of a stylish appearance and a truly dynamic drive. The difference between the first and second generations has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.
One of the RL’s upsides is its powertrain. The first half is the transversely mounted, 3.5-litre, VTEC (Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) V6 engine and the 290 horsepower and 256 pound-feet of torque it generates. The other half is a five-speed automatic transmission. Not only can you switch gears manually via the shifter, there are paddle shifters on the steering wheel. While the number of drivers that will actually engage in manual shifting is open for debate, the speed and precision of the shifts and the engine braking they bring, is not – it allows you to set the car up properly for that fast on-ramp.
In terms of hard numbers, the RL romps to 100 km/h in 7.2 seconds and bridges the 80-120 km/h gap in 6.6 seconds. Part of the reason for the urgency is down to the body’s mass – the extensive use of high-strength steel and aluminum (for the hood, fenders, deck lid and many of the suspension components) keeps the curb weight down to a very manageable 1,815 kilograms.
Perhaps the biggest departure, looks aside, is the manner in which the car now carries itself. On the highway the ride is plush yet when the gas pedal is down and the going gets quick, it hunkers down and drives as well as any good sports sedan. Having a solid chassis and advanced suspension (double wishbones up front and a multi-link setup in back) helps, but so do the large 245/50R17 tires and super-handling all-wheel-drive (SH-AWD) system. The combination is such that the grip and response to input is nothing short of amazing.
The secret lies in the manner in which the all-wheel drive system divvies up the power. During normal driving it directs 70% of the drive through the front wheels. When the pedal is pushed with more urgency the split alters to a 60% front/40% rear, which all but eliminates wheelspin – what does occur is dealt with effectively by the traction/electronic stability control system.
Where the AWD system differs from the norm is what happens in a corner. When pushed through a fast on-ramp up to 70% of the power is fired to the rear wheels. More remarkable is the system’s ability to over-speed the outside rear wheel (by up to 5% when compared to the inside rear wheel). This effectively pivots the vehicle into the corner, which means less steering input is required and the tendency for the car to push (understeer) is reduced significantly. The net result brings an uncanny feel – the system almost seems to “think” its way through a corner.
Inside, the RL is as spiffy and sophisticated as its exterior style is sleek – it really is a delightful place to rack up the kilometres. The roomy cabin has a cozy feel to it, while the materials lend an upscale look and feel to the finish. It’s also loaded and features the latest technology. The perforated leather is full (heated and cooled for the front seat riders), it has power everything (including auto up and down windows, thank you), attractive instrumentation (lit by LEDs) and a decent navigation system. It’s also remarkably quiet thanks to its active noise cancellation (ANC) system – it actively counters the low frequency booming that’s such a pain in many automobiles. Likewise, the active front headlights are appreciated at night. This system swivels the lights into a corner by up to 20-degrees, which throws the xenon illumination further into the bend.
The back half of the car is also up to snuff – there room for a pair of rear seat riders to relax in complete comfort and the trunk is large (13.1 cubic feet), although it only features a small ski pass-through for longer items.
The gripe is the button overload. On the navigation/climate/audio control panel portion of the centre stack there are 36 buttons alone (another 50-plus surround the driver). Many of the stack’s buttons only take you a sub-menu and the need to navigate through various levels via a large central knob and its secondary rotary ring. For this weary traveller, when all is said and brain fried, it is just too complex to be messing around with when on the fly.
Thankfully, once you’ve set the presets accessing the audio’s soulful sound is easy. The other saving grace is the voice-activated side of the system – unlike many, it is easy to master and actually understands someone with an accent!
Once a very dull, yet solid set of wheels, the second generation RL is now a delightful package – equal measures of power and panache are layered with a ton of user-friendly technology and an all-wheel-drive system that is, as its name implies, simply super.
The RL lists at a base price of $69,500 CDN, with hardly any options available for this fully loaded vehicle which includes Dual-zone automatic climate controls, Acura/Bose 10 speaker surround sound system with DVD-audio/ 6-disc CD changer/AM/FM tuner and steering wheel-mounted controls, navigation system with voice recognition, programmable speed-sensitive windshield wipers, dual-stage/dual-threshold front airbags, side seat-mounted airbags with front passenger occupant position detection system and side curtain airbags.