Acura has made some equipment changes to its flagship luxury sedan. The four-door, front-wheel-drive 3.5 RL was introduced at the Chicago Auto Show in February 2003, and it went on sale in the spring as an early 2004 model. It’s the first luxury sedan to offer both XM Satellite Radio and a voice-activated navigation system as standard equipment. The 3.5 RL also gains an in-dash six-CD player with a retuned audio system and power adjustable lumbar support on the driver’s side.
Equipped with a 7-inch LCD screen, the navigation system can recognize 130 voice-issued commands. A DVD-based navigation system was previously optional rather than standard.
Acura, Honda’s luxury division, produces only one other sedan — the American-built TL. The 3.5 RL is built in Japan and comes in a single trim level. Competitors include the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS 430 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Since its first appearance in 1996, the RL has not changed dramatically in appearance. A signature Acura grille fits into the sharply chiseled front end that contains wraparound headlights. In profile, the 3.5 RL has a long, sloping hood and a short rear deck with subtle chrome trim. Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights are standard.
Alloy wheels hold Michelin all-season P225/55R16 tires. With an overall length of 196.6 inches and a 114.6-inch wheelbase, the 3.5 RL is about the same size as the more expensive, rear-wheel-drive Lexus LS 430. A power sliding/tilting moonroof is standard.
Five people fit inside the RL sedan, which features soft leather-trimmed seating surfaces and burled camphor wood trim. Standard equipment includes heated front seats and outside mirrors, a 10-speaker Acura/Bose sound system with a cassette player and such new features as an in-dash six-CD changer, automatic climate control with air filtration and a HomeLink remote control system. The driver gets an eight-way power seat, while the front passenger seat has a four-way adjustment feature.
For 2004, the center console and steering wheel have been redesigned. GM’s OnStar communication system is standard, which results from an agreement between Acura/Honda and General Motors. XM Satellite Radio and a voice-recognition navigation system are standard features, but only in the 48 contiguous states. The RL’s trunk holds up to 14.8 cubic feet of cargo.
Under the Hood
Acura’s 225-horsepower, 3.5-liter, 24-valve V-6 engine produces 231 pounds-feet of torque; it teams with a four-speed-automatic transmission. Acura’s Grade Logic Control reduces gear hunting when traveling uphill and helps engine braking while moving downhill.
The standard seat-mounted side-impact airbags have occupant height and position sensors in the front passenger seat. Front seat belt pretensioners, antilock brakes and rear child-safety seat tether anchors are also standard. Acura’s electronic stability system, called Vehicle Stability Assist, helps with both traction control and stability maintenance.
What it lacks in flashy excitement, the RL makes up for in practical luxury and overall refinement. In performance, ride comfort and handling capabilities, it stands above the luxury-car norm — though not necessarily as high as some competitors. It is well constructed, well behaved on the highway and comfortable inside, and it delivers a sense of solidity.