Real-time traffic information and all-wheel drive may be the most notable new features of the next generation of Acura's luxury performance sedan, which made its world debut at the 2004 New York International Auto Show. Exhibited there in "prototype" form, the RL is shorter and wider than the previous model but promises more passenger volume.
Working in conjunction with XM Satellite Radio, the real-time traffic monitoring system is making its first appearance in the RL sedan. Using XM NavTraffic data sent by satellites, the RL's 8-inch navigation screen can display current traffic details, including flow, accidents and freeway construction. Initially, it will operate in 20 major metropolitan areas, including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York. Flow information will be updated every five minutes, while accident details are updated every minute.
Using the real-time system, which is standard in the RL, drivers will be able to select the least-congested route to their destination. AcuraLink connects with Acura to relay maintenance and diagnostic information.
Though the previous RL had front-wheel drive, the new version gets Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). This system varies torque from side to side in the rear as well as fore and aft. In curves, it can apply as much as 100 percent of rear torque to the outer rear wheel in order to enhance the car's cornering and stability attributes as well as dry and wet weather traction. Up to 70 percent of engine torque goes to the rear wheels under full-throttle acceleration, while up to 70 percent reaches the front wheels during straight-line cruising.
The RL gets the most powerful engine ever installed in an Acura product: a 300-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission can change gears via the console shifter or by using paddle shifters on the steering wheel.
Acura's Keyless Access System does away with a traditional key for starting — as well as locking and unlocking — the car. To better illuminate road curves, adaptive headlights swivel up to 20 degrees left or right depending on speed and steering input.
Sales of the 2005 RL began in fall 2004. Buyers will get a free trial period for the real-time traffic data services, after which a subscription fee will be charged.
Acura says the RL has a "wide, muscular stance" and the "dramatically sloping hood leads down to an aggressive front fascia with angular headlight treatments." Aluminum is used for the hood, front fenders, deck lid, subframe and suspension. Riding a 110.2-inch wheelbase, the RL is 193.6 inches long overall, 72.7 inches wide and 57.1 inches tall. Alloy wheels hold 17-inch tires.
Five occupants fit inside the RL; its interior is trimmed with wood and leather. A 10-speaker Acura/Bose DVD Audio system, XM Satellite Radio and an OnStar communication system are installed. The AcuraLink satellite-based communication system, including real-time traffic monitoring, is standard.
Acura's 3.5-liter V-6 engine generates 300 hp and drives a five-speed Sequential SportShift automatic transmission with paddle-style shifters on the steering wheel. All RLs have the new SH-AWD system.
Side-impact and side-curtain airbags and Vehicle Stability Assist are standard. All-disc antilock brakes are installed.
The previous RL was an excellent road car with a solid, heavy feel. That's still the case, but that feeling is augmented by even stronger performance. A shortage of power is never a concern, and the automatic transmission shifts easily and promptly.
The ride is fine on smooth surfaces, but this sedan gets jittery on harsher pavement as the suspension transmits quite a bit of its reactions to the cabin. Steering is firm and positive. The RL is extra-quiet but not eerily silent.
Space in the comfortable, supportive front seats is abundant, and snug bolstering holds occupants in place. Space in the backseat is less appealing, with marginal headroom and fair legroom and foot room. The center rear seat is inadequate for taller passengers, who will likely hit their head on the headliner and be uncomfortable with the tall driveline tunnel. Trunk space is smaller than expected, but visibility is very good in all directions.
The instruments are large, easy to read and part of a rich-looking dashboard. Some controls, including the power door lock switch, are cryptic or hard to find.
Real-time traffic information is a valuable feature, but trying to spot traffic indications on the video map screen is somewhat difficult despite its high position. The map also washes out in sunlight and is excessively reflective. The big screen provides top-notch information on XM Satellite Radio programs.