Acura gave its flagship RL sedan a modest update for 2009. Though they fall short of a full redesign, the updates include a new face that follows those of the brand's SUVs and its redesigned TSX. The RL competes with midlevel luxury cars like the Infiniti M and Mercedes E-Class.
Other changes include more interior amenities, a host of new technologies and a larger V-6. Rather than having the rear-wheel-drive setup that many of its competitors offer, the RL comes standard with all-wheel drive. No V-8 is available.
The base RL comes fairly well equipped, and in typical Acura fashion the options list is simple. A Technology Package includes a navigation system and backup camera, among other high-tech luxuries, and an Advanced Safety Package adds a collision mitigation system and adaptive cruise control.
Most immediately noticeable is the RL's updated face, with thinner headlights that fall in line with Acura's current styling trend. The grille adopts a shielded band, and the lower air dam has prominent side portals. In back, the trunk now curls up at its termination, and the taillights have crisper edging and restyled light clusters.
Acura says the RL's steering and suspension components have been improved for better handling feel and flatter cornering. To that end, the suspension has been fitted with larger stabilizer bars and recalibrated springs, and the standard wheels are now 18, rather than 17, inches in diameter. Unfortunately, the RL's turning circle is nearly 40 feet, which is more than a foot wider than some AWD competitors.
Xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights are standard. The Technology Package adds adaptive headlights that can swing a few degrees left or right to help illuminate corners.
Though the interior looks much the same as before, Acura says a number of things have been changed. Chief among them is the automatic-transmission shifter, which employs a simple forward/backward motion rather than last year's gated design. Like before, there are shift paddles on the steering wheel. Other changes include revised buttons for the dual-zone climate control, redesigned air vents, softer armrests and more cabin insulation. The front seatbacks have also been redesigned, adding some legroom for rear passengers. Trunk volume remains at just 13.1 cubic feet, which is even less than some compact cars offer — not good for this segment.
Standard features include 10-way power front seats, leather upholstery and a Bose surround-sound stereo. The Technology Package adds six-level heating and ventilation for the front seats, as well as wood dashboard trim. High-tech additions for 2009 include real-time weather information and navigation rerouting based on traffic conditions; both require the Technology Package and a monthly subscription for the information feed.
Under the Hood
A 3.7-liter V-6 delivers 300 horsepower, slightly more than last year's 290-hp, 3.5-liter V-6. However, gas mileage drops slightly, from 16/24 mpg city/highway to 16/22 mpg. A five-speed automatic transmission is standard.
Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive can transfer power not just between the front and rear axle, as many conventional AWD systems do, but between the left and right wheels as well. It does so during low-traction and high-performance situations — channeling, for example, slightly more power to the outside wheel during spirited cornering. Acura says the system has been enhanced for 2009 with quicker response time.
Standard safety features include six airbags, with side-impact airbags for the front seats and side curtain airbags for both rows. Four-wheel-disc antilock brakes, traction control, an electronic stability system and active front head restraints are also standard. The optional Collision Mitigation Braking System uses a radar system to monitor the road ahead. If CMBS detects a fast-approaching obstacle, it can alert the driver, and if he or she fails to react in time, it can hit the brakes and tighten the front seat belts.
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