Versus the competiton:
Getting lost would be rather difficult in the 1998 Acura 3.5RL sedan, which now comes with an optional in-dash, satellite-based navigation system.
The car always knows where it is, and the system is capable of guiding the occupants anywhere they want to go.
Although this option has been available in California and the East Coast, it’s new this year to the Midwest and Texas. New areas are being added as digitized maps become available for the navigation system’s database.
For 1998, the navigation system is one of several new features on the sedan. The 3.5RL, which replaced the top-of-the-line Legend sedan two years ago, is the flagship of Acura, Honda’s luxury division.
The car has a new, sportier suspension system this year, designed to make the car more exciting to drive, something that has not been a hallmark of Honda or Acura vehicles.
The Acura’s $2,000 in-dash system determines the vehicle’s location through the Defense Department’s 27 Global Positioning System, or GPS, satellites, then uses its internal database to guide the driver to addresses, shopping centers, supermarkets, tourist spots or other points of interest.
This is one of the first dash-mounted navigation systems; most of the others on the market are add-ons mounted to a pedestal rising from the floor. Using the touch-sensitive screen or buttons on each side of the system, the operator can program the system to provide detailed video and audio directions to thousands of addresses.
It’s fairly easy to use and highly accurate, although it didn’t always direct me to the best or most logical route to destinations I programmed in. Still, it’s great for getting you where you want to go without having to agonize over a map or handwritten directions.
Other new items for ’98 include bright, machine-finished alloy wheels, heated mirrors as a standard feature, and a 225-watt, eight-speaker Bose AM/FM/cassette in-dash stereo with trunk-mounted six-disc compact disc changer.
Looking a lot like a midsize Mercedes-Benz sedan, the 3.5RL is a worthy competitor to the Mercedes E320, and with a base price of $44,000, it’s priced about $1,000 less. Both are powered by six-cylinder engines.
But unlike the Mercedes, however, the 3.5RL has front-wheel drive. It comes with an all-aluminum, 3.5-liter, 210-horsepower V-6 engine, which had all the power I needed — and then some. There is no V-8 engine available, which puts the 3.5RL at a disadvantage against some pricier competitors, including the Mercedes E420, Lexus GS 400 and Infiniti Q45.
The engine is connected to a four-speed automatic transmission with a computerized logic control system designed to alter the shift points in different driving conditions such as on hills. I found the transmission to be slightly clumsy, however. It took too long to engage after being shifted into reverse, and was also a bit slow going into drive. I think maybe the logic was a bit too fu zzy.
Beyond that minor complaint, there’s little not to like about the 3.5RL. Considering Honda’s reputation for reliability and longevity, the 3.5RL probably is a better buy than some comparably priced European luxury sedans. I wouldn’t expect any serious problems from this vehicle.
Despite the retuning of the suspension, the car isn’t really a sporty sedan. For crisp, sporty handling, you’d need to buy a BMW, Infiniti or Lexus GS. The Acura has a cushy ride designed to make you feel right at home, like you’re sitting in your favorite easy chair.
The front bucket seats are more comfortable than the rear bench, particularly if you pack three full-size adults in the back. And with the front seats pushed back to accommodate larger people, there’s not much leg room left for the rear passengers.
Trunk space is ample at 14 cubic feet.
Luxury features abound, and the interior is quite elegant without being ostentatious. The seats are leather, there is genu e burl walnut trim on the dash and in the doors, and the automatic climate control keeps the temperature just perfect.
The exterior features a prominent grille, sculpted side contours, and an integrated front bumper for a smooth, uncluttered look.
The list of standard features is almost endless. They include electric direct ignition, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, speed-sensitive power steering, power everything, keyless entry with theft control, automatic headlights, traction control, a micron air-filtration system for the cabin, an eight-way power driver’s seat and four-way power passenger’s seat, heated front seats, cruise control, electric tilt/telescopic steering wheel, driver’s seat/mirrors/steering wheel memory, steering-wheel mounted audio controls, power tilt and slide moon roof, integrated fog lights and green-tinted heat- absorbing glass.
Fuel economy is a respectable 19 miles per gallon in the city and 25 on the highway. The fuel tank holds 18 gallons.
Total price of our test vehicle was $46,435, which included the $2,000 navigation system as the only option and $435 transportation.
1998 Acura 3.5RL sedan
The Package: Midsize, four-door, five-passenger, V-6 powered, front-drive luxury sedan.
Highlights: Outstanding quality; zippy V-6 engine; excellent ride comfort; lots of standard luxury features.
Negatives: No V-8 engine option; limited rear knee room.
Major competitors: Mercedes-Benz E320, Lexus GS 300, Audi A6, BMW 5-series.
EPA fuel economy: 19 miles per gallon city, 25 highway.
Base price: $44,000 plus $435 transportation.
Price as tested: $46,435, including transportation.
On The Road rating: B-plus.