2009 Acura RL

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$9,196–$15,996 USED Shop local deals
(5.0) 4 reviews
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Key Specs
Our Take
Road Test
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Safety & Recalls
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Key Specs

of the 2009 Acura RL. Base trim shown.

  • Body Type:
  • Combined MPG:
    19 Combined MPG
  • Engine:
    300-hp, 3.7-liter V-6 (premium)
  • Drivetrain:
    All-wheel Drive
  • Transmission:
    5-speed automatic w/OD and auto-manual
  • View more specs

Our Take

From the Cars.com Vehicle Test Team

The Good

  • Impressive technology array
  • Safety features
  • Somewhat improved exterior design
  • More backseat legroom
  • High-quality cabin materials

The Bad

  • Small trunk
  • Highway mileage drops 2 mpg
  • Wide turning circle
  • No V-8 available
  • Crowded center controls

Notable Features of the 2009 Acura RL

  • Modestly restyled for 2009
  • Enhanced navigation system
  • Standard AWD
  • 300-hp V-6
  • Available collision mitigation system

2009 Acura RL Road Test

Joe Wiesenfelder
The RL is Acura's flagship sedan, but it's not as large as most flagship luxury sedans, such as the Lexus LS 430 or BMW 7 Series. In fact, it's pretty close in size to the Acura TL midsize sedan. The RL isn't priced as high as the other flagships, either, so it's not an issue of paying too much or getting too little, but if you're an Acura fan who wants to upsize from the TL, you only have so much room to grow. For 2009, the TL is equipped with all-wheel drive, which takes away another exclusive the RL had held among Acura's cars. See a side-by-side comparison of the two models.

Along with some styling changes, the RL has gotten a host of performance upgrades for 2009 that make it not just pleasant to drive, but fun to drive. The suspension and steering have been revised, and the engine has grown in size and output. Unfortunately, it comes with a 2 mpg drop in highway mileage at an inopportune time.

The RL doesn't have true trim levels — it comes with or without a Technology Package that adds almost $3,000, and with or without a Collision Mitigation Braking System that adds another $3,800.

Exterior & Styling
With its redesigned hood, trunklid, nose, tail and rocker panels, the 2009 is recognizable as an RL, but only just. It joins the rest of the Acura lineup with a shieldlike "power plenum" grille that has as many detractors as admirers. I've long criticized fake metal in car interiors, but banishing it to the exterior wasn&apo...

The RL is Acura's flagship sedan, but it's not as large as most flagship luxury sedans, such as the Lexus LS 430 or BMW 7 Series. In fact, it's pretty close in size to the Acura TL midsize sedan. The RL isn't priced as high as the other flagships, either, so it's not an issue of paying too much or getting too little, but if you're an Acura fan who wants to upsize from the TL, you only have so much room to grow. For 2009, the TL is equipped with all-wheel drive, which takes away another exclusive the RL had held among Acura's cars. See a side-by-side comparison of the two models.

Along with some styling changes, the RL has gotten a host of performance upgrades for 2009 that make it not just pleasant to drive, but fun to drive. The suspension and steering have been revised, and the engine has grown in size and output. Unfortunately, it comes with a 2 mpg drop in highway mileage at an inopportune time.

The RL doesn't have true trim levels — it comes with or without a Technology Package that adds almost $3,000, and with or without a Collision Mitigation Braking System that adds another $3,800.

Exterior & Styling
With its redesigned hood, trunklid, nose, tail and rocker panels, the 2009 is recognizable as an RL, but only just. It joins the rest of the Acura lineup with a shieldlike "power plenum" grille that has as many detractors as admirers. I've long criticized fake metal in car interiors, but banishing it to the exterior wasn't what I had in mind. That said, on our gray test car, the grille is an acceptable accent color. Against a darker or more lively color, it would be more of a challenge.

Flanking the grille are more sharply defined headlight clusters than the 2008 had, incorporating standard xenon active headlights, which in the RL with Technology Package swivel in the direction of a turn. Look closely below the Acura logo on the grille and you'll see a window that marks the presence of a radar sensor that comes with the CMBS package and its adaptive cruise control.

One notable change in the rear is the incorporation of hexagonal chrome tailpipes under matching cutouts in the bumper — a look I always liked on the TL.

Because there are no trim levels, there's basically one exterior look and no factory options beyond the Tech and CMBS packages. There are some dealer-installable options, though, including a rear spoiler, bumper appliqué, splash guards and door-edge protection film.

Going & Stopping
Honda doesn't make a V-8 engine, so the 3.7-liter V-6 is the Honda and Acura brands' big Bertha. With a 10-horsepower increase over last year's 3.5-liter, its 300 horsepower is a healthy amount for a car this size, and the torque increase from 256 to 271 pounds-feet is even more significant, and clearly felt. The RL has more off-the-line gusto than I expected. To return to the TL comparison, the new SH-AWD version has the RL's larger engine, rated at 305 hp and 273 pounds-feet of torque. This incrementally higher output in a car weighing about 100 pounds less seems to give the TL an advantage.

Having a five-speed transmission rather than a six doesn't seem to hurt the RL's driving experience, but it can't be helping the mileage. Its EPA rating of 16/22 mpg city/highway is lower than that of the Lexus ES 350 (19/27 mpg), the base Mercedes-Benz E-Class (17/24 mpg) and the TL (18/26 mpg). Considering the RL's standard all-wheel drive, the gap narrows when you compare it to the TL with optional AWD (17/25 mpg). The Mercedes E350 4Matic gets 16/22 mpg, and if you jump up to the 382-hp V-8 in an E550 4Matic, the rating drops to 13/19 mpg. Perhaps the closest competitor in size and equipment, though more expensive, is the BMW 535xi, which matches the RL's all-wheel drive and 300 hp with a rating of 17/25 mpg.

The transmission operates in automatic Drive and Sport modes, the latter improving responsiveness and raising the rpm at which the gears shift. There are also shift paddles on the steering wheel for clutchless-manual operation. This feature works well enough, but I was pretty satisfied with the automatic mode. I also had no trouble with the antilock brakes, which include brake assist and electronic brake-force distribution.

Also standard are an electronic stability system and thus traction control, but the weather was pleasant when I had the RL, so I have no experience with it on snow- or rain-slicked roads. That's not to say the all-wheel drive doesn't make its presence known...

Ride & Handling
The new RL has an upgraded version of the all-wheel drive system it introduced, called Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. Now, the name's a little silly, but it's also simple and descriptive. Other such features are known as xDrive, Quattro, 4Matic, 4Motion, Symmetrical and even ATTESA (?). Acura just has Super-Handling. Who wouldn't want super handling? In some ways the system is super, in that it transforms what is fundamentally a front-wheel-drive car with lopsided weight distribution into one that feels nicely balanced. It does so, in part, through its ability to drive the outside rear wheel faster than the inside one. Though other automakers have begun to experiment with this capability, Acura was the first I'm aware of to do so, and the result is a remarkably well-mannered rear end in aggressive cornering. Apply the accelerator evenly through a turn, and you'll experience neither understeer nor oversteer. Though the system is fundamentally the same, Acura says its logic is improved and its reaction times are faster.

Changes to the springs and shock absorbers for 2009, plus a larger rear stabilizer bar and 18- rather than 17-inch wheels, result in a sporty ride that lets you know when you're on broken pavement, but does an admirable job of damping out the harshest undulations. I found the compromise to be quite good. Though I can't pinpoint the change, I like the revised steering, and I especially appreciate the smaller turning circle, now 36.1 feet, down from 39.6 feet.

The Inside
The 2009 model brings extensive interior changes, though not all shortcomings have been addressed. The comfortable front seats now have eight-way power adjustment plus lumbar, where they formerly had four-way. Active head restraints are standard up front, and a center head restraint has been added to the backseat. Heated front seats are standard, and the Tech Package adds a ventilation function not previously offered.

Though Acura claims the center control panel is more intuitive than in previous years, I consider it a low point. Some automakers have rationalized combining features into complex menu-driven, controller-knob-operated atrocities in the name of eradicating button overload — a condition I either haven't experienced or haven't feared. I must say, though, either the layout or the number of buttons or the small space into which the RL crams them is enough to change my mind. It's further frustrated by the presence of a multifunction controller knob that clearly isn't improving matters. Though I prefer a touch-screen, I recognize the desire to put the display up high, close to the driver's line of sight where it's likely to be out of reach. But if you're going to go the controller route, it should be closer to the driver than the RL's is.

Then there's the steering wheel, which has more buttons and switches than any I can remember. I count 14 and a blank, excluding the shift paddles and stalks. I can't say it caused a problem, but ... man, that's a lot of controls. The gear selector did cause a problem. Acura replaced the previous generation's serpentine shift gate (which I've always considered pointless) with a more conventional straight-line type. That's good, but the button atop the knob isn't very ergonomic. You have to push it down pretty far, and it just feels wrong. That was a minor annoyance, but one time I found myself still in gear when I thought I'd gone into Park. It could be a coincidence, but it happened with a control that had already stood out as odd.

Some flagship-luxury-sedan features help distinguish the RL from the TL, such as a powered rear window shade and manual side shades for the back doors, plus remote-collapsible rear head restraints that maximize the rear view when there's no one seated back there. The Tech package's navigation system includes a backup camera, which is always helpful, but it's not state-of-the-art. There are no lines on the image to show where your fenders will go as you back up — a relatively common feature that in the best systems also swing left and right as you turn the steering wheel. What is state-of-the-art about the system is the availability of AcuraLink onscreen weather information and the capacity to automatically reroute you if congestion occurs on a navigation route you've set up. Some systems just show traffic flow on a map.

Returning to the initial shortfall, the RL isn't significantly larger than the TL inside, either, with an interior volume of 99.1 cubic feet, versus the TL's 98.2 cu. ft. The RL is fractions of an inch roomier in dimensions like rear legroom, front and rear headroom, and rear shoulder room, but the TL has slightly more front legroom, front and rear hip room, and rear shoulder room. Overall, it's a wash. Neither car is particularly "cozy," to use the real-estate euphemism for "too small," but, again, we're far from full-size flagship accommodations.

Cargo
Likewise, the trunk is relatively small at 13.1 cubic feet, the same as the TL. The E-Class has 15.9, the ES 350 has 14.7 and the 5 Series has 14.0 cu. ft. The full-size luxury flagships, with closer to 20 cu. ft. in their short-wheelbase versions, are in a league Acura can't match, unless you're willing to consider an SUV.

Also, the backseat doesn't fold forward; there's only a pass-thru behind the backseat's center armrest. The same is true in the TL. Though a folding backseat is less common in full-size cars, there are models out there that offer it, as midsize cars often do, mitigating their smaller trunk sizes.

Safety
The RL is rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for its top scores in frontal-, side- and rear-impact crash tests. The new active head restraints have upped the rear-impact score two notches, from Marginal to Good (the highest rating).

The airbag complement includes dual-stage, dual-threshold frontal airbags, side-impact torso bags for the front seats and curtain airbags that deploy downward to cover the side windows, front and rear. Still a rare feature, an out-of-position sensor disables the side-impact torso bag if the front passenger is resting too close to the side, which is a potential hazard.

The most compelling safety feature you can get on the RL is the Collision Mitigation Braking System, which isn't the first feature to warn of an impending crash, but when it made its debut on the previous RL, it was the first to actually intervene and activate panic braking for you. CMBS does include a first-tier response that alerts the driver if the radar senses that the RL is closing too fast on another car or object, and you can even select the distance at which it warns you with an audible tone. Tier two is when it senses an imminent crash and triggers brake assist on its own. I did a live demo once in which I barreled into a moving obstacle as fast as I could. (Professional demonstration, closed course, etc.) The nose tapped the target, but CMBS slowed me down enough to where there would have been little or no impact. Every little bit helps in this situation, even if there's still contact.

RL in the Market
The Acura RL is simply an odd bird. Perhaps it would be as right as rain if there were no Acura TL — then Acura would just be a brand with no full-size car. Instead it's a brand with two cars of roughly the same size, one priced and equipped a bit higher. There's plenty to desire about the RL, not the least of which is the driving experience, but in these times of high fuel prices and an uncertain economy (to understate it), its higher price is tougher to justify over that of the comparably powered yet more efficient TL.

Until Acura comes out with a full-size flagship luxury cruiser like the LS 460, people will probably continue to consider it a near-luxury brand rather than a full-luxury one.

Send Joe an email 



2009 RL Video

Watch MotorWeek on PBS. Check MotorWeek.org for times and channels.

Latest 2009 RL Stories

Consumer Reviews

Exterior Styling
(4.8)
Performance
(5.0)
Interior Design
(4.5)
Comfort
(5.0)
Reliability
(5.0)
Value For The Money
(5.0)

What Drivers Are Saying

(5.0)

Most reliable and safest car I owned also quiet

by Julibrd from Chula Vista California on August 11, 2018

This car meets all my needs. Plenty of leg room front and back as well as great pick up speed and very quiet. Can?t feel change of gears. Read full review

(5.0)

Awesome road trip vehicle

by Mid West road tripper from Kansas City, MO on July 25, 2017

It's a great vehicle - very comfortable, well made, quality amenities and gets surprisingly better fuel economy than I had anticipate for such a (relatively) heavy all wheel drive vehicle - I average ... Read full review

Safety & Recalls

Recalls

The 2009 Acura RL currently has 4 recalls

IIHS Crash and Rollover Test Ratings

Based on 2009 Acura RL 3.7

IIHS rates vehicles good, acceptable, marginal, or poor.

Head Restraints and Seats

Dynamic Rating
good
Overall Rear
good
Seat Head/Restraint Geometry
good

Moderate overlap front

Chest
good
Head/Neck
good
Left Leg/Foot
good
Overall Front
good
Restraints
good
Right Leg/Foot
good
Structure/safety cage
good

Side

Driver Head Protection
good
Driver Head and Neck
good
Driver Pelvis/Leg
good
Driver Torso
good
Overall Side
good
Rear Passenger Head Protection
good
Rear Passenger Head and Neck
good
Rear Passenger Pelvis/Leg
good
Rear Passenger Torso
good
Structure/safety cage
acceptable
Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a nonprofit research and communications organization funded by auto insurers.

Manufacturer Warranty

  • Bumper-to-Bumper

    48 months / 50,000 miles

  • Powertrain

    72 months / 70,000 miles

  • Roadside Assistance

    48 months / 50,000 miles

CPO Program & Warranty

Certified Pre-Owned by Acura

Program Benefits

24-hour roadside assistance, trip-interruption services, trip-planning services, emergency fuel delivery, emergency lockout service and Acura Concierge Service

  • Limited Warranty

    7 years / 100,000 miles

    1-year/12,000-mile non-powertrain warranty begins after expiration of original warranty (4 years/50,000 miles) or on date sold as certified (no deductible); 7-year/100,000-mile powertrain warranty begins from the original in-service date (no deductible)
  • Eligibility

    Under 6 years / 80,000 miles

    Vehicles receive a 182 point inspection and reconditioning.

    See inspection details.

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Cars.com Car Seat Check

Certified child passenger safety technicians conduct hands-on tests of a car’s Latch system and check the vehicle’s ability to accommodate different types of car seats. The RL received the following grades on a scale of A-F.*
* This score may not apply to all trims, especially for vehicles with multiple body styles that affect the space and design of the seating.

Warranty FAQs

What is a Bumper-to-Bumper warranty?

Often called a basic warranty or new-vehicle warranty, a bumper-to-bumper policy covers components like air conditioning, audio systems, vehicle sensors, fuel systems and major electrical components. Most policies exclude regular maintenance like fluid top offs and oil changes, but a few brands have separate free-maintenance provisions, and those that do offer them is slowly rising. Bumper-to-bumper warranties typically expire faster than powertrain warranties.

What is a Powertrain warranty?

Don't be misled a 10-year or 100,000-mile powertrain warranty doesn't promise a decade of free repairs for your car. It typically covers just the engine and transmission, along with any other moving parts that lead to the wheels, like the driveshaft and constant velocity joints. Some automakers also bundle seat belts and airbags into their powertrain warranties. With a few exceptions, powertrain warranties don't cover regular maintenance like engine tuneups and tire rotations.

What is included in Roadside Assistance?

Some automakers include roadside assistance with their bumper-to-bumper or powertrain warranties, while others have separate policies. These programs cover anything from flat-tire changes and locksmith services to jump-starts and towing. Few reimburse incidental costs like motel rooms (if you have to wait for repairs).

What other services could be included in a warranty?

Some automakers include free scheduled maintenance for items such as oil changes, air filters and tire rotations. Some include consumables including brake pads and windshield wipers; others do not. They are typically for the first couple of years of ownership of a new car.

What does CPO mean?

A certified pre-owned or CPO car has been inspected to meet minimum quality standards and typically includes some type of warranty. While dealers and third parties certify cars, the gold standard is an automaker-certified vehicle that provides a factory-backed warranty, often extending the original coverage. Vehicles must be in excellent condition and have low miles and wear to be certified, which is why off-lease vehicles feed many CPO programs.

See also the latest CPO incentives by automaker