For 2009, Acura has tweaked its flagship RL with a new grille and a revised trunk design, but those are just the most obvious changes. Under the skin lies a more powerful engine and even more technology than before.
A 3.7-liter engine replaces the previous 3.5. The larger engine is not only lighter, but it also offers Acura's VTEC variable valve timing and more low-speed torque. Acura said this is the first time it has been able to apply its VTEC system to a single-overhead-cam engine.
The transmission is a five-speed automatic that can be shifted manually with paddles on the steering wheel. Even though many competitors now have six-speed automatics, Acura's five-speed seemed to be more than adequate.
The RL's base price is $46,280. It is $49,900 with the technology package and $53,700 with the collision mitigation system.
It's not easy to compete against the BMW 5-series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-class without a V-8, but Acura has been steadfast that a V-6 can provide adequate power with less weight and better fuel efficiency. The recent surge in gas prices has reinforced the company's strategy.
One of the RL's strengths is its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. This was one of the first systems capable of dividing power between the rear wheels, and that adds to the car's stability. In some turns, the outside rear wheel gets more power to help the car pivot around the corner. If the car wants to skid because the turn is too sharp, the outside rear wheel gets less power and counteracts the tendency for the rear end to slide out.
In normal driving, the system sends about 70 percent of the power to the front wheels and 30 percent to the rear, but that proportion can become 30 percent front and 70 percent rear, as conditions require.
The new RL has adaptive cruise control and a collision mitigation system that uses radar to monitor the distance between the car ahead, in addition to a standard Bose surround-sound stereo, a satellite-linked navigation system with voice control and real-time traffic information, Bluetooth phone connectivity, active noise cancellation and a solar-sensing climate control system that is linked to the GPS system.
The RL's cabin is well designed and comfortable. The instrument panel is punctuated with a handsome sweep of wood accented by brushed silver trim. The center stack is divided into specific sections for climate control, audio and navigation. Each system can be operated by hard buttons or with a knob that works like a computer mouse. The knob is intuitive and its operation is easy to understand, unlike some of the systems found in other luxury models.
Acura's voice-activated navigation system is one of the best. For example, if you ask for the nearest French restaurant, it lists the restaurants by their Zagat ratings and prices and will give directions.
In addition to XM satellite radio, the RL's Bose surround-sound stereo is exceptional. The concert-level sound quality means your favorite music probably sounds better in the car than at home.
Blue light-emitting diodes are placed throughout the interior to cast a gentle light on various controls at night.
Acura's update of the RL brings improved drivability and function, although the new grille looks a bit heavy-handed.
The base price of the test car was $53,700. The destination fee of $760 brought the sticker price to $54,460.
Four years or 50,000 miles with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.
2009 Acura RL
Engine: 3.7-liter, 300-hp V-6
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,110 lbs.
Base price: $53,700
As driven: $54,460
Mpg rating: 16 city, 22 hwy.
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