Generally speaking, cars fit into categories. Sure, there's some overlap, but usually a car fits into a proverbial box. Here at, we like to think that a family car doesn't have to fit into any box. Acura seems to be thinking along similar lines with its RL sedan. The new RL is a car that straddles the line between performance and luxury. No boxes allowed.

The Acura RL isn't exactly all-new for 2009, but it's mostly new. Acura didn't really redesign the car. Instead, it tweaked just about everything inside and out to bring about a subtle, yet pervasive change. The engine is bigger and faster. The suspension and handling got sportier, especially with new paddle shifters on the steering wheel. The navigation system got the addition of real-time traffic and weather information. Somehow the styling of the RL got both bolder and more streamlined. I don't know how they did that.

Driving the RL, it's easy to forget how powerful the engine is, or how much technology goes into making everything easy for the driver. The RL comes with AWD standard, and it was upgraded this year. This isn't the offroad vehicle kind of four-wheel drive; this four-wheel drive gets each tire independently working to propel the car forward, while making sure all the tires maintain traction in turns and slippery conditions. The ride is just stiff enough to provide a great feel of the road without turning speed bumps into a daily trial. Whether you're making a U-turn or navigating a parking lot, turning is a breeze. This mama really enjoyed all the power and control, something I don't feel very often.

Depending on where you're standing, the look of the RL changes. From the front, the bold, metallic grille looks a bit menacing. This isn't a car you'd want to meet in a dark alley, at least not judging by the face of it. From the side and rear, the RL is less threatening. It has a strong profile and seems to lean forward due to a couple of chrome strips lining the windows and the lower part of the body. The dual chrome-tipped exhaust ports speak of performance; more chrome and lights placed at the very edges of the rear corners create visual width. The edges of the body are slightly rounded, but not bulging. The RL seems sculpted, and to me it looks expensive. The overall effect is elegant, strong and serious-looking, but not somber. This just doesn't look like a car you want to mess with, that's all I'm sayin'.

Of course, if this is your car, the RL is perfectly obliging. The doors open wide, making entry and exit easy for everyone. A smart key unlocks the doors as you approach, which means you don't even have to push a button. Even little hands have no problems opening the doors or getting them shut once inside. The trunk opens by remote and has plenty of room for a major shopping run. There's a pass-thru opening for skis, but the rear seats don't fold down for more cargo space.


Family Friendly (Not Really, Fair, Great, Excellent): Great

Fun-Factor (None, Some, Good Times, Groove-On): Groove On

The RL's interior is a subtle blend of neutral colors and textures that creates a peaceful haven. At least until the kids get into it. Wood trim and brushed metal adorn the dash and instrument panel, and the rich leather seats are both heated and cooled, and they adjust in 10 directions at the touch of a button. The steering wheel has controls for cruise control, Bluetooth and the audio system. The voice-recognition system allows you to get directions from the navigation system and adjust the climate controls. Of course, you can also do that with a knob on the center stack, too. The systems are really easy to figure out, especially considering all the options that are available. A USB input allows you to listen to music from an iPod or "memory stick," and the Bose stereo system sounds great whether you're using the six-disc CD changer, XM Satellite Radio or an MP3 player.

In the front, there are two cupholders. A two-level center console houses the AUX and USB inputs as well as a charging point, so all your electronics and cords are kept out of sight. Of course, that means you won't have room for a purse or much else but a pack of wipes up front. The interior is quiet, with some noticeable engine noise but very little noise from the road. Which is all the better to listen to the great stereo, right?

The backseat of the RL is roomier than last year's and fit three kids in booster seats with no problem. In the outboard seats especially my booster seats fit perfectly with no tilting or sliding. While my 8-year-old had no issues at all with the seat belts, my 5-year-old struggled with finding just the right angle to push his belt into the receptor. I had to turn around more than a few times to get it for him, and it required some hand strength to do. Still, most things were a breeze in the back of the RL. A fold-down armrest provides two pop-out cupholders but no additional storage. There's a power sunshade on the rear window and manual, retractable sunshades in the rear doors. Vents in the back of the center console cool the folks in back. The Latch connectors are a bit buried, but not completely unreachable.


Storage Compartments (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Ample

Cargo/Trunk Space (Puny, Fair, Ample, Galore): Fair

The 2009 RL is packed with enough safety features to please even the most protective mommies. Passive safety systems include dual-stage, dual-threshold airbags in the front seats, which have a sensor to determine if the front passenger is large enough to be protected by an airbag. There's also active head restraints that guard against head and neck injuries. Side curtain airbags protect front and rear passengers.

The optional Collision Mitigation Braking System is a fabulous new feature in the RL. The intelligent cruise control uses radar to maintain a safe distance between you and the car in front of you. If you get too close, the system will beep at you, even if you aren't using the cruise control. If a front or rear-end collision becomes unavoidable, the RL applies brake pressure and tightens the seat belts. Of course, no one wants to get into an accident, and the RL does its best to keep you on the road where you belong. The AWD system maintains traction on the road, and electronically managed antilock brakes help avoid skids. Daytime running lights keep you visible to other drivers, and a deformable hood even protects pedestrians. How considerate is that?


In Diapers: Plenty of legroom means that a rear-facing child-safety seat won't put front passengers in the glove box. Multiple sunshades help keep the sun out of baby's eyes.

In School: Booster seats fit perfectly, but the seat belt can be hard for little hands to manage.

Teens: Rear vents and multiple charging points let teens take care of themselves.