First Drive: 2005 Acura RL
Luxury recast with Super Handling
MotorTrend, September 2004
Base price $48,000 (est)
Vehicle layout Front engine, AWD, 5-door, 5-pass sedan
Engine 3.5L/300-hp V-6, SOHC, 4 valves/cyl, variable
0-60 mph, sec 6.0 (MT est.)
On-sale date October 2004
In a startling wake-up call, Acura will replace the sleepy, long-in-the-tooth 3.5RL luxury sedan this fall with an all-new RL defined by power, technology, and elegance. Given that the 3.5RL dates back to the early 1990s, the 2005 RL feels two-generations newer, with major structural and component improvements and numerous, high-tech advances.
A more athletic package, the RL measures three inches shorter than the 3.5RL, an inch wider, 2.6 inches taller, and has a 4.4-inch shorter wheelbase. Yet, through packaging efficiencies, the cabin is longer, and several key passenger space measurements are more generous. The new structure makes extensive use of high-tensile and super-high-tensile steel, helping the new sedan boast a 33-percent gain in body rigidity. With the additional technology systems to be added to the RL, weight was a key engineering focus addressed through aluminum hood, fenders, decklid, subframes, and bumper beams. Further pounds were shaved using magnesium for the cylinder head covers and seat frames, with the trickest dietary measure being a carbon-fiber-reinforced driveshaft. In the end, the RL picks up only 100 pounds over its FWD predecessor.
The solid platform is dressed with a slippery body, touting a 0.29 coefficient of aerodynamic drag thanks to numerous wind cheating measures. Beyond traditional wind tunnel-shaped spoilers, the RL employs aero-tuned undercovers for the engine, suspension, exhaust, and muffler. However, the slickest cheat can be seen on the side glass, where the door glass fits perfectly flush, rather than recessed into the door frame.
Eradicating any Buick connotation from the letters "RL," the new flagship sedan boasts the most powerful engine in Acura's history: a 3.5L/300-hp SOHC V-6. Trumping even the NSX's output, this sophisticated six-cylinder is mated with a five-speed automatic transmission, with both manual gear-shift operation and well-crafted steering wheel paddle shifters. With a full 75 more horsepower than the 2004 model, the new ULEV-compliant engine bests its key competitors base offerings by a similar amount and even rivals their step-up V-8s. This newfound muscle comes from a high-inertia, dual-stage intake manifold (15 hp), internal engine efficiencies (40 hp), and variable flow-rate exhaust (20 hp).
Putting this richly refined power to the ground is a breakthrough all-wheel-drive system humbly called Super Handling (SH-AWD). While most AWD systems route power front and rear as needed, the SH-AWD platform also distinguishes between left and right rear wheels.
During straight-line driving and light turning at moderate throttle, up to 70 percent of torque is delivered to the front wheels. During full-throttle, straight-line acceleration, up to 40 percent of power is sent to the rear wheels. So while the system biases the front wheels during moderate driving conditions, SH-AWD transfers up to 70 percent of torque to rear wheels during hard cornering. It then counters understeer by spinning the outside rear wheel faster than the average speed of the front wheels to aid turning and help maintain a neutral balance. Ultimately, this smart system makes the car feel always braced for dynamic maneuvers, without the driver being reminded of the torque redistribution. It just works.
Technology innovations continue inside, where the passengers are welcomed by deep, sumptuously padded leather seats in the attractive, upscale cabin. Center stage is a complicated paddle control that demonstrates how effective the BMW iDrive concept can be. Rotating, sliding, and depressing the textured dial navigates through onscreen menus to intuitively access audio, climate, and navigation systems. Yet the real genius is in the key functions represented with traditional buttons. Need to tweak the temperature, select a radio station, or summon a map? Quick, one-touch buttons get the job done.
While playing with the center stack, three features standout: the Bose DVD Audio with convincing studio-like surround sound; exemplary XM Satellite Radio integration with secondary display at windshield base; and voice-recognition, full-U.S.A. navigation system featuring the Zagat Restaurant Guide and real-time traffic for 20 major metropolitan areas via XM NavTraffic. Gadget geeks will appreciate Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free dialing and the AcuraLink system that allows the manufacturer to download messages to the car, such as service reminders or tips on operation.
The RL provided an exceptionally quiet, refined ride through the rolling West Virginia hills where we sampled a pre-production model. Accelerating with throttle-by-wire, shifting with buttons, and being simply dazzled by an entertainment system that makes our home stereo seem quaint, we experienced luxury in a way the previous car could never dream of delivering.
On the Summit Point Raceway road course, the RL tackled tight S-turns, decreasing radius arcs, and chicanes with equal poise. The SH-AWD coupled with Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA) enable the sedan to race through the turns, remaining balanced, predictable, and smooth. The driving ease was magnified when we experienced the same course in a trio of Teutonic rivals - the final proof that Acura now has the goods to push its way to the top of lux shoppers' lists.
A wonderfully balanced, premium package overflowing with technology, the 2005 RL is a highly desirable 21st century flagship for Acura and true threat in a hotly contested segment.