The 2009 Acura RL tops safety rankings and bristles with technology, but its detached driving feel and over-the-top front-end styling remove it from the best-in-class competition.
The luxury-car experts at TheCarConnection.com drove the 2009 Acura RL for this hands-on Bottom Line road test. Editors also read reviews of the 2009 RL and compiled this conclusive profile of the big Acura sedan from that research. TheCarConnection.com also adds comparison information to help make an informed purchase decision.
It's a difficult task finding a car more technologically advanced than the 2009 Acura RL. There may not be one; the new RL sports a class-leading array of electronics that help it provide quick, supple transportation to four or five passengers. With a base price of about $47,000, the 2009 RL sits in a hotly contested segment of BMWs, Benzes, and Lexuses but is far more at home in a smaller subset of all-wheel-drive, near-luxury sedans that includes the Audi A6 and Volvo S80. While the Acura delivers very comfortable transportation—reliable too, according to nearly all sources—it's also among the safest sedans you can buy, if not one of the most engaging or best-looking.
The RL, Acura's largest four-door, receives a nose-and-tail makeover for 2009, and it's a mismatch made in some focus group. The huge, shield-shaped grille clashes with the subtle, innocuous roofline. The nose vaguely recalls a bottle opener. The rear end sits plainly, with a wide band of metallic trim and LED taillights to liven it up. None of the aggression of the front end works its way inside the Acura RL; the cabin's handsome waterfall of wood trim is punctuated by metallic-trimmed controls, muted tones of brown or gray, and lots of high-quality leather and plastic. It's a quiet, relaxed feel despite the array of buttons and knobs that run the show. A more extensive wood-trim package is quite handsome and well worth the upgrade price.
On paper, the 2009 Acura RL performs right on par with many luxury-sedan competitors. A big, 3.7-liter V-6 with direct injection pushes out 300 horsepower and 271 pound-feet of torque, but power delivery peaks near the top of its rev range at and above 5,000 rpm. It gives the RL a somewhat hard-breathing feel, though step-off from a standstill feels brisk, and its five-speed, paddle-shifted automatic responds quickly to flicks of the fingertips. The impression of outright performance is blunted by a few factors: namely, a 4,000-pound curb weight, standard all-wheel drive controlled by computers, and throttle input also controlled by computers. The RL responds to inputs with less mechanical precision than you might expect from the company that built the NSX supercar and the Integra hatchback. It's a bit ponderous, not at all zestful, though technically accomplished. Ride quality is smooth and luxury-like, and fuel economy is like other luxury sedans in the same price class: a mediocre 16 mpg city, 22 highway.
It's amply comfortable inside, but the 2009 Acura RL is a four-seater at best. Sitting on a 110.2-inch wheelbase, just under 196 inches long and 72.7 inches wide, it's a large vehicle. Interior space, particularly in the backseat, seems less impressive because of the RL's tall body sides. The ten-way power front seats themselves are Volvo-like: soft, giving, and supportive when they need to be. The headroom isn't erased by a deep sunroof frame, and all the controls fall easily to hand—though figuring out some of them can be a challenge (more on that later). The rear seats are a little less impressive in the sensations of space, but knee room is still fine even when adults take up all four seats. The trunk is a bit skimpy—the 2010 Ford Taurus SHO is marginally longer and wider, and its trunk is 65 percent larger. Where the 2009 RL wins is in the construction quality and noise levels inside; the woods are glossy and rich, the leather inviting, and the noises filtered out with thicker glass and an active noise-cancellation system.
There are no safer sedans on the road than the 2009 RL. Acura's big four-door scores five stars in all safety tests from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and earns a Top Safety Pick rating from the IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety). A structurally sound frame filled with lots of safety equipment gets the credit, and it's complemented by six airbags as standard equipment, all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes with stability and traction control systems, and tire pressure monitors. Adaptive cruise control and automatic headlights that trace the road ahead are also optional.
Along with safety, the Acura RL's features are its best attributes. There's almost no end to the list of standard and optional equipment ladled into the RL. Each comes with a 10-speaker Bose sound system with a six-DVD-Audio changer, AM/FM/XM tuner, MP3 jack, and USB connectivity. Bluetooth is standard, as is a sunroof, a Smart Entry keyless system, xenon headlights, and active headlights. An industry-leading navigation system is also standard; it integrates with available real-time traffic data from XM for exceptional route and guidance information, though entry via the large knob in the center of the RL's dash can be a chore. Leather seats, power sunshades, and dual-zone automatic climate control complete the coddling.
Two of the best features add value to the 2009 Acura RL's price tag of more than $47,000. The first is Acura's reputation for reliability; the second is a four-year, 50,000-mile service package that pays for oil changes and major repairs in that term. Performance takes a backseat in the 2009 RL—but technology and durability certainly don't.