The RL is Acura's flagship sedan, but you knew that, right? No? We're not surprised. As Honda's luxury division, Acura easily can be overlooked in the land of Lexus, BMW and the like. The latest RL has undergone a facelift much like its stablemate, the TL, that reins in the previous model's "beak" grille. Is that enough to help it stand out?
Appearance: Problem No. 1 for the RL is that while it's a handsome car, it's also generic. Peter likens it to a male TV anchor: polished but indistinguishable from the crowd. Even the new silver-tone grille seems subdued when compared with other Acuras. Our tester definitely benefited from its black paint, which was set off by chrome and silver-tone trim.
Performance: Handling is a strong point, given that the RL has Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which is standard. The ride is engineered for comfort more than performance, but that's not a slight. Peter thinks the RL breeds driver confidence with its sure-footed and agile feel. The RL also now has a 6-speed automatic with sequential sportshift, which we found to be a refined gearbox that did its work smoothly. There are paddle shifters if you want to have a little fun by shifting for yourself. Now let's talk power plant: The RL, like all Honda vehicles, doesn't have a V-8 option. For most of us, the 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 can be a lively drive. Still, its competitors have optional V-8s, and there are those who like their luxury to come with some extra cylinders. A couple of nits: We felt the brakes could use a little more stopping power, and the mpg seems mediocre for a V-6 at 17 city and 24 highway. Lyra also found the turning radius to be a little too wide.
Interior: Our RL had the pricey ($4,000) Tech package option, which includes adaptive headlights that swivel when you turn, a backup camera, rear parking sensors, solar-sensing climate control and a navigation system that has features like Zagat restaurant ratings. As with most Acuras, the fit and finish are excellent, and the quiet cabin is an attractive mix of leather and wood grain. We also liked the comfortable seats, which are heated/cooled and have a 10-way power adjustment for driver and front passenger. The rear seats, although a bit snug, are comfortable with plenty of legroom. The 8-inch navigation screen sits high on the center console, but the buttons are small and clustered confusingly. Lyra wasn't fond of what she called the "barn door" armrest, which has a dual split lid. For our sunny weather, we liked the rear automatic power shade, as well as the manual shades for the rear side doors.
Our 3 favorites
Build: The doors thud, the interior is quiet and the road feel is secure.
SH-AWD: I agree with Lyra on this — it may be the car's best feature.
Dash: I liked the simple layout and gauges.
SH-AWD: Super indeed. Great grip on corners and in bad weather.
Reliability: Acura has a near-sterling reputation.
Rear shades: Helps keep the bright sun out.
The bottom line: We like a lot about the RL, which does many things well but lacks the look-at-me quality you expect in a flagship sedan. But it's definitely worth your consideration if style isn't your main concern.