2002 Acura 3.5 RL
Click image to enlarge

by Ted Laturnus

Although Honda’s upscale division – Acura – is currently enjoying a lot of welcome attention with its award-winning RSX sport coupe and MDX sport utility vehicle, there’s another, less well-known model in their line-up that has been quietly posting decent, if not exceptional, sales figures over the past few years: the top-of-the-line 3.5 RL.

The 3.5 RL is the biggest sedan Acura makes. In overall size and scale, it’s about the same size as an Audi A6 or Cadillac Catera, and weighs in at 1768 kilograms, or 3898 pounds. It’s not the largest luxury car on the market, but, by Honda’s standards, the 3.5 RL is huge. It comes as a four-door sedan only and the emphasis is definitely on smoothness and comfort. The 3.5 RL is not, by anyone’s interpretation, a hot rod.

2002 Acura 3.5 RL
US model shown

2002 Acura 3.5 RL

2002 Acura 3.5 RL

2002 Acura 3.5 RL
Click image to enlarge

Which is kind of interesting, because it’s powered by one of the best engines in the business. Boasting 15 more horsepower than last year’s version, the 2002 3.5RL has a 3.5 litre V6 that develops 225 horsepower at 5200 rpm and has four valves per cylinder and a single overhead camshaft. More importantly, it has Honda’s V-tec variable valve technology, which means the engine gets a kind of second wind at higher rpm, thanks to increased valve lift and camshaft duration. Honda pioneered this technology in its Formula One cars and it’s now commonplace – in one form or another – throughout the automobile industry. The 3.5 RL engine is essentially the same powerplant found in Honda’s Odyssey mini-van with slightly less power. It’s mated to a four-speed automatic transmission only and has what Honda calls Grade Logic….in other words, the transmission senses driving conditions and “hunts” for more or less power as needed.

As you might expect, the 3.5 RL also offers very good fuel economy for a car of this size: 13.4 L/100 km, or 21 miles per gallon, in the city and 9.1 L/100 km, or 31 miles per gallon on the highway, according to Transport Canada.

The 3.5 RL is not one of those upscale cars that’s loaded to the gunwales with convenience features and luxury modcons. On the scale of things, it’s actually quite basic inside, with the usual array of goodies that include a climate control system, leather interior with wood trim, a Bose CD player, heated front seats, power windows with a one-touch down and up feature, and a power sunroof. That’s not to say it’s a bare-bones car, however. All the switches and controls are logically placed – very Accord-esque – and the overall feeling of the car is one of airiness and space. Peripheral visibility is, as usual, first-rate, and larger drivers may find the 3.5 RL a little more accommodating than some other models in this market. The 3.5 RL boasts 3143 litres, or 111 cubic feet, of interior volume, which is pretty generous. BMW’s 5-series, by way of comparison, feels much more restrictive behind the wheel.

Safety equipment includes front and side airbags for both passenger and driver, anti-locking four-wheel-disc brakes, a traction control system, and a vehicle stability assist system. The airbags also have a “smart” detection feature which de-powers the airbags if a small person sits in the front seat…..very similar to Mercedes’ “BabySmart” set-up. In fact, there are no options for the 3.5 RL….although American buyers can apparently order a DVD-based GPS system. Price tag for the 3.5 RL is equally uncomplicated: $54,000-flat before taxes.

The 3.5 RL has plenty of cargo room; there’s 419 litres, or 14.8 cubic feet of trunk space. This compares very favourably with other cars in this market segment….much roomier than the Lexus ES300, for example. The 3.5 RL may not be a driver’s car, but it is a great cruiser, and I suspect, just the ticket for a lot of older drivers.

It’s also getting a little long in the tooth, and I would guess, is about ready for a refit or redesign of some kind. No word from Honda yet, but in this market, you can’t afford to rest on your laurels.

Technical Data:

2002 Acura 3.5 RL
Base price $54,000
Type 4-door, 5 passenger luxury sedan
Layout transverse front engine/front-wheel-drive
Engine 3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves
Horsepower 225 @ 5200 rpm
Torque 231 ft-lb @ 2800 rpm
Transmission 4 speed automatic
Tires 225/55R-16
Curb weight 1768 kg (3898 lb.)
Wheelbase 2910 mm (114.6 in.)
Length 4995 mm (196.6 in.)
Width 1820 mm (71.6 in.)
Height 1385 mm (54.5 in.)
Trunk capacity 419 litres (14.8 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.4 l/100 km (21 mpg)
  Hwy: 9.1 l/100 km (31 mpg)
Warranty 3 yrs/60,000 km
Powertrain warranty 5 yrs/100,000 km

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