Photos: Honda/Acura. Click image to enlarge
by Paul Williams
Washington D.C. – Back in 1988, Acura was first out of the gate in North America as a Japanese luxury car, but the division has had its ups and downs since then.
The ups include the introduction of the splendid and exotic NSX as a “halo” car for the brand in 1991, and the downs include the gradual disappearance of that fine car, along with a string of somewhat indistinct vehicles through the ‘nineties.
But Acura, now pushing a combination of high technology, luxury and performance, is arguably back in the saddle. The recently introduced TSX and TL have caught the attention of consumers, and the 2005 RL, a $69,500 bundle of silicon chips, leather and horsepower should interest luxury buyers looking for a state-of-the-art alternative to German mainstays BMW, Audi and Mercedes Benz.
Like all Acuras, power is not an issue, but unlike some Acuras, neither is the front-drive specification known for its torque-steer under full throttle. That’s because the RL’s 300-horsepower, 3.5-litre V6 with variable valve timing, energetically propels the car through a new Super Handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD) system.
The engine, according to Acura, is the world’s highest output, naturally aspirated V6 available, but gives better fuel economy, is lighter, and produces less emissions than the engine it replaces.
The five-speed automatic transmission uses Grade Logic Control to reduce unnecessary shifting, and features Formula 1-style paddle shifters on the steering wheel should you wish to (literally) take things into your own hands.
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Aluminum is used extensively in this car to keep the weight down, from the revised front and rear suspension, to the hood and fenders to structural components like chassis subframes.
The Super Handling (don’t you love the name?) all-wheel drive system uses sensors to detect the driver’s input, yaw rate (rotation on its axis) and lateral forces on the car, and then sends varying amounts of torque to the wheels through an electromagnetic clutch. Optimum torque is continuously distributed both front-to-rear and, at the rear, side-to-side, with the system making instantaneous and continuous adjustments as you drive.
A brake-based electronic stability control system and traction control further contributes to vehicle stability. These systems, combined with the stiff and lightweight chassis, produce an exceptionally well-balanced vehicle that’s easy to control on a variety of road conditions.
Exterior styling of the RL continues the aerodynamic TSX and TL theme, but the car looks somewhat more muscular due to the rounded fenders front and rear (the car is virtually the same size as the TL in all exterior dimensions).
Inside, occupants enjoy a spacious cabin, bigger in the rear than the TL, that’s tastefully appointed with leather and wood accents throughout. The sweep of the dashboard, which continues into the front doors is perhaps reminiscent of the 5-Series BMW, which, along with the Audi A6 an Mercedes-Benz E320, is suggested by Acura as their direct competitors (others would be the Jaguar S-Type and Lexus GS300/430).
The amount of standard equipment, however, sets this car apart from its competition, as there are no options.
The list is long, and includes the all-wheel drive system and electronic stability controls, active front lighting (the headlights swivel up to 20-degrees based on vehicle speed and steering input), and a keyless, programmable, access system, where each key has a “digital identity” that remembers seat and mirror positions, audio preferences and climate settings.
A GPS-linked dual-zone, dual-mode climate control system allows driver and passenger to set temperature and airflow modes independently. It factors in the position of the sun and adjusts the cabin climate accordingly. For Canada only, headlight washers and heated, ventilated, perforated leather front seats warm and cool their occupants using three fans built into the seat structure.
The navigation system is also standard, along with a 10-speaker Acura/Bose DVD-Audio system tuned to deliver surround-sound to all seating positions in the car. The RL is enabled to connect with your Bluetooth cell phone for hands-free communications.
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Active Noise Cancellation uses two microphones in the car to detect low frequency booming from the exhaust system. The system then sends a “reverse phased audio signal” through the audio amplifier to cancel out the noise, which quietens the interior by up to 10-decibels. This technology works whether the audio system is on or off. However, when the Bose audio system is on, another technology called AudioPilot makes adjustments to the sound to compensate for noise generated by surrounding traffic and varying road surfaces.
An interface dial (looking suspiciously like BMW’s I-Drive) controls audio, climate and navigation functions by scrolling through menus and selecting options. All of these functions, however, are duplicated with knobs and switches on the three-section centre console.
Every other luxury amenity seems present and accounted for. There’s even a power sunscreen for the rear window. A few accessories are available, including interior trim kits and 18″ wheels (replacing the standard 17″ wheels).
But you won’t want for much.
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The twisty Shenandoah Circuit of Virginia’s Summit Point Motorsports Park provided an opportunity to drive the RL back-to-back with various German competitors and, credit to Acura, the outgoing 2004 RL.
The stability and balance of the 2005 RL in comparison with its competition was immediately evident, with the rear-wheel drive BMW 530i providing the closest driving experience. The RL’s all-wheel drive system should provide superior traction and safety in snowy, icy conditions when they arrive.
As far as the outgoing RL is concerned, this new model is simply not the same car. However, with an MSRP of $69,500, there is a significant jump in price over the outgoing 2004 model which is $55,800.