2009 Acura RL

Cloak and dagger: Acura restyles its often-overlooked RL with a dash of danger

2009 Acura RL
Share this Article

If you’re in the market for a luxury car that’s a bit different, choices are slim. But I wager that Acura’s RL may just be what you’re looking for — if you can forgive a few foibles.

FAST FACTS

1. The RL’s 300 horsepower isn’t going to set the world alight, but it is competitive with rivals.

2. The standard car has pretty much everything, but radar cruise control and “solar-sensing climate control” can be ordered

3. Who says Japanese cars no longer undercut their rivals? The RL is $6,000 less than a BMW 535i xDrive Sedan.

THE UGLY STICK

Apparently, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But in this case I disagree. If you take a look at the “old” RL and the “new” RL, it’s obvious that a quick restyling of the front and rear fascia was all Acura had in mind to make it look like its siblings. That mentality created two problems. First, the RL is no longer one of the most attractive modern luxury cars on sale. Second, it looks just like the better-selling (and better performing) TL SH-AWD — that also happens to be less expensive. Sales of the RL were never very strong, sure, but at least buyers could claim the extra went toward paying Acura’s talented design team.

Where the extra cash goes to now, I don’t know…oh wait, what about its toys?

BUTTONS GALORE

“How bad could it be,” you ask? Well, on the steering wheel alone, there are 19 buttons. That’s more than enough to make a Blackberry addict feel at home. Acura has shied away from installing a BMW iDrive-like system on the RL, instead content to give every single vehicle function its own button. Except the coolest one.

They call it a “GPS-linked solar sensor.” Say, for instance, you park beside a building and leave the RL stationary for several hours. The sun will pass overhead, East to West, gradually sending that building’s shadow onto different parts of the interior. The materials heat up inside the car at different rates; the right side of the vehicle may have leather cool to the touch — but the passenger seat may feel like a barbecued cowboy boot. Acura’s sensor uses GPS to detect where the sun will be at any given moment, and use the climate control to keep each side of the car at the same temperature.

It’s all automatic, too. But you’ll have to buy the RL with the “Technology Package” for $50,300 to get it.

JAPANESE SENSIBILITIES

In Japan, this car is sold as the Honda Legend, the latest in a long-running line of cars that feature the company’s very latest technology. You may scoff at the number of buttons inside the car, or how terrible it looks, but the entire package feels so incredibly refined.

Technology is used in the RL to improve it; nothing was installed onto the car to its detriment. Everything from window sunshades to how the Bose stereo system can actively cancel unwanted cabin noise by as much as 10dB are designed to make the driving experience as relaxing as possible. AcuraLink realtime traffic updates, Zagat restaurant ratings, and a (pretty good) voice command system are all technologies designed to be utilized on a daily basis — not just popped into the car like many manufacturers do to claim a “world’s first.”

TECHNOVERLOAD

Back to the noise canceling system for a minute: it uses two microphones located in the ceiling to monitor for low-frequency noise in the cabin. When sound is detected, the Active Noise Control (ANC) unit passes an inverse waveform to the Bose amplifier unit, where it is amplified to an inaudible volume that cancels the original sound.

Some things on the car can be a little unnerving, though. Take the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) for instance. Featured on my tester, CMBS is powered by a radar transmitter mounted behind the RL’s grille. If it detects a possible collision, it will sound audio and visual alerts to warn the driver.

Or, if you don’t heed the warnings (like I didn’t — and not a scratch on me!) CMBS will begin light braking and automatically “tug at the driver’s seat belt.” Really. It’s the strangest feeling.

Third step? If a collision is unavoidable, the front seat belts tighten, and strong braking is automatically applied to help reduce the collision force.

CMBS comes as part of the Active Cruise Control (ACC) system, optional on RLs with the Technology Package for $3,800.

THE VERDICT

I like the RL. If you’re a badge snob, buy the BMW 535i xDrive for $6,000 more and be like everyone else in your subdivision. The RL isn’t the cheapest car in its class and it’s not the most powerful, or the most efficient, but it is such a nicely balanced car that it’s worth a look.

I, for one, hate when technology stands out in modern cars like a sore thumb. The RL may look like one, but it’s the most relaxing luxury car you can buy.

PLUS

Serene driving experience
Interior look and technology
Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is not just a marketing gimmick

MINUS

Too many buttons
You’ll be invisible in the country club parking lot
Restyling did the RL no favors

Get Autoguide.com in your Inbox