What's New for 2002
The 3.5-liter RL now makes a generous 225 horsepower (up 15 from last year), and 231 pound-feet of torque, but a V8 engine still isn't available. The luxury sedan's double-wishbone suspension has been tuned for sportier handling characteristics this year, and wider, low-profile Michelins shoe the redesigned 16-inch alloy wheels. Noise and vibration should be quelled better by additional insulation material under the hood and dashboard, and the OnStar communications system makes its debut. Outside, the 2002 RL is freshened by new body-colored lower side sills, splash guards and roof strips.
The 3.5 RL, Acura's flagship, is athletic, extremely quiet, luxurious and priced right: All of which makes it a serious contender in the luxury sedan market despite its V6, front-drive layout.
We're most impressed by the efforts taken by Acura engineers to make the RL as quiet, smooth and solid as possible. Mission accomplished. The RL rides like a cloud on greased rails. This welcome feat was accomplished by adding low-friction ball joints in the suspension, Teflon seals on the valves, a liquid-filled rear-trailing arm, foam-filled B- and C-pillars, honeycomb floor panels and vibration-absorbing seats. For 2002, Acura intends to isolate noise and vibration further by stuffing more insulation material under the hood, in the engine compartment and under the dashboard.
The company's efforts, however, would be for naught if the interior designers had slipped even a little. No fear. Switchgear and controls possess the same Acura quality we've counted on for years, the seats are a utopian dream of comfort and the multi-zone climate-control system allows all passengers, including those in the rear, control over their environment.
And don't worry about the sticker being run up when you select a few options -- the RL is available in one trim level only and includes everything you'd expect in a luxury sedan, including safety equipment such as high-intensity headlights, side airbags and a highly advanced handling control system called Vehicle Stability Assist. For 2002, Acura has even made the OnStar communications system standard on the RL.
The only option is the navigation system. We still think it's one of the best systems out there. It covers the entire continental United States on a single DVD and supplies verbal instructions that allow drivers to keep their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel.
For 2002, the RL gets a new sport suspension featuring firmer spring and damping rates, larger stabilizer bars and wider, low-profile all-season performance tires. Engine output is now up to 225 horsepower and 231 foot-pounds of torque, and braking ability has been enhanced to provide more stopping power with less pedal effort.
Last year, we wondered why a V8 engine wasn't included with all the 3.5RL's other advancements, especially considering most of its competitors do offer eight cylinders. We will continue to ask until we are satisfied. It's important to note, though, that we're not complaining about the RL's 225-horsepower V6 -- it's an athletic and spirited drive, but we figure a V8, coupled to proper rear-wheel drive, would put the RL over the top.