Brian Moody, Road Test Editor
The 2009 Acura RL has a split personality. On the one hand, the RL is a luxury sedan packed full of features and yet it still comes off like little more than a super-size Accord. But a loaded Accord is easily $20,000 less than this Acura; that's not really good company to be keeping for a luxury-minded sedan. The Acura RL has just been updated for 2009, although aside from its aggressive chrome grille, it still looks a little generic. Also, Acuras are typically affordable compared to other luxury brands, but the RL's $55,000 price tag is bordering on excessive. There are other great choices for that price. Granted this is the top RL that includes a sophisticated collision braking system, but even Acura's own TL is a better performer, a better value and is just as plush. The new Hyundai Genesis is another example of a sedan that's better in many ways.
But the 2009 Acura RL does offer a lot for the money. Even the base RL comes nicely equipped. If you're the kind of person who buys a car with the intent of keeping it for at least 10 years and you want luxury trappings without attracting a lot of attention, this is your ride.
With a new 3.7-liter engine, the RL's split personality continues. The engine makes a stout 300 horsepower but you still can't get Acura's flagship with a V8. In fact, all RLs get the same V6 engine. During our time with the car, we found there was enough power for most driving situations but it never really felt powerful. Thanks to variable valve timing, there's a noticeable surge around 4,000 rpm; however, we suspect most owners will never get that crazy. At the track, the RL's 0-60 time came in at 7.2 seconds; both the Lexus ES 350 and V6-powered Hyundai Genesis are quicker, as is Acura's own TL.
It would be easy to overlook the lack of a V8 option if the 2009 Acura RL delivered exceptional fuel economy, but with an EPA rating of 16 miles per gallon city and 22 highway, the big Acura is not a fuel sipper. A V8-powered Lexus GS 460 is rated at 17 mpg city and 24 highway with a combined rating of 20. We averaged just 16.8 miles per gallon in mixed driving with the RL.
The RL's handling is adequate and is significantly boosted by the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that transfers power from front to rear and side to side. The result is that even a Sunday-only driver can corner like a Touring Car champ. In hard cornering, the car feels big, although the steering is quick enough to feel sporty and the newly revised suspension is a better compromise between comfortable and sporty. Acura uses low-rolling-resistance tires, presumably to boost fuel economy, but the lack of grip takes away any teeth the all-wheel-drive system potentially adds. Braking also suffers — a stop from 60 mph takes up 131 feet of asphalt. By comparison, the less expensive Hyundai Genesis does it in 117 feet. Unlike the Acura TL, the RL feels as if it needs the SH-AWD just to keep its handling within acceptable limits; again, tires could be the culprit here.
For the driver, 10-way power-adjustable seats make finding just the right position easy. Our tester also featured heated and cooled leather seats up front that felt sculpted, soft and very comfortable, and the RL's wide door openings make it easy to get in and out. The rear seat is comfortable thanks to more than enough leg-, hip- and headroom.
Around town and on the highway, the cabin remains as hushed as a public library on a Friday night. And that quiet cabin is the perfect backdrop for the Bose audio system. As a rare treat, the system plays DVD-A discs that give true 5.1 surround sound. Bose noise-canceling technology further enhances the listening experience.
At first, all the buttons on the center stack can be confusing since there are just so many. Still, most buttons are nicely labeled, plus the size and shape vary depending on the function. If you're going to be using the RL to haul the grandkids around occasionally, the rear seats easily accommodate full child seats or a booster without your having to become a contortionist. As with most Honda products, the primary and secondary controls work well and are perfectly placed.
Our 2009 Acura RL test car included the automatic braking system known as CMBS (Collision Mitigation Braking System), which consists of front-mounted sensors that calculate rate of speed and the distance between you and the car in front of you. The system will automatically apply the brakes and cinch the seatbelts down if it thinks a collision is inevitable. Before that point, there's an audible chime and the word "BRAKE" flashes on the information display so the driver can act. The system will only intervene if the driver fails to act. This could be especially helpful if the driver has a medical problem while driving or if they fall asleep at the wheel. Thankfully, only chronic tailgaters will find the system intrusive; either way, the whole thing can be switched off or, if you really dislike the idea of the automatic braking feature, you can opt for an RL without it.
In our test RL, the power rear sunshade, excellent Bose stereo and keyless ignition all gave the impression of modern luxury while being anchored by a healthy dose of technology. Even on the base RL, you can opt for the Technology package, which adds features like adaptive xenon headlights and Acura Link, a bundle of navigation-related features that includes real-time traffic and weather conditions displayed right on the main screen.
Design/Fit and Finish
There's a pleasing symmetry to the 2009 Acura RL's interior. It's plush without being ostentatious and much of it comes off like quality home furnishings. For example, the center stack that houses much of the car's secondary controls looks like a high-end bookshelf stereo system, like something you might find at the Sharper Image. The leather that covers the seats is quite soft but seems to have an underlying durability that should stand up to transporting kids. Most switches and buttons are covered with soft-touch plastic or have a rubberized texture. Although the Hyundai Genesis has an attractive interior, too, the Acura's execution is far better, far classier. In fact, the RL's interior is more inviting and has a warmer feel than both the Mercedes-Benz E-Class and BMW 5 Series. Even the plastic bits in the Acura look nice and fit well.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who wants a totally loaded, maxed-out, super-size Honda Accord.
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