What's New for 2011
The 2011 Acura RL gains a six-speed automatic transmission for slightly improved fuel economy and acceleration. Other changes this year include a minor exterior styling freshening, added sound insulation for a quieter ride, available rear parking sensors and a more useful viewing angle for the optional back-up camera.
On paper, the 2011 Acura RL seems like a pretty desirable midsize luxury sedan. It has a 300-horsepower V6, standard all-wheel drive, a long list of standard features, a classy interior and top-notch build quality. But when it comes to real-world desirability, something gets lost in translation for this Acura flagship.
Styling might have something to do with the RL's lack of appeal. Overall, the exterior is looking a bit dated, while many of its rivals have fresher and more contemporary lines. On the whole, this car is aging and needs a fresh face. For 2011 the RL receives a few touch-ups here and there, and at least the odd-looking front grille has been tamed down a little.
Acura has also replaced the RL's previous five-speed automatic with a new six-speed unit. Fuel economy is up as a result (2 mpg more on the highway) and acceleration should also be a bit quicker. Handling also remains a praiseworthy RL attribute, thanks to the car's advanced Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system, which can apportion torque to individual wheels to improve both traction and handling balance.
Even with these changes, the 2011 RL still struggles to be anything more than a bench player in the segment of luxury sedans. The Hyundai Genesis is fully competitive in terms of luxury, yet significantly undercuts the RL on price. Meanwhile, more traditional (and newer) choices like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M37 and Mercedes E-Class are either sportier or more prestigious. Even Acura's TL is much the same size as the RL, has a similar drivetrain and yet is more than $10,000 cheaper. With so many other cars to choose from, it's really not too surprising that the RL gets lost in the mix.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2011 Acura RL is a midsize luxury sedan that is available in three trim levels (though the two upper trims are really just a pair of technology packages).
Standard equipment on the RL includes 18-inch alloy wheels, automatic xenon headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, heated 10-way power front seats with driver memory functions, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, rear-seat climate controls, an auto-dimming mirror, a power rear sunshade and manual rear side sunshades.
Also standard are Bluetooth phone and audio connectivity, voice commands for the audio and climate systems and a 10-speaker Bose surround-sound audio system with a six-CD changer, satellite radio, an auxiliary audio jack and a USB/iPod audio interface.
The RL with Technology package adds adaptive headlights, a back-up camera, rear parking sensors, heated and ventilated front seats, a wood-grain steering wheel and shift knob, upgraded Bluetooth phone connectivity, GPS-linked solar-sensing climate control and a navigation system with real-time traffic, real-time weather, Zagat restaurant ratings and voice activation. The RL with the Advance package adds adaptive cruise control and the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), along with power-folding side mirrors.
Powertrains and Performance
Every 2010 Acura RL comes with Acura's "Super-Handling" all-wheel-drive system that automatically apportions power to the optimum wheels for the best traction and handling, reacting to road conditions to deliver a superior all-weather automobile.
Powering the 2011 Acura RL is a 3.7-liter V6 that produces 300 hp and 271 pound-feet of torque. A new six-speed automatic transmission with manual shift paddles is standard. EPA-estimated fuel economy is 17 mpg city/24 mpg highway and 20 mpg combined.
Standard safety features for the Acura RL include antilock disc brakes with brake assist, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and a stability-control system. The optional CMBS can help prevent or minimize a frontal accident by providing warnings to the driver or actually applying emergency braking if a collision seems unavoidable.
The RL has not been rated using the government's new, more strenuous 2011 crash-testing procedures. Its 2010 ratings (which aren't comparable to 2011 tests) resulted in top five-star ratings for frontal-impact and side-impact safety. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the RL its highest rating of "Good" in its frontal-offset and side-collision tests. It only scored the second-worst rating of "Marginal," however, in roof-strength tests.
In Edmunds brake testing, the RL delivered a lackluster 131-foot stop from 60 mph. Most competitors record results that are 10 feet shorter.
Interior Design and Special Features
The 2011 Acura RL features an attractive and well-built interior that is comparable to most other luxury sedans. The wood trim -- simulated or authentic depending on the model trim level -- frames the waterfall-style center stack, adding warmth to the overall interior design.
There are quite a few buttons and knobs in the cockpit, but the voice-activated system and controls on the steering wheel deliver easier operation. We found the standard 10-speaker Bose audio system particularly notable for its clarity and power. On the downside, the navigation system's graphics seem outdated when compared to competing luxury sedans. The trunk space also leaves a bit to be desired, accommodating a slightly below-average 13.1 cubic feet.
The 2011 Acura RL's rather conservative appearance might lead some to assume that the ride quality and driving dynamics may be more akin to an overly softened luxury car. But they'd be wrong. The ride quality is balanced between luxurious compliance and sporty agility. Thanks to the SH-AWD system, the RL is one of the more fun-to-drive choices in the segment. The RL's V6 engine revs smoothly and provides slightly quicker acceleration this year thanks to the new six-speed transmission.