2005 Acura RL
This 2005 review is representative of model years 2005 to 2008.
By Ann Job of MSN Autos
It probably doesn't shock anyone that buyers of the 2004 Acura RL had a median age of 55. The car, Acura's flagship sedan, had a conservative look and mostly conservative demeanor.
Time for a change—a lot of change.
Indeed, the successor RL, which debuted as a 2005 model in fall 2004, has sleek, sporty styling that caught other drivers' attention during my test drive—something that has never happened with an Acura test car before.
The new-generation RL also is the first with all-wheel drive. It's standard. The '05 RL becomes the first with a 5-speed automatic transmission and paddle shifters at the steering wheel, too—a feature that's reminiscent of race cars.
There's also a lot more power. The '05 car goes into the history books as the first RL with a full 300 horsepower, which is more power than any other Acura. There's only one engine, though, and it remains a V6.
Redesigned and re-engineered, the 2005 RL carries a new, higher starting price, too. Manufacturer's suggested retail price starts around $49,000 and compares with $43,000 for the '04 RL. But note the RL is packaged so completely, there are scarcely any add-ons.
The new model includes an automatic transmission, which is a more than $1,200 option on the 2005 BMW 530i. The RL includes rear and side window sun shades, too, which cost another $500-plus on that 530i. A power moonroof can be a $1,200 option on the V6-powered Cadillac STS but is standard on the RL. Ditto for heated front seats.
And in contrast with the Audi A6, every RL comes with a standard Bose Surround Sound system. It's an option on the A6.
The RL's lengthy standard equipment list also includes fog lights, a tire pressure monitor, speed-sensing, intermittent windshield wipers, navigation system with voice recognition, genuine maple trim, electronic stability control, traction control, curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes, brake assist, one-year's subscription to the OnStar emergency notification system, solar-sensing, dual-zone climate control, trunk pass-through and adjustable lumbar support for the two front seats.
New, no-key entry
There's no usual ignition key, either. The RL has what looks like a stump of a key that's permanently in the dashboard and needs to be turned, like a key would. But in the event that fob should fail, Acura includes a backup, mechanical key.
I heard the test car's engine start, but it was a faint sound, and even hard acceleration brought engine sounds that seemed to be far away. This is how insulated the RL's interior is.
In fact, when I shut the driver door, I immediately noticed how the RL doors closed with a solid "thud"—the kind of sound you expect from a German luxury sedan—and how quiet the interior was overall.
300 horsepower now
Torque is up, too, to 260 lb-ft at 5000 rpm and compares with 231 lb-ft at 2800 rpm in the predecessor RL. The new RL is heavier than the old one, thanks to the all-wheel-drive addition and new features. Curb weight now is nearly 4,000 pounds.
But the new engine still surprised me as it moved the RL powerfully. I found myself traveling at highway speed while I was still on a short highway entrance ramp and had yet to merge into traffic. The engine sounds good, too, in a refined, almost Lexus-like way.
But if you prefer a louder engine note, the RL might not be as pleasing as you like. There's something of a mix of sporty/refined message in this car. I mean, there are the paddle shifters, and then there's that engine note that's not exactly noticeable much of the time.
There also is no manual transmission offered in the RL, while BMW's 5-Series offers a 6-speed manual as well as a Sequential Manual Gearbox.
Besides, the RL's V6 has more power than the 6-cylinder power plants of the 255-horsepower STS, the 255-horsepower A6 and the 184- and 225-horsepower BMW 5-Series sedans.
The RL isn't exactly thrifty with fuel, though. Premium is the recommended fuel for optimum performance, and the RL is rated at 18 miles a gallon in city driving and 26 mpg on the highway. I averaged only 20.1 mpg during a mix of city and highway driving.
Called super-handling all-wheel drive
The all-wheel drive is on all the time and doesn't need to be activated by the driver. Previous RLs have been front-wheel drive, but these days, more luxury cars, in particular, are adding all-wheel drive.
In any event, the RL moved through slalom without fuss, took curves and mountain roads confidently and had a pleasant highway cruising demeanor.
I didn't notice much wind noise, but there's some road noise that comes via the 17-inch, Michelin high-performance tires. It wasn't bad in the test car, and I was able to keep my radio at a moderate level.
Note the RL has Honda's Active Noise Cancellation in the interior which is designed to neutralize low-frequency booming sounds.
At night, a soft bluish light illuminates the RL's floormats and joins map lights in offering a welcoming interior. A pale blue light also shines down on the center console, and the instrument gauges have a blue light that seems to emanate from the center of each one. I just wish the xenon high intensity discharge headlamps didn't have such an abrupt horizontal line at the top of their beam. It's distracting and takes some getting used to.
The RL is the first car in North America to put real-time traffic information about construction zones, congestion and crashes on the navigation system map. The system uses XM NavTraffic and is available for freeways in 20 major metro areas including Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago.
Another highlight: The car's information system includes Zagat ratings of restaurants. But the RL voice recognition that can be used to adjust interior temperature and the radio as well as dialing the phone didn't always understand what I asked it to do, even though I spoke loudly and slowly. It was frustrating.
Safety a priority
The car comes standard with a new body structure that's designed to keep crash forces away from passengers. There also are standard curtain airbags, anti-lock brakes and stability control, among other things.
The major competitors in the segment—the Cadillac STS, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class for the 2005 model year—had no reported test results.
Acura officials look for the new RL to post annual sales of around 20,000, which is significantly higher than the 6,829 sales for the previous generation RL in calendar 2003, its last full year.
And as you might have guessed by now, target buyers for the 2005 RL will have median age of 50 or less.