Short Take Road Test: 2009 Acura RL SH-AWD
This 2009 review is representative of model years 2009 to 2012.
By Aaron Robinson of Car and Driver
Acura kicked its sleepy RL in the fanny with a 2005 redesign that ended the era of the Japanese Lincoln. Stone-sharpened styling, a 300-hp V-6, and a newfangled, yaw-inducing all-wheel-drive system suddenly made the RL a switchback hound among $50,000 luxury sedans.
Dandelions grew at dealers. Sales have slipped every year since 2005, to a low of 6262 cars last year. Meanwhile, arch-rival Lexus outsold the RL by more than three to one with its similarly priced GS350.
Instead of a kick in the pants, Acura is trying a frying pan to the face. The rearranging of the RL's kisser for '09 nudges it back toward Lincoln-like lassitude, with a squared-up nose, monster grille blade, and puffed-out front shoulders. Augmented by injections of chrome and bright plastic, the front and rear ends bristle with new bling.
Always the small fry in its class, the RL now evinces a more imperious — Imperial? New Yorker? — look, especially on its 18-inch wheels (17s were standard before). It's a mirage; the dimensions barely change. The revised sheetmetal and bumpers add 2.2 inches to the overall length, but the cozy 110.2-inch wheelbase, tight back seat, and modest 13-cubic-foot trunk remain. The long list of standard equipment carries over, so look very close to see the new RL's interior upgrades, including a fancier shifter and new front buckets with greater adjustability. A new interior noise-canceling system really does suck up the road rumble.
The RL shares its V-6, upsized in both bore and stroke from 3.5 liters to 3.7, with the Acura MDX. The first use of Honda's VTEC variable valve-timing-and-lift system for both intake and exhaust on a single-overhead-cam engine leaves pony power flat at 300 compared with the old 3.5 but lifts torque by 11 pound-feet to 271, with similar power peaks as before but more pull in the lower revs. Acceleration also stays essentially flat, with the 0-to-60-mph run taking 6.5 seconds. In EPA testing, the new RL loses 2 mpg in highway mileage. We saw 13 mpg on one fill-up and 25 on another, for an average of 19.
An optional "collision mitigation braking system" relies on shortwave radar to avoid potential rear-ending situations. When it sees a car bumper approaching fast, it flashes a dash warning, then hits the brakes and yanks in the seatbelt, a surprising jolt to the sternum that can stop a weak heart the first time. It false-alarmed a bit too often in slow-moving traffic, so we turned it off.
As before, the RL's niftiest gizmo is its Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, which selectively overspeeds outside wheels to induce yaw and create the impression of livelier steering. It works, keeping the RL near the top of our handling charts. Also, as before, you must be caning the car hard through corners to enjoy its full benefits, an exercise most luxury-car buyers do as often as most SUV buyers go winch crawling.
Despite the flashier look and feel, the RL's best assets thus remain hidden.