Acura RL — A master of disguise

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

We have known a few people over the years who probably desired and could certainly afford luxury in their new-car purchases, but abhorred the thought of being seen as ostentatious; something they felt was inherent in owning a BMW 7-Series or a Mercedes S-Class or even a full-sized Cadillac (going way back).

They simply did not want their customers —or their employees — or their neighbors to get the impression they spent great gobs of cash on their automotive purchases. They didn't want their wealth proclaimed every day in the parking lot. Perhaps we could call this disingenuous or just plain silly. But a good disguise was probably prudent in some cases.

At any rate if they were still around today looking for a new sedan that would pamper them in a way that they would appreciate, but would be so nondescript as to not attract attention, we would enthusiastically recommend the 2010 Acura RL.

The Acura flagship sedan has all the requisite amenities to pamper while stealthily going about its luxurious business. Not only that, it can save tens of thousands of dollars over a top-line Mercedes, BMW or Lexus. (Cadillac is now out of the running).

Acura officials are probably not amused by our description of the RL, but by this time they have heard the same mantra a thousand times over. While Acura has loaded the RL with most of the technological goodies offered by the company, it has never made much of an effort to elevate the car into anything representing a status symbol.

That being said, we very much like the 2010 edition of the RL, which was extensively updated for the 2009 model year. But we kept asking ourselves throughout our week of testing — couldn't we save more than 10 grand of the $55,000 purchase price with a nearly same-sized all-wheel drive TL sedan while gaining five horsepower and two pound-feet of torque and shedding about 150 pounds of weight? Was the trade off of some technological goodies for the money worth it? Was the RL difference worth the price of admission?

We believe a definite “maybe” is the answer if you understand the RL. 

One of the biggest criticisms leveled at the RL, besides its rather bland styling, is its rather run-of-the-mill V-6 making 300 horsepower when compared to top luxury competitors. Acura is apparently going to address that concern for either the 2011 or 2012 model year with a revised car that will come with a V-8 engine.

We like the idea of more horsepower. But that decision begs the question – is moving to an eight-cylinder powerplant at this late date the right decision in this age of unprecedented gas mileage concerns?

We would think more along the lines of the Ford EcoBoost V-6, a twin-turbo, direct injection engine that can in the right configuration develop close to 400 horsepower while maintaining V-6 EPA mileage.

For now, if you like conservative styling and a very affordable price in your luxury purchase, you won’t do much better than the RL.

While the 3.7-liter V-6 is certainly no beast, we enjoyed the smooth, confident performance. A five-speed automatic with manual shift control sends power through the SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive) system, which divides power not only front to rear, but side to side.

This performance package gives the RL a confident demeanor in all driving situations, while the V-6 offers 0-to-60 times in the upper reaches of six seconds and insures confident passing and merging.

The downside to the V-6 is not so much its power deficiency — comparatively speaking — as it’s rather anemic gas mileage measured against the competition at 16 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. Premium gas is recommended.

Like all Acura products in recent times, the RL comes without options. You get the level of options you desire by picking from one of four trim levels starting with the base car at $47,640 including destination charge.

Add the technology package, a very worthwhile addition in our estimation, and the price escalates to $51,260. The top line CMBS (Collision Mitigation Braking System) is priced at $55,060.

In addition to the all-wheel drive system, the base car comes very well equipped with such desirable things as 10-way power heated front seats with memory settings, xenon headlights, 18-inch alloy wheels, sunroof, Bluetooth, keyless ignition and 10-speaker Bose surround audio system.

The Technology Package adds adaptive headlights, navigation system with backup camera, solar-sensing climate control and ventilated front seats.

The Collision Mitigation Braking System on the high-end trim helps prevent or minimize a frontal accident by providing warnings to the driver or actually applying emergency braking if a collision seems unavoidable.

We didn’t test this system, but Acura says if a collision is eminent, the seatbelts will automatically be cinched down, a loud warning chime will fill the cabin, and the word BRAKE will flash on the information display. If you don’t want this kind of intrusion, the system can be switched off. Or you can do what we would probably do, buy the less-expensive trim level and forgo the feature.

If you purchase a luxury car you want to be pampered with great-sitting seats, a hushed interior trimmed in quality leather and real wood, and a wide assortment of features. The RL does not disappoint.

About the only real concern we had with the RL over our seven days was the lack of leg room for rear-seat passengers. It’s adequate taking into consideration the ability to put your feet under the front seats, but we would like to see a 50 grand luxury car that measures nearly full size, have more stretch-out room.

Both front and back seats proved very comfortable, with the exception of the short leg room in back. The living quarters even at highway speeds is library quiet and the sounds emitting from the audio system are soothing and pleasing to the ears, providing you don’t tune your XM satellite radio to the heavy metal station.

Luggage capacity is adequate at 13.1 cubic feet, but here again our biggest concern with the RL looms. A car that stretches out nearly 196 inches should have more cargo and passenger space available.

That aside, the RL may be the best-equipped luxury car sold in America for just over 50 grand. We could live happily with this sedan.

Base price: $47,640; as driven, $55,060
Engine: 3.7-liter V-6
Horsepower: 300 @ 6,300 rpm
Torque: 271 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 5-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 110.2 inches
Length: 195.7 inches
Curb weight: 4,110 pounds
Turning circle: 36.1 feet
Luggage capacity: 13.1 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 19.4 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 22 mpg highway, 16 mpg city
0-60: 7.2 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: Infiniti M35, Cadillac STS, BMW 5-Series

The Good:
• Outstanding all-wheel drive system
• Loaded with features for 50 grand
• Excellent fit and finish

The Bad:
• Tight passenger quarters and small trunk for size

The Ugly:
• Poor fuel economy for V-6 engine