Quick Drive: 2011 Acura RL With Advance Package

By Winding Road Staff

January 24, 2011

The Acura RL is very unassuming (which helped it make our bootlegger list). It looks pretty generic, especially when compared to the more memorable, if divisive, appearances of other vehicles wearing the Acura badge. Furthermore, the RL nameplate isn’t very descriptive. Could be anything.

Inside, it’s pretty standard Acura fare, which includes a nice, yet modestly styled interior, some useful technology, and a sizeable cluster of buttons and dials on the center stack. If anything makes this car stand out, it’s two things, both having to do with the actual driving character of the RL.
 
First is the car’s feeling of speed. It feels fast when going from place to place. It has good acceleration, especially down low, and it’s the kind you can feel. It’s not a rocket, by any means, but it will happily scoot past anyone doing the speed limit in a way that is almost insulting to them. It’s fun to drive this car fast, as it feels well composed at full clip. Also, the engine sounds pretty nice as it revs, even if it is muted a bit to suit the luxury flavor of the car.
 
The other noteworthy characteristic is the all-wheel drive. The SH-AWD gives good grip, and provides excellent stability in the corners. Despite the RL lacking the quality of steering feel of cars like the TL, its poise and response where the rubber meets pavement helps to make up for the ambiguity at the helm. It also makes it pretty capable on loose and wet surfaces, a desirable trait for those of us enduring a Michigan winter.
 
—John Beltz Snyder, Production Editor
 
When the Honda Ridgeline came out back in 2005, one of the prevailing sentiments about it seemed to be that it was a truck designed for how people “really use” trucks, rather than for how people expected trucks to be used. To that end it favored good handling and in-town acceleration over oodles of torque and towing ability, and offered amenities (like a trunk) that were usually only found in cars. Honda seemed to be saying with the product, “We know you’re going to use your pickup like a car 90 percent of the time. Here’s a truck that’s mostly like a car—buy one.”
 
Of course, while that line of logical engineering has its proponents, it does overlook the fact that people buy vehicles (especially Americans buying trucks) for reasons that are often less than completely logical. And because the Ridgeline doesn’t look very tough, or ride incredibly high, or slog through hardcore off-road settings, or tow a big boat, it hasn’t exactly been transformative in terms of sales in the US truck market. (Which isn’t to say that it hasn’t found a fast, and loyal, following of a completely different kind.)
 
This may seem like a long and rather roundabout way of introducing my experiences with the Acura RL, but I think the Ridgeline comparison is apt. Why? Because the RL treats “full-size luxury car” in much the same way Ridgeline treats “truck.”
 
The big Acura actually offers most of what I think luxury sedan buyers are looking for on an intellectual level: a roomy cabin, high levels of technology, a smooth ride, good performance, and a measure of comfortable isolation from the road. From the driver’s seat, I didn’t feel as though the RL was missing any critical technological feature, the seats were soft and comfortable, and I found it amusingly simple to drive the Super Handling-All Wheel Drive model at speed, both in town and on the freeway. Acceleration from the now 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6 was excellent, and the new six-speed automatic felt quick to respond. What’s more, it’s actually pretty hard to spec an RL to a price over $60K, which makes it a pretty sound deal compared to the traditional competitive set.
 
But, while the logical buyer may be satisfied with Acura’s left-brain, high-value formula, my guess is that a large number of luxury shoppers will still feel iced out here. The RL doesn’t have particularly emotional or sexy design language. It doesn’t offer a big, harmonious V-8 engine. The cabin, while feeling of a high build quality, doesn’t ever give you that sense of decadence that you experience with Jaguar, or BMW. And there are no wow-level toys for occupants of the rear seats (maybe the most illogical full-size sedan features of them all). Which means the RL buyer will never be able to offer his rich/important friends a seat massage while en route to the opera. Those may not seem like tragic omissions to you and me, but the honest truth is that a shopper in this class is probably looking for special touches that don’t have to make a lot of practical sense.
 
I first drove this slightly revised 2011 RL out with some of the Acura folks a few months ago. All of the company executives seem to get that the market has moved past this car, and that the new RL will have to be a very different, much more advanced and loaded machine to play in this space. I, for one, hope that the designers and engineers won’t completely dial out the “sensible luxury” ethos that this current RL has, because it does make the car a truly separate alternative to almost everything else in the class.
 
—Seyth Miersma, Editor-In-Chief
 
The as-tested price for our Acura RL was $56,010. That seems pricey, until you consider it is about $14,000 less than a BMW 740i, $17,000 less than a Jaguar XJ, and some $27,000 less than a Mercedes-Benz S550. Granted, the RL doesn’t possess the dynamic prowess of the BMW, the good looks of the Jag, or the sheer comfort of the S-Class, but it still represents a unique bargain in the full-size luxury segment.
 
With the RL, you don’t get a stonking great V-8. Instead, you get a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter V-6. The RL zips about with relative ease, but I still missed the aristocratic quality of a V-8. It was like having a V-6 muscle car or pick-up truck; it just didn’t feel quite right to have a big luxury car without a V-8.
 
Fortunately, I didn’t dwell too long on the lack of a V-8, thanks in large part to Acura’s awesome Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. With SH-AWD, the RL has way more grip than I had expected. The only thing that really held me back from exploring it more was the soft suspension. Between luxury and sportiness, the RL sides firmly with luxury. There is plenty of body roll, and I noticed a bit too much diving under hard braking. When not being pushed though, the suspension did an admirable job of soaking up the bumps.
 
The RL really didn’t do too much for me, mainly because at this price point there are so many more compelling options. You can pickup a BMW 535i, or Jaguar’s V-8-powered XF for about the same price. And while they won’t have the tech items that you might find on the RL, the driving experience should more than make up for it.
 
—Brandon Turkus, Fleet Manager
 
Pros
 
  • 3.7-liter VTEC is responsive and smooth
  • Combination of performance, feature set, comfort, and price make RL feel like a value in this expensive segment
  • SH-AWD offers a ton of grip for a variety of conditions
 
Cons
 
  • A bit more steering feel would go a long way
  • Very little “wow” factor relative to other full-size luxury cars
  • Suspension is too soft relative to the car's overall sportiness