Instead, the 2005 Acura RL is close in size to a Honda Accord sedan, features an innovative all-wheel-drive system, retains V-6 power and, if anything, squares off with the mid-size offerings of those competitors.
While up to three passengers will bask in the upscale surroundings of a premium sedan, its obvious that Acura engineers have put a premium on driver satisfaction. Yes, the RL is comfortable, quiet and relaxing on the open highway, but its a true sports sedan whose character really comes to the surface on the winding two-lane roads.
The slick engineering that combines the compliant ride and agile handling is what Acura, rather immodestly, calls Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). The system not only distributes torque between the front and rear wheels for maximum traction, it also varies it from side to side to enhance cornering ability.
Since the new Acura is essentially a front-wheel drive car, with a 58/42 front-to-rear weight ratio and 70 percent of the power going to the front wheels in normal driving, the natural expectation is that it will fight efforts to guide it around turns in aggressive driving.
But SH-AWD resists the laws of physics. Under heavy acceleration, it will send as much as 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels. When the car is hurled into a turn, it will send up to 100 percent of rear torque to the outside rear wheel.
The extra push from behind counters the two-ton sedans natural tendency to under steer and keeps it on its intended course. (One note of caution: The system may be super, but ultimately even it cannot defeat nature. Two tons going too fast will be too much for car and driver to overcome.)
The system works seamlessly, so drivers may never notice it unless they enjoy pushing the Acura toward its limits. What will be noticed is that the Acuras athleticism does not compromise a comfortable ride because it is accomplished without a stiff suspension or high performance tires.
Other major contributors to the sedans sports-car-like handling are the four-wheel independent suspension; beefy four-wheel, antilock disc brakes; communicative rack-and-pinion power steering; and a rigid body structure that features liberal use of aluminum components.
The Acura/Honda all-aluminum, 3.5-liter V-6 engine has been upgraded to produce 300 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque, increases of 75 and 29, respectively, over the former RL powerplant.
It is mated with a smooth-shifting five-speed automatic transmission (the only one offered) that can be manually operated with either the shift lever or paddles on the steering wheel.
The combination can move the RL from a stop to 60 mph in a bit less than 7 seconds, a figure that is adequate but hardly overwhelming in the premium sedan category.
But, the Acura will return an EPA-rated 18 miles per gallon of premium fuel around town and 26 on the highway. In my 500 miles of mostly highway and suburban driving, the Acura computer registered fuel consumption at 17 mpg city, 25 highway.
The sedans sleek exterior actually is three inches shorter than the old RL and the wheelbase has been constricted by nearly 4 inches. Still, interior space is slightly greater than before and right in the mix with the Acuras premium mid-size competitors. The supportive front bucket seats are in the premium comfort zone. Two back-seat passengers will not enjoy a long ride if they are much taller than six feet. And, at 13 cubic feet, the trunk falls short of most of the competition.
The interior combines the elegance of leather and wood with an expensive-looking array of gauges, switches and knobs, all properly placed for convenient access by the driver.
At first, the center console appears almost overwhelming, but a driver soon understands that is because it contains separate, easy-to-operate controls for the navigation system, sound system and climate control. The setup is much simpler to master than some of the German ones that require all functions to be operated by a central control knob that accesses a complicated series of menus flashed onto the navigation screen.
For now, Acura holds the technological one-upmanship title for its satellite-based navigation system. It displays continually updated traffic information on accidents, traffic speed and construction in 20 major metropolitan areas. This allows drivers to pick the least congested route to their destination. Unfortunately, my route did not take me into any of those areas, which include New York, Chicago and Los Angeles.
However, I did use the navigation system to guide me to several unfamiliar destinations and found it the easiest to operate of any I have used. It even features a voice-recognition system that can respond to 560 different commands and also lists points of interest along the way, as well as restaurants and gas stations.
- The audio system features 10 speakers that channel surround sound to all occupants of the Acura. It can play CDs and DVDs. It also contains noise compensation technology which keeps the cabin quiet by neutralizing wind, road and other intrusions from the outside.
A keyless access system allows owners to start the car, lock and unlock doors, and open the trunk without taking the key out of purse or pocket.
A wireless interface allows owners of Bluetooth phones to make and receive phone calls without taking their hands off the steering wheel.
The Active Front Lighting System monitors input from steering and speed sensors and directs the low-beam headlights to move up to 20 degrees in either direction when the Acura is turning. This helps to eliminate blind spots.
Also onboard are the latest in safety systems, including, front, side and side-curtain airbags, stability control system, brake assist to maximize stopping power in panic stops, and updated crumple zones to disperse collision forces more safely.
You can only buy the 2005 Acura RL one way fully equipped. And that will set you back $49,670, including delivery charges.
With its innovative technology and emphasis on driving fun without a corresponding sacrifice in passenger comfort, the Acura RL has earned its rightful place among the elite sports sedans.