All Acura RLs are built in Saitama, Japan, in the same factory that produces the Honda Legend. Current (2008) news and rumors indicate that the third-generation RL will be introduced in late calendar year 2010 as a 2011 model and may receive a V8 engine and rear-wheel drive.
In 1996, the replacement for the Acura Legend was introduced. Known internally as "KA9", officially, RL originally stood for "Road Luxury." The very first Acura RL rolled off the assembly line on January 4, 1996. The 1996 Acura 3.5RL was introduced to lackluster reviews. The automotive world had been expecting a true competitor to the Lexus LS to emerge. The RL fell short and was continuing to drop in sales until it was finally redesigned for the 2005 model year. The main problems holding back the car seemed to be the lack of an option of a V8 powerplant and rear-wheel drive. So in 1996, laying to rest predictions of a VTEC V8 powerplant, the 3.5RL was powered by a 3.5L V6 engine, derived from the previous Legend's 3.2L unit. The engine provided 210hp (later 225 hp).. Of particular note, was that the original V6 was mounted in-line with the car and not transversely like most other front-wheel drives. This allowed for a smaller turning radius and easy in-town maneuverability.
In 1999, the RL received a front and rear facelift that included the addition of newer, more stylish xenon HID headlamps and integrated foglights along with new bumpers and hood. The difference, while seemingly subtle, gave the car a new more assertive stance. Suspension and chassis were stiffened and the alloys featured a new look. For safety, driver and front passenger side airbags were added. The Acura RL was back in the fold and sales increased.
In 2000, a larger navigation system screen was added. Along with that larger screen was the conversion to easy-to-replace DVD map databases. In 2002, another subtle change was given to the RL with painted lower trim and mudflaps along with redesigned alloys and a newer, sportier suspension setup. Perhaps more important was the engine which now was upgraded to produce 225hp (168kW) and 231lb·ft (313N·m) of torque along with more insulation in the engine compartment as well as the fact that OnStar was added in 2002. The 2003 and 2004 RL's received clear turn signals in the rear lights, another new wheel design, as well as various interior upgrades including new color schemes. For 2004, the navigation system came as standard as well as a more modern looking, redesigned center console and chrome door lock pulls. Absent a major redesign in 8 years, however, the RL's sales slipped to their lowest levels in the 2004 model year. Acura and dealers both provided generous incentives on the final models.