The Acura RL is the flagship car of Honda's North America luxury brand Acura. The current second-generation RL is a rebadged version of the fourth-generation Honda Legend and was introduced into the North American market in September 2004 as a 2005 model. The first-generation RL was a similarly rebadged version of the third-generation Honda Legend, and was first introduced into the North American market in 1996 to replace the second-generation Acura Legend.
The Acura RL is similar in size to the Infiniti M45 and the Lexus GS, and is in the executive car class that includes the BMW 5 series, Audi A6, and Mercedes-Benz E-class.
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.
The 2004 RL's engine was the last in the Honda and Acura lineup not to use VTEC, Honda's variable valve timing system. The 2004 RL was also the last Acura to use the numeric designator for its engine displacement.
A new generation car, known internally as "KB1", was launched in late 2004 for the 2005 model year, and is much reminiscent of the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Still without the much-rumored V8 engine, it features a sophisticated all-wheel drive system Acura calls "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" (SH-AWD). It integrates active differentials with the all-wheel drive system and traction control to improve handling, similar to the "ATTS" system featured on the 1997 Honda Prelude SH. At the time of its introduction, the Acura RL's SH-AWD was unique among all wheel drive systems because not only could it vary traction from front to back, but also side to side in rear using a technique called torque vectoring. The RL can direct up to 70% of available torque the rear wheels, and up to 100% of that available rear torque can be directed to just one wheel. In combination with a specially designed planetary gear set which can over-drive the rear wheels up to 5% greater speed than the front wheels, the torque direction to one wheel, or torque vectoring, can have a steering effect. As the car speeds around a curve, torque vectored to the outside rear wheel will pull the rear end around the curve faster, just as paddling the outside oar of a row boat faster than the inside oar will cause the row boat to turn.
The SH-AWD all-wheel drive system was lauded by 'Popular Science as one of the best automotive innovations of 2004, and earned the 2005 "Tech car of the year" from cnet.com. Subsequent moves by both Audi and BMW to design and market their own versions of torque vectoring all wheel drive systems does bear out the innovative nature of the SH-AWD design.
The first-generation RL was powered by a 225hp (168kW) 90° C-series V6 non-VTEC engine. The second-generation RL uses a newer design 60° J-series 3.5L V6 SOHC VTEC engine delivering 300hp (224kW; later revised to 290hp (220kW) due to new SAE testing procedures). To give the car a more sporty feel, the car features drive by wire throttle control and a five-speed sequential sport shifting automatic transmission with shift paddles mounted on the steering wheel in the current, racing-car derived fashion.
New features found on the 2005 RL include such useful items as a keyless entry system which allows the driver to both lock and unlock the car by touching the door handle, without having to use the remote control, and a keyless start system. A new 260 watt ten speaker Bose DVD-Audio 5.1 sound system, XM Nav-Traffic (real-time traffic monitoring utilizing XM Satellite radio), integrated Bluetooth hands-free technology for wireless phone use, voice recognition technology with over 560 voice commands to control navigation system and displays, wireless phone, audio system, heating and ventilation controls. Heating and air conditioning systems were also tied into a solar sensor and GPS positioning so that cabin temperature would stay constant in a mixed sun and shade situation. Additional cooling air would be automatically added to the sunny side to keep that occupant comfortable while not freezing out the occupant on the shady side. The voice recognition system can also recognize city and street names. Unlike many navigation systems, the driver is allowed to change destinations and routes "on the fly" while driving, rather than being locked out unless the car is park. Also unique at the time was two way communication via AcuraLink satellite communication. Using a facility of XM Radio service, the system can send a variety of messages to the car including service appointment reminders (appointments first made via Internet) or important messages such as recall notices. The use of OnStar is carried over from the previous generation RL. Use of digital/analog trimode (two digital bands and one analog band) technology allows the 2005 RL OnStar technology to survive the planned 2007 phase out of the analog OnStar to all digital OnStar service in 2007.
Other unique features include the active front lighting system, in which the high intensity discharge headlamps swivel with the steering up to twenty degrees, offering improved night cornering vision. Light emitting diodes (LED) replace traditional incandescent lighting is used for many rear tail and brake as well as in the side mirror housing integrated turn signals, and many interior cabin lights.
The 2005 RL was also the first Honda vehicle to use the Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structure, which is now proliferating throughout every newly introduced Honda and Acura vehicle design. The ACE structure features extensive use of high-tensile steel and lightweight aluminum components in a front-mounted polygonal main frame, designed engage vehicles of differing size and weight in a frontal collision and spread the forces through multiple structural pathways, while preventing or minimizing cabin deformation. In practical terms, this means in an SUV versus ACE structure car collision, there is a greater chance that the ACE body structure will engage with the SUV's frame and dissipate collisioin forces around the passenger compartment. In more conventional non-ACE car structures, the SUV frame has a much greater chance of missing or over-riding the conventional car's major structural components and a greater chance of deforming the passenger compartment.
The 2005 RL car structure features extensive use of somewhat "exotic" materials for a car at this price point including aluminum alloy hood, front fenders, trunk lid and frame, front and rear subframes, suspension arms, front knuckles and bumper beams. Magnesium is used in the intake manifold, and the two-piece center drive shafts is made of a carbon reinforced composite. The new RL features extensive aerodynamic design treatment including details such an industry first flush side glass, as well underbody covers and diffusers to reduce lift, resulting in a very low drag coefficient of 0.29.
The second-generation 2005 Acura RL appeared on Car and Driver's Ten Best list for 2005. The car also garnered an CNET.com "Editor's Choice" Award for Top Tech Car. While critically acclaimed, sales have not met expectations, as the price of the RL is perceived to be out of its bracket. As the new RL offered more features and performance than the base version of its luxury competition's (i.e., the base six-cylinder BMW 5 Series), Honda Japan suggested that it could charge more, though Honda Canada disagreed. The RL's initial MRSP was $69,500 CAD, more than the BMW 525i and close to that of the V8-powered BMW 540i. At the RL's price point, most consumers expected a V8, furthermore they did not perceive Acura as being on par with its German rivals and expected more value from the Japanese marque. The damage from Honda Japan's hubris was done, even though Honda Canada has since reduced the RL's price. In 2009, the new generation of the Acura TL was released and it is expected to offer tough competition to the RL, as the TL has essentially the same engine, the SH-AWD system, and many of the RL's features for only $44,900 CAD.
For 2006, the Acura RL was also offered in a second trim level, the optional 'Technology Package' which included three new features adaptive cruise control (ACC), Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Michelin PAX run-flat tires. The previously standard color-matched mud guards were deleted in 2006. All 2006 models had a slight change to the navigation system that also allowed the installation of an optional rearview camera.
- 2006 RL $49,300
- 2006 RL with Technology Package (ACC/CMBS/PAX) $53,100
For 2007, the Acura RL was offered in three trim levels, detailed in the table below, including a "standard" or "base" package, a newly defined "Technology Package" and the highest level trim, the "Technology Package with CMBS/PAX". While ACC seems to have been dropped as a feature, in reality, is an extension of the CMBS system. An mp3 audio player feature (really any device with a 3.5 mm headphone jack) was added to all trim levels. An integrated rearview camera was added to the two of three trim levels. OnStar was deleted as a feature from all trim levels. Colors were added and deleted.
- 2007 RL $45,780
- 2007 RL with Technology Package $49,400
- 2007 RL with Technology and CMBS/PAX Packages $53,200
Note that while the addition of the 2007 addition of a "base" or "standard" trim level synchronized the RL trim level terminology with all the other Acura models being sold at the time, this trim level addition has, and can continue to, cause confusion in the market place. The 2007 RL "base" level trim deleted a number of technology features, including navigation, the Adaptive Front-Lighting System (AFS), and real wood interior trim. The confusion comes with the introduction of the 2007 RL with Technology Package which was the rough equivalent to both the 2005 RL and the 2006 RL. The "2007 RL with Technology Package and CMBS/PAX" became the equivalent of the "2006 RL with Technology Package". Many incorrect references are made to the 2006 RL as the "2006 RL with Technology Package" when such cars actually are not equipped with ACC/CMBS and PAX technology.
The 2008 Acura RL continues unchanged in the US market from the 2007 model. Colors were added and deleted. MSRP increases $500 in each trim:
- 2008 RL $46,280
- 2008 RL with Technology Package $49,900
- 2008 RL with Technology and CMBS/PAX Packages $53,700
In Canada, the 2008 Acura RL is available with two different models, Base and Elite Package. The Elite Package adds Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Active Front Lighting System (AFS), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), heated and cooled ventilated front seats and burled maple wood trim.
PAX tires requires special equipment to replace them. Such equipment is available only at a limited number of tire and car dealerships. In April 2008, Michelin announced that it would discontinue its PAX run-flat tires. Flat tires can are usually fixed by replacing the entire tire, dealers will take a flat tire-wheel assembly off and put a new PAX System on a vehicle. For warranty and safety reasons, it is not recommended that owners of PAX equipped vehicles switch to another type of tire assembly. Both Acura and Michelin have not been forthcoming about how current owners of PAX equipped Acura RLs can address this impasse once the current supply of PAX tires run out.
For the 2009 model year, the RL received an extensive Mid Model Change (MMC), and made its introduction at the Chicago Auto Show on February 6, 2008 as the most extensive Acura MMC ever. The revised sedan was released on July 1, 2008 to dealerships. The engine is upgraded to 3.7L with 300hp (220kW). While on paper, the engine may seem to be the same unit as shared with the Acura MDX, it is actually a variant that introduces for the first time ever on a SOHC Honda V6, an implementation of the Honda VTEC variable valve train technology on the exhaust side for improved horsepower and torque. Heretofore, all previous SOHC Honda V6 with VTEC used the technology on the intake side only. The engine emissions has been improved to meet the stricter U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) TIER 2 – BIN 5 and California Air Resources Board ULEV-2 standards. Implementation of the SH-AWD was adjusted for earlier intervention and a more rear wheel bias for better handling dynamics. The suspension was upgraded with higher rate coil springs, larger diameter anti-sway bars and stiffer bushings all around. Standard 18" x 8" alloy wheels with 245/45-18 tires replace the previous years' 17-inch offerings.
Changes to the interior include more comfortable front seats and slightly increased rear leg room. The passenger front seat now has the same full 10 way power control as the driver's seat and both front seats feature active head restraint systems and cooling ventilation as well as heated surfaces. Controls for heating and air-conditioning have been simplified and additional individual vent control is available to driver and passenger. Additional insulation, improved acoustic isolation windshield design, and a new implementation of the active noise cancellation system combine to make the car's interior more quiet over a variety of different conditions. New shifter and center console arrangements have been added including a Sport mode. The steering wheel paddle shifters have been reprogrammed for faster response, and the paddle shifters can now be operated in both Drive and Sport Mode. The navigation system improves on previous satellite linked traffic flow reporting to include rerouting based on current traffic conditions and new continuously updated real time weather reporting. The integrated audio system is improved with the addition of Bluetooth stereo and a USB port that allows integration and operation of Apple iPod devices, including display on the car's central folder and playlist information. Voice recognition commands have been increased to over 700.
The 2009 RL is slightly larger in its exterior dimensions by 2.2inches (56mm). The front end including the hood and the rear, including the trunkline have been revised along with redesigned headlights and taillights. One of the most controversial features of the 2009 RL may be its "Power Plenum" grill design, the first of three similar designs that have been recently revealed in the new-second generation 2009 Acura TSX, and the fourth-generation 2009 Acura TL.
The 2009 Acura RL continues to offer three trim levels in the US market. MSRP remains the same as for the 2008 model for each trim. For 2009, the Michelin PAX Run Flat Tire system is no longer offered in combination with the CMBS/ACC package. ACC is now featured alongside CMBS as part of the package name, after a two year hiatus. In reality, ACC was always included with CMBS. Michelin PAX Run Flat Tires have been deleted as an available option. Colors were added and deleted.
- 2009 RL $46,280
- 2009 RL with Technology Package $49,900
- 2009 RL with Technology and CMBS/ACC Packages $53,700
In 2008, Edmunds Inside Line "Future Vehicles" is claiming that the next generation Acura RL (third-generation RL/fifth-generation Honda Legend) flagship model will be powered by a V8. Power is expected to be sent to the rear wheels, and the next generation of Acura's SH-AWD system to be used on the next RL will engage the front wheels only if the rear wheels' traction is compromised. IL’s source claims that a 4.8L V8 producing 420horsepower (310kW) is being developed and will feature cylinder deactivation technology to keep fuel economy up.
Other news and rumors indicate that Acura will be launched as an upscale brand in Japan, and the 2011 model year RL will be part of that launch, as will the replacement for the Acura NSX.
A July 10, 2008 Acura press release announced the upcoming fourth-generation 2009 Acura TL will come in two versions, one of which will have SH-AWD and the "...most powerful Acura engine ever...." If the TL is to continue as the model slotted below the Acura RL, the specifications of the 2009 TL would almost have to dictate that the future generation RL will have to be a larger, more powerful car, as indicated by the Edmunds article.
2005-2008 Standard & A-Spec:
Engine: 3471 cc V6
Power: 290bhp (216.3kW; 294.0PS) @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 256lb·ft (347N·m) @ 5000 rpm
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 6.9 seconds
EPA Estimated Fuel Mileage (City/Highway) 18/26 (using then current EPA standards)
2008 Model EPA Fuel Mileage (City/Highway/Combined) 16/24/19 (as estimated by Acura using revised 2008 EPA standards)
Engine: 3664 cc V6
Power: 300bhp (223.7kW; 304.2PS) @ 6300 rpm
Torque: 271lb·ft (367N·m) @ 5000 rpm
Acceleration (0-60 mph): 6.9 seconds (estimated as unchanged Car and Driver Short Take Road Test June 2008)
EPA Estimated Fuel Mileage (City/Highway/Combined) 16/22/18 (as estimated by Acura using revised 2008 EPA standards)
From 2005 to 2008, Acura RL has been ranked #1 and has achieved the best car safety score (46.4) in Informed for LIFE's "2003 - 2009 Vehicle risk index SCOREs".
The Acura RL has consistently garnered National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) Five Star (the highest rating) ratings for Frontal, Side and Rollover crash testing.
The Acura RL has consistently garnered Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) green G for Good (the highest rating) for Frontal Offset and Side Impact tests.
The facelifted 2009 Acura RL has revised seats, thus improving the seat rating for the 2005-2008 models from Marginal to Good for the 2009, Earning it the IIHS's Top Safety Pick.
The Acura RL incorporates most modern, and some unique, safety features including:
- Super Handling-All Wheel Drive - In addition to the performance benefits, the front to rear and side to side torque distribution works actively to keep the car on the desired line
- Anti-lock Braking System - 4 channel ABS
- Vehicle Stabiltiy Assist (Honda Acura version of Vehicle Stability Control)
- Electronic Traction Control (uses individual wheel ABS sensor and engine modulation)
- Electronic Brake Force Distribution (redistributes front and rear brake pressures as situation dictates)
- Brake Assist ("learns" driver braking habits, rate of pressure and total pressure applied, and quickly activates full ABS in perceived panic stop)
- Front Air Bags (2 ea) - including two stage activation and occupant position sensor
- Front Side Air Bags (2 ea)
- Side Curtain Air Bags (6 ea)
- Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS) - Provides individual pressure readings for each tire in a graphical display.
- 5mph (8.0km/h) bumpers front and back
- Optional Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS)
- Optional Adaptive Cruse Control (ACC)
- Optional Michelin PAX Run Flat Tires (2006-2008)
From the 2006 model year forward, the Acura RL features an optional Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which can alert drivers of objects up to 330' ahead. If the driver gets dangerously close and doesn't take evasive action, the RL first provides visible and audible alerts. If the driver does not respond, the electronic pretensioning seatbelt system tugs on the shoulder belts. If the driver still doesn't react and the collision is deemed unavoidable, the RL retracts and locks seatbelts and brakes hard. Depending on the situation, all three stages may blend together as if one.
The same CMBS millimeter wave radar is also used to operate the optional Adaptive Cruse Control (ACC) feature. The driver selects a cruise speed and can set a timed following distance of 2.0, 1.5 and 1.0 seconds. When the cruising, and the ACC detects a target, up to 330' ahead, the engine throttle will be modulated to keep the selected timed following distance. If throttle modulation does not provide enough slowing, the car will also apply brakes to help keep the selected timed following distance.
From 2006 through 2008 Michelin PAX Run Flat Tire systems were also offered as an option. This system allowed a car to run up to 125miles (201km) at 50 miles per hour with no air.
It is also worth noting that the Honda Legend, marketed in most of the rest of the world where there is no Acura brand, offered some additional optional safety features, including Lane Keeping Assistance System (LKAS), Intelligent Night Vision, and a standard pop-up hood for pedestrian safety. The LKAS could actually make small steering adjustments to keep a car in lane so long as the radius of the turn was more than 220 meters, which was the legal minimum in Japan. The LKAS would relinquish control at the slightest steering input so the driver had control at all times. The night vision system uses a separate heads up type display on the center of the windshield. Far infrared cameras do not require a light source, and the software is able to detect human like figures, surround the image with a red box and give audible caution tones. The pop-up hood uses a series of sensors that can detect a pedestrian-like object being thrown onto the hood. An actuator will pop the hood up at the rear, close to the windshield, 10 cm (4 inches) to help minimize pedestrian injuries, especially head trauma. All markets feature energy absorbing hood and fender supports and deformable windshield wiper pivots to minimize pedestrian injury.
^ Acura Media Newsroom: 2009 Acura RL - Introduction
^ 2004 Acura RL Review and Specs
^ c|net's Tech Car of the Year
^ Driving.ca - Road test: 2009 Acura RL
^ 2003 - 2009 Vehicle risk index SCOREs, http://www.informedforlife.org/demos/FCKeditor/UserFiles/File/1MasterSCOREr.pdf, retrieved on 10 May 2008