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2012 Acura RL: New Car Review

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author photo by Nick Jaynes May 2012

Pros: Excellent ride quality; impressive creature comforts; superior handling

Cons: Poor fuel economy; no V8 option; stiff suspension

Introduced in 1996, the Acura RL is the flagship of the Acura brand, meaning it's the cream of the Acura crop. In fact, the RL stands for "refined luxury." Believe it or not, however, the Acura name only exists in North America. Everywhere else in the world, what we in the US know as Acuras carry a Honda nameplate. The RL, for example, is a Honda Legend in other world markets.

Why is Acura North America only? It's rather simple: competition. After Toyota created a separate luxury brand, Lexus, nearly every other Japanese automaker followed suit. Nissan has Infiniti and Honda has Acura. The idea being that Americans are more comfortable with a name brand separation between luxury and economy models. A luxury Chevy seems strange in the same way a luxury Toyota seems unnatural. That's why Buick, Acura, Infiniti, and Lexus exist.

Comfort and Utility

The interior of the RL is spacious and extremely comfortable. The suspension-keeping true with the Acura brand-is a bit solid, a bit unforgiving. While this stiffer suspension proves to be brilliant in corners, less sporting drivers might find it too rigid for daily driving.

Looking past the taut suspension, and the rest of the RL is very luxurious. The 10-way adjustable seats are both heated and cooled and the shifter, steering wheel, and dash and trimmed with burl wood. In true luxury sedan fashion, RL features a button-activated rear window mechanical shade to block out some of the sun's harmful rays.

Importantly, the RL is large enough to comfortably seat five passengers and has enough trunk space for a set of golf clubs and a duffle or two.


The RL interior is packed with impressive technologies designed to enhance driver control and improve the driving experience. Standard the RL is a Bose 10-speaker Surround Sound System with DVD-Audio, Bluetooth connectivity, satellite radio, along with USB port and AUX jack connectivity.

An optional Technology Package includes Acura Navigation System with Voice Recognition. This advanced system allows for easy operation of certain vehicle systems through voice control.

In addition, the AcuraLink Satellite Communication System features AcuraLink Real-Time Traffic with rerouting. If that weren't enough, the satnav system includes continuously updating AcuraLink Real-Time Weather with weather radar image maps, which means you'll never get stuck in traffic on the way to the golf course-or get caught in a surprise rain shower either.

Performance & Fuel Economy

Under the hood of the RL, Acura has placed a 300 horsepower 3.7-liter, single overhead cam, 24-valve, VTEC V6. The EPA estimates it will achieve 17 MPG in the city and 24 MPG on the highway. It's not easy to keep off the accelerator, especially with the Sport setting on the transmission, which holds gears longer and ramps up throttle response. For drivers who tend to be more throttle-happy, fuel economy will certainly suffer.


The RL is constructed with a high-tensile steel and lightweight aluminum body structure and is loaded with safety features including Collision Mitigation Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control.

Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) monitors the RL's braking rate and the distance between the RL and the vehicle directly in front of it. CMBS then uses the information to calculate the likelihood of a frontal collision. In high-risk situations, the vehicle will alert the driver in different stages of urgency. If the likelihood of a collision significantly increases, CMBS will apply the brakes and pre-tension the front seatbelts.

When equipped with the Advance Package, the RL includes Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) that uses a grille-mounted radar unit to monitor the distance between the RL and the vehicle directly ahead. ACC can regulate the RL's speed to maintain a pre-set following distance between it and the vehicle directly ahead. If following distance becomes too close, the ACC system warns the driver and applies the brakes if necessary.

Driving Impressions

The RL's 3.7-liter V6 under the hood makes 300 horsepower. That power is transferred to the road through a six-speed automatic transmission that is delightfully smooth. The power is transferred all four wheels by Acura's brilliant Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, abbreviated as SH-AWD.

The measure of any good all-wheel-drive system is if the driver is never aware of its presence. The RL easily meets that mark. Acura has even included a digital readout on the dash showing to which wheels the SH-AWD is sending the power-and how much of it. It's fun to watch how the power moves around, reacting to steering and throttle input and road conditions.

Although 300 horsepower doesn't seem like a whole lot in a luxury flagship sedan, for some reason it feels like a lot in the RL, meaning its well utilized. It's the kind of power that if it were transferrable to other aspects life, one might become a megalomaniac. It's the kind of power that men like Mark Zuckerberg and Sir Richard Branson must experience just getting out of bed in the morning. It is exhilarating.

Many luxury vehicle owners are disappointed by the jerkiness of modern automatic transmissions. Delightfully, the RL has none of those shifting issues. It is so smooth; in fact, buyers might be convinced it's a one-speed gearbox, unencumbered by the shifting process.

Other Cars to Consider

Volvo S80: Starting at $37,550, the Volvo S80 is a bit more subtle than the RL. The base S80 has 60 fewer horsepower but also get better fuel economy. The ride quality in the S80 is also more forgiving than the RL. The S80 is also more spacious than the RL but doesn't feel to have the same motoring passion that the RL embodies.

Audi A6: Starting at $41,700, the A6 comes with a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. From there, customers can order a supercharged V6. The V6-powered A6 is an excellent all-wheel drive competitor for the RL. Customers who are worried about reliability and mechanical longevity, however, ought to steer clear of the A6. The RL, on the other hand, has an exemplary reliability rating.

Hyundai Genesis: Starting at $34,200 the interior of the Genesis might not be as good as the RL, but with several V8 options: 4.6-liter and a 5-liter, the Genesis easily makes up for interior refinement with sheer horsepower. The Genesis is a bit better looking than the RL but doesn't have an all-wheel drive system available. Customers who live in snowy climates will be better off with the RL.

AutoTrader Recommendations

So few people are buying the RL, one wonders how much longer Acura will hold onto it. At this rate, we suspect it won't be long before the RL is completely re-vamped and given new looks and a new powertrain. So if you can wait, we recommend you do. If not, this one is nonetheless spectacular just a bit old.

What do you think of the RL? Let us know in the comments below.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
2012 Acura RL: New Car Review - Autotrader