As a flagship luxury sedan, the Acura RL was always a bit of an oddity. It was never notably large or roomy, and always offered a V6 as its sole engine choice. Nor was the RL a style or design standout, and it generally received little notice among more prestigious makes or even models within its own family. In recent years, for example, the TL sedan has offered more excitement and the same premium feel for less cost.
Acura hopes the RL's replacement, the RLX, can distinguish itself among the luxury pack in a way the RL never could. From a used-car standpoint, older first-generation Acura RLs are rather ho-hum. The newer generation is a better car for sure, though in general it was still outclassed by other luxury sedans such as the Audi A6 and BMW 5 Series.
Most Recent Acura RL
The second-generation Acura RL was produced from 2005-'12. It sported a tighter, more athletic look than the frumpier stance of its predecessor. The new car also introduced a 290-horsepower V6, a five-speed automatic transmission, an advanced all-wheel-drive system and only one trim level.
Although it didn't offer the posh reputation of other luxury vehicles, the Acura RL nevertheless featured a classy, sumptuous interior adorned in high-quality materials, leather and real wood trim. The dash was awash in buttons, but they served as a welcome alternative to the navigation system's iDrive-like control knob and voice commands. The RL's 10-speaker surround-sound stereo with six-CD/DVD audio changer, satellite radio and standard iPod integration was one of the best in the business. An optional Technology package included a voice-activated navigation system.
In road tests, we found that the Acura RL got better the harder it was driven, thanks to its SH-AWD system that tenaciously maintained traction. The ride was tuned on the cushier side of the spectrum, so despite offering notable handling abilities, the RL was principally designed to be a comfortable cruiser. Though the V6 offered impressive peak output, it still couldn't match the refined low and midrange thrust of its competitors' V8s.
The RL changed incrementally through the first few years of this generation. For 2006, the RL gained the Technology package that included adaptive cruise control, run-flat tires and a collision-preventing radar-based active braking system. The next few years brought no significant changes until 2009, when Acura face-lifted the RL with its controversial design language. The front grille in particular was described in rather unflattering terms such as "bagel slicer." Better news was under the skin, where the 3.7-liter V6 gained 10 hp and a six-speed automatic transmission replaced the five-speed unit.
Past Acura RL Models
Buyers looking at used Acura RLs built before 2005 will be dealing with the first-generation Acura RL (known as the 3.5 RL) produced from 1996-2004. The 3.5 RL debuted as a replacement for the popular Acura Legend, but its unimaginative name demonstrated an unfortunate change in Acura's philosophy that saw it move in a more staid, Lexus-like direction. This generation also had a high level of standard equipment and typically cost less than its competition, but it couldn't overcome its anonymous styling, unexciting V6 engine and lax driving dynamics.
While front-wheel drive is beneficial in smaller cars, most luxury car buyers seem to prefer the extra performance and handling that come from rear-wheel drive or all-wheel drive. This wasn't such a big issue during the RL's early years, but as newer competing models debuted with more power and more features, the Acura RL became increasingly outclassed.
Acura didn't change the 3.5 RL much during its first generation. In 2000, it received a standard stability control system and an improved navigation system. The most significant changes were made in 2002, when it gained a bit more power and a more firmly tuned suspension.
The RL's predecessor was the Acura Legend. Available in coupe and sedan body styles, the Legend largely lived up to its name, being praised for its sporty nature, strong performance and impeccable fit and finish. As with most Acura/Honda products, reliability was very good.