Click thumbnail to view larger image.

About this Vehicle

Trim: 2006 Acura RL 3.5

MSRP: $49,970

Engine: 3.5L V6

Transmission: Automatic

Drivetrain: AWD

Fuel Type: Gas

Curb Weight: lbs.

Review

Overview

The Acura RL is sporty and fun to drive. The Acura RL combines a free-revving, 290-horsepower V6 engine with all-wheel drive for improved grip and superior stability. The RL delivers the responsive handling of a sports sedan yet rides smoothly. It offers the latest in technology, including a system that can help you avoid rear-ending someone in stop-and-go traffic.

Redesigned for the 2005 model year, this latest-generation RL is fully capable of competing with the benchmark German sedans. And it's certainly more fun to drive than a Mercedes E-Class.

Acura's innovative all-wheel-drive system makes the RL easy to drive and helps keep its driver out of trouble. Called Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, the system overdrives the outside rear wheel when motoring around corners, improving the handling balance and enhancing stability. It feels solid in corners, smoothes over minor driver errors and makes the driver look and feel skillful. And it works exceptionally well in adverse weather. The 290-horsepower VTEC V6 provides plenty of power yet the RL is rated 26 mpg on the highway.

For 2006, a new Collision Mitigation Braking System is available that works with a new Adaptive Cruise Control system. Using radar, the system will alert the driver, pretension the seatbelts, and slam on the brakes when it senses an imminent impact. We tested this system in a controlled exercise and were very impressed with its ability to warn the driver and help avoid an accident or, in the worst case, reduce the severity of the impact.

Model Lineup

The Acura RL ($49,300) comes loaded with every luxury and convenience feature imaginable, including leather upholstery and Acura's navigation system.

Options include the Technology Package which includes the Collision Mitigation Braking System, Adaptive Cruise Control and Michelin PAX run-flat tires ($53,100).

Safety features include SH-AWD, Vehicle Stability Assist with traction control, anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake-force distribution (EBD) and Brake Assist. Passive safety features include a driver's and front-passenger's dual-stage, dual threshold airbags, side curtain airbags designed to provide head protection for passengers in all outboard seating positions, and side-impact airbags designed to provide torso protection for driver and front passenger with an occupant position detection system for the front passenger. OnStar operators will direct emergency services to your car if the airbags deploy and you don't respond. A tire pressure monitoring system is also standard.

Walkaround

The Acura RL looks sleek and sporty, attractive if not interesting. The sleek exterior styling is designed to suggest abundant power.

In front, a dramatically sloping hood leads down to an aggressive front fascia with angular headlight treatments, Acura's signature five-sided grille, and distinctive lower air intake openings. The front end is smooth with nicely integrated bumpers and headlamps.

The rear is short to reduce aerodynamic drag and improve maneuverability. The rear three-quarter view is vaguely suggestive of some of the newest designs from BMW, which are controversial. Viewed from the side, the rear deck seems separated from the fenders.

The RL's high-intensity discharge headlamps employ Acura's Active Front Lighting System, which swivels the headlight beams up to 20 degrees in either direction when the steering wheel is turned for better visibility when cornering.

Interior Features

Inside the Acura RL is a luxurious and functional cabin. The seats are comfortable for cruising yet supportive for hard driving. The wide armrests have a nice soft feel. This is a roomy car, though the back seats don't offer as much room as some of the competition's do.

The cabin is finished in handsome leather with attractive stitching. Real wood is used sparingly, tastefully around the cabin and it's not too shiny. Acura says it used the finest materials and exacting attention to detail in the interior design. It shows.

The display is not a touch screen. Instead, an interface dial is used to control all functions. Positioned on the center stack, in front of the shifter, the dial is rotated like a knob and rocked like a joystick to select among function menus displayed on the navigation screen. Pushing down on the knob selects the highlighted function. Functions controlled by the interface dial include the climate control system, audio, navigation, and the AcuraLink satellite communications system. This interface dial is similar in concept to that of BMW's controversial iDrive, but Acura added redundant buttons on the instrument panel and steering wheel for most of the commonly used functions, making this system easier to use than BMW's. For its part, the interface dial has great feel.

As mentioned, everything described here comes as standard equipment, including the navigation system with voice recognition, which features a large, eight-inch screen. The AcuraLink satellite communications system delivers in-car traffic information in real time for major cities. It's an impressive feature that could make commuting easier by helping drivers avoid heavily congested areas. It works best in cities that have the infrastructure to support it, and Los Angeles is the best example. Traffic flow is shown by color-coding the highways in three levels (low, normal, and hopeless). Unlike radio reports, which just hit the highlights and don't provide detailed instructions for getting around tangles, this system uses live data from the highway departments and technology developed by XM Satellite Radio to give the RL driver the level of detail needed to change routes on the fly. The RL is on the leading edge of this technology, and commuters may find it's well worth taking the time to fully master this navigation aid.

Even without this twist, Acura's navigation systems are perennially among the best available. In the past, we've praised them for their ease of operation, clear instructions, speedy route calculations, and absence of errors. As with all of these systems, there is a learning curve. You'll need to study the owner's manual and exercise patience before you can fully master the system and use it to its maximum advantage. Even then, trying to program navigation or other functions while driving is very dangerous; you should pull over, program your destination, get organized, then set out.

OnStar also comes standard. Having OnStar and a navigation system should ensure you are always guided to your destination. Pressing the OnStar button calls up an operator ready to assist you in any way possible, whether you need directions to the nearest gas station or ATM or the best sushi bar in town. OnStar operators can quickly pinpoint your exact location and the direction you're headed and won't hesitate to tell you to turn around. They can unlock the doors should you lock the keys inside. They can direct the police to your car should it be stolen. They will direct emergency crews to you should the airbags go off and you not respond to their calls. We've found most of them cheerful, friendly and engaging, patient, often with a sense of humor, though as always the case when dealing with other human beings, that isn't always true. Their voice comes through a speaker and you talk to them in normal tones while driving. Your voice is picked up through a microphone and there's no need to use your hands. In short, we're believers in OnStar.

The RL comes set up to communicate with Bluetooth-enabled cell phones, which allows hands-free dialing and communication. The navigation system also features voice recognition. The Keyless Access System further frees you from having to use your fingers by letting you unlock the doors, open the trunk, and start the car without having to dig the keyless remote out of your pocket or purse. Once you understand all these gadgets, life with the Acura RL should be a little easier than life was before it.

The back seats are comfortable, though they don't offer quite as much space as some of the other cars in this class. Getting into the back seats is eased by rear doors designed to open wide. A retractable rear sunshade filters the sun, nice on bright days. Retractable rear headrests improve rearward visibility when people aren't back there.

The trunk is nicely finished and offers 13 cubic feet of space. The keyless access system prevents locking the key fob in the trunk.

Driving Impressions

The Acura RL is a driver's car, with agile handling and a taut, poised feel. It grips the corners, has excellent transient response and stops in a short distance. The ride is a nice balance, firm enough to feel expansion joints but not so firm as to be harsh, and it cruises easily and comfortably. The cabin is quiet, benefiting from a noise cancellation system that reduces road noise and tire noise but especially boom from the engine exhaust.

Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive improves the handling of the RL considerably. SH-AWD distributes power not only between the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right rear wheels. The system controls this distribution of power precisely to enhance handling. Essentially, the system overdrives the outside rear wheel in corners to reduce the understeer that is inherent with all-wheel-drive layouts. As a result, the RL doesn't plow in corners. It simply motors around them.

We found the RL's sophisticated all-wheel-drive setup particularly helpful in tight corners where it keeps the nose of the car tucked in. The car seemed to respond well to throttle in the corners. The effects of overdriving one of the rear wheels is most noticeable at racing speeds, but the system improves handling feel even at a moderate pace. The RL just feels precise. It goes exactly where you want to go. You get improved handling stability on dry or wet roads. The all-wheel drive also brings improved traction and stability on snow and ice. The system is biased to the front. When cruising along, 70 percent of the engine's power goes to the front wheels, and 30 percent goes to the rear wheels. Stand on it, however, and up to 70 percent of the power goes to the rear wheels. That means little or no wheel spin when accelerating.

On a tight road racing circuit, the Shenandoah 1.2-mile road course at Summit Point in West Virginia, the RL felt much more agile than a 2005 Mercedes E320 4Matic (all-wheel drive). The E320 felt heavy and lethargic, like an old Mercedes. Compared with the Acura, the Mercedes lacked grip and suffered from understeer and slow steering; plus it was hard to modulate brakes and hard to modulate the throttle. (The Mercedes-Benz E-Class has been upgraded somewhat for 2006.) The RL was easy drive, and easy to drive quickly. A BMW 530i we drove felt livelier and more fun with its rear-wheel drive and sports suspension than the RL, which is based on a front-drive platform. Whether the BMW would ultimately be quicker in timed lap sessions wasn't clear. What was clear was that the RL was the easiest to push to the limit in unfamiliar corners. The Acura RL would be an excellent choice if you had to choose a car to try to outrun bad guys over an unfamiliar mountain road, and that would be particularly true if the conditions were slippery or unpredictable.

There's plenty of power on tap. Acura's 3.5-liter V6 engine generates 290 horsepower at 6200 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. That's impressive power from a V6. (You may note the 2005 RL was rated at 300 horsepower. That's because of a new horsepower rating system set by the Society of Automotive Engineers. The 2006 RL is every bit as powerful as the 2005 model; nothing has changed. It's just measured differently.)

Luxury cars with V8 models offer more power and more low-end response, but the RL delivers solid performance. The Acura RL can accelerate from 0-60 mph in less than 7 seconds, so it can compete with a BMW 530i. Acura's 24-valve, single overhead-cam, aluminum VTEC V6 combines strong power with low emissions and reasonable fuel economy: The RL meets the government's stringent standards as a LEV2-ULEV Ultra-Low Emissions Vehicle and earns an EPA-estimated City/Highway 18/26 mpg.

In everyday driving, it's smooth, responsive and enjoyable. The driving experience is aided considerably by the excellent five-speed automatic transmission. Shifting is crisp and quick but super smooth, making the RL more responsive and more enjoyable. It seems to shift up early, but never seems to hunt for gears. The driver can shift manually using the shift lever (located on the center console) or with paddle shifters located on the steering wheel. Using this Sequential SportShift feature is fun, but we usually prefer to put it in Drive and let it do the job it does so well, allowing us to concentrate on braking, steering and accelerating.

We found the brakes to be excellent, with a good, firm pedal. The brake system employs big, ventilated brake rotors with four-piston aluminum calipers in front, with ventilated discs in the rear. Electronic Brake-force Distribution (EBD) automatically adjusts the front/rear brake pressure to suit conditions, while an anti-lock braking system (ABS) helps the driver maintain steering control in hard braking situations. Brake Assist helps drivers apply full braking pressure in an accident-avoidance situation.

Accident avoidance is further improved by ordering the optional Collision Mitigation Braking System and Adaptive Cruise Control. These systems work together and are truly impressive. Based on our participation in a controlled exercise, we think they could help you avoid an accident in stop-and-go commuter traffic. Picture yourself commuting to work in heavy traffic: You glance away for just a moment, perhaps to change radio stations, to select a CD, to check your navigation screen, to dial a number, to read directions, to check your mirrors, or to glance at your passenger during a conversation, anything that takes your eyes off the cars in front of you. Naturally, this is when everyone slams on their brakes for no apparent reason. Acura's system senses this is happening and, in stages, warns the driver with audible tones and flashing indicators, then jerks the seat belt, then backs off the throttle, then hits the brakes. It won't completely stop the car, but it will apply the brakes aggressively (hard enough to induce the ABS). The driver needs to step in and hit the brakes. But this is exactly what your instincts will tell you to do. We found the system works incredibly well, meshing perfectly with the driver's instincts, helping avoid an accident. Therefore, we highly recommend getting the optional Technology Package.

In more typical usage, the adaptive cruise control maintains pre-set following distances behind other cars by adjusting your speed with the throttle and the brakes. Also included in the package is a set of Michelin's superb PAX run-flat tires, which feature an inner support ring to allow them to be driven on even if you blow a big hole in the side and lose all the air. Yet they don't suffer from the stiff ride quality of traditional run-flat tires that use stiff sidewalls to accomplish the same goal.

Summary

The Acura RL embraces the agile handling and quick acceleration performance of a sports sedan. The RL is easy to drive and helps keep its drivers out of harm's way, with the latest in all-wheel drive technology. Yet it rides nicely, coddles its occupants and exudes a sporty, luxurious ambience. Technology enhances convenience, comfort and safety. The new Collision Mitigation Braking System, optional on the 2006 RL, significantly enhances safety.

NewCarTestDrive.com editor Mitch McCullough reported from Washington, D.C., and Pasadena, California.

Available Trims

Select a trim below to view details.

2006 Acura RL 3.5 w/Navi w/Tech

MSRP: $53,770

Engine: 3.5L V6

Fuel Type: Gas

Transmission: Automatic

Drivetrain: AWD

Curb Weight: lbs.

In The News