Ahh, the Acura RL. A car that was already getting a little long in the tooth when the 2nd generation TL was introduced. And now we're entering our 2nd year with the 3rd generation TL. What gives?
Honestly, we're not sure. Maybe someone was sleeping at Acura during the mid 90's while the RL, Integra and NSX just soldiered on. The latter two were admittedly good cars, well ahead of their time and still competitive even five, six, 10 years on. The RL though, well, it was never quite the car it should have been, or was it and we just missed it?
When I picked up our test vehicle, I'll admit that I really didn't know what to expect. Part of me hoped that the RL's lack of market acceptance was just a case of poor promotion and short-sighted, brand-obsessed consumers. But the realist in me said that clearly something had to be missing. As it turns out, the RL's problem is a little bit of both.
Our test car was slathered in Premium White Pearl paint that was as good as I've seen on any Honda or Acura vehicle in recent years. While no data was available, I'll bet there are a few more coats on the RL than there are on the rest of the Acura family tree. Panel gaps were all commendably tight and nothing on the exterior stood out and shouted "cost savings" to me. Stylistically, well, if you've seen an old Legend, an older Lexus LS400 and older S-class Benz, just let them mingle in your mind and that's about what the RL looks like. It's not ugly, nor is it daring. And it certainly isn't fresh. It's...just...well...it's clearly an Acura and that's about all I can say. It's one of the most indistinct cars on the road for all its luxury and aura of quality. That's problem one.
Moving to the interior, I was more impressed. While exterior styling tastes tend to move rapidly these days, there is something about interior design that slows down the pace of change. Perhaps it is the requirement for good ergonomics, the fact that steering wheels are still round, or just that you still have to sit four or more people in basically the same locations. This slower rate of change benefits the RL, which has an interior on par with anything in its class, and sometimes even above thanks to a relatively recent update. Our car came with the parchment interior, which is by far the best choice if you're into attractive materials. The cream colored leather is beautiful - not quite Lexus glove soft, but it's not Audi/Mercedes Benz firm either (in my experience, Benz and Audi seem to believe that leather won't last long enough if its too soft, or maybe too much comfort just isn't German). It feels good to the touch, good to the posterior and you get the sense that it will last a long time. Our test car had nearly 7000 miles on it and the leather showed no signs of wear. What I liked best about the leather, relative to other Acuras, is that it wasn't perforated. Thank you!
Of course, the RL has all the features and room you would expect of a $45k car. Power tilt and telescope steering wheel, multi-function seats, clear and attractive gauge package, standard navigation system, etc. There is also plenty of wood trim polished to a high gloss - although it almost looked fake to me (whereas some fake wood looks more like real wood to me these days - I guess it really doesn't matter anymore unless you read the spec sheet). The navigation system seems a little slow witted compared to the version in the TL I'm currently driving, but it works just as well. The stereo system too is quite good, playing at very high SPLs with no distortion. I even turned the volume all the way up as high as it would go on the Guns'n'Roses compilation CD I just bought and I could only detect a hint of clipping on the bass kick drum (it was also quite amusing to see the reactions of drivers around me). While it might not have quite the staging and ability of the TL's ELS setup, most people won't miss it. And the RL's super quiet interior makes it all the more pleasant to listen to the stereo while driving.