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2009 Acura RL CMBS Review

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2009 Acura RL

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2009 Acura RL CMBS

A Legend is a tough act to follow, but that's what the first RL did in mid-1996 when Acura replaced its original Legend nameplate with the alphabetic designator. As Acura's flagship luxury-performance sedan, the RL has always combined a high degree of technology, both for passenger comfort and convenience and performance, with the most powerful V6 engine in the company's sedan inventory. Conservative styling was the norm, until a radical 2005 redesign. Now there is a new generation of RL.

It can be most easily told from its immediate predecessor by the newest version of the corporate grille, called "power plenum" by Acura, although there are further modifications to bodywork. Inside are all of the luxury appointments expected, plus state-of-the-art cabin electronics. The V6 engine now displaces 3.7 liters, up from the previous 3.5, for increased horsepower and torque. As before, that gets to all four wheels through a five-speed automatic transmission and Acura's high-tech "SH-AWD" all-wheel drive system, all the better to eliminate torque steer and improve control, stability, and handling. Driving characteristics are improved by revisions to the steering and to the suspension, and the SH-AWD system. A high level of standard safety equipment can be upgraded with the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS(tm)), which can warn the driver of the possibility of a collision and, in some circumstances, initiate braking.

As has been the Acura custom, the RL sedan is well-equipped, with a minimum number of option packages offered. Standard fare includes the new engine and SH-AWD system, a Bose® Surround Sound audio system, Bluetooth® phone connectivity, and a GPS-based solar-sensing climate-control system. The Technology Package adds a GPS navigation system with rearview camera, AcuraLink® real-time traffic and weather information, active front lighting, and interior upgrades. Above that is the Technology Package With CMBS, which adds the aforementioned CMBS braking-safety system, adaptive cruise control, and real wood interior trim.

And it was the fully-equipped RL with Technology Package With CMBS with which I spent the past week. It's a high-tech tour de force that just happens to also be a comfortable, quiet, and quick luxury sedan.

APPEARANCE: While the 2009 Acura RL has the same basic shape as the 2008 model, the new grille, hood, and lights -- both head and tail -- are much bolder. Love it or hate it, the huge aluminized "power plenum" grille is instantly recognizable. The aluminum hood reduces weight and improves weight distribution a bit, and careful attention to underbody and through-body airflow reduces both drag, for improved efficiency, and lift, for stability at speed. Discreet amounts of chrome imply luxury elegance.

COMFORT: Get in, and you'll receive a "Welcome" message on the message center in the instrument cluster. When you leave, the car will say "Goodbye". Smart Entry means never needing to insert a key into the dash to start the car, or remove the fob from your pocket to lock or unlock. Standard fare in the mid-luxury class these days, but in the top-level RL Acura adds pretty much all possible cabin electronics, with a well-integrated, simple to use interface. With Bluetooth connectivity, think of the Technology Package RL as a smartphone with four wheels. It has voice-activated navigation, real-time weather and traffic information, a 10-speaker surround-sound audio system with AM/FM/XM radio, 6 CD or DVD-Audio, an auxiliary jack and USB port (for iPods), calendar, and note-taking ability. It's also a top-notch mid-luxury sedan, with very comfortable perforated leather power front seats ( heated and cooled with the Technology Package) and a more spacious rear seat. Bright backlit LED instruments aid the driver, as does a tilt and telescope power-adjustable steering wheel. Light and GPS sensors in the climate control system sense the sun's position and adjust temperature and ventilation to compensate for asymmetrical solar heat. The new Active Sound Control system improves on the old Active Noise Cancellation (ANC) system and now reduces high as well as low-frequency drivetrain and road noise. (Arthur C. Clarke is down at the White Hart smiling about this...) There are convenient storage spaces around the cabin, and a ski passthrough to the large trunk.

SAFETY: The RL's "Advanced Compatibility Engineering(tm)" unibody structure is designed to protect passengers with controlled-deformation front and rear structures and a strong passenger safety cell. Front-seat active head restraints are new this year. Dual front, front side, and side-curtain airbags are standard, as are four-wheel antilock disc brakes and the Vehicle Stability Assist system. The Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), which uses a radar sensor in the front grille and sophisticated computer control to monitor closing speeds to vehicles in front and warn the driver or even initiate braking, is available.

RIDE AND HANDLING: The RL's fully-independent double-wishbone front, multilink rear suspension utilizes aluminum control arms, steering knuckles, and subframes to reduce both sprung and unsprung weight. For 2009 the electric power steering system has been upgraded, and stiffer springs, dampers, and bushings and a larger rear stabilizer bar give sportier response with no decrease in comfort. The "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive(tm)" system not only splits torque front-to-rear for optimum traction and torque steer elimination, it also distributes torque side-to-side for improved cornering. It's been enhanced this year to reduce understeer ("push", the tendency of a car to resist turning) by rotating the outside rear wheel faster than the front wheels. The result is a comfortable, responsive, and (thanks to ANC) quiet high-tech car.

PERFORMANCE: Numbers don't tell all. While the new RL's 3.7-liter V6 has more horsepower and torque than last year's 3.5 -- 300 hp at 6300 rpm vs 290 hp at 6200 and 271 lb-ft at 5000 rpm vs 256 at 5000 -- the increase may not seem to be all that much. More important than peak numbers is low- and mid-range torque, and it is there where the new engine shines. It's lighter in weight than the old 3.5, and sees the first use of Honda/Acura's VTEC variable valve timing and lift control on exhaust as well as the intake valves in a single overhead cam (SOHC) engine. It's matched to a five-speed automatic transmission with normal and sport modes, and Sequential SportShift manual shifting via paddles on the steering column. With the copious low-end torque, D is perfectly fine in everyday use, as the transmission shifts quickly and smoothly and Grade Logic Control keeps it from shifting at inopportune times. Sport mode holds gears longer, usually keeps the car in a gear lower than D and so closer to the torque peak for quicker response at the expense of fuel economy. Manual shifting allows the driver complete control, for a more satisfying driving experience.

CONCLUSIONS: The 2009 Acura RL combines technology with luxury and performance.

2009 Acura RL CMBS

Base Price			$ 54,100
Price As Tested			$ 54,860
Engine Type			sohc 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with
				 VTEC variable valve timing
				 and lift system
Engine Size			3.7 liters / 224 cu. in.
Horsepower			300 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			271 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission			5-speed electronically-controlled
				 automatic with manual-shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		110.2 in. / 195.8 in.
Curb Weight			4110 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		13.7
Fuel Capacity			19.4 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P245/45R18 96V Michelin Pilot HX MXM4
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc all around, ABS and VSA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent double wishbone /
				  independent multilink
Drivetrain			transverse front engine, all-wheel drive

EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 18
0 to 60 mph				6.5  sec

Destination and Handling	$ 760