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New Car/Review

1997 ACURA 3.5 RL

by Matt/Bob Hagin


SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price $ 46,000
Price As Tested $ 46,435
Engine Type 3.5 Liter V6 w/PFI*
Engine Size 212 cid/3474 cc
Horsepower 210 @ 5200 RPM
Torque (lb-ft) 224 @ 2800 RPM
Wheelbase/Width/Length 114.6"/71.3"/195.1"
Transmission Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight 3712 Pounds
Fuel Capacity 18 gallons
Tires (F/R) 215/60R16
Brakes (F/R) Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content None
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.) N/A


Economy, miles per gallon
0-60 MPH8.2 seconds
1/4 Mile (E.T.)16.4 seconds @ 85.7 mph
Top speed135 mph

* Programmed fuel injection

(When Honda first entered the luxury car business with its Acura Legend, Bob Hagin thought it was a presumptuous name. Matt Hagin says that name was more prophetic than presumptuous.)

MATT - Acura may have seemed premature in putting the Legend label on its first-ever luxury car, Dad, but you can't argue with the fact that Acura has developed a reputation for building high-class cars during its first decade of existence. It pioneered the entry of Japanese auto makers into the carriage-trade market and its replacement for the Legend, the 3.5 RL, carries on the tradition. It's less sporting than the Legend was but very much in keeping with what luxury car buyers expect in a boulevard cruiser today.

BOB - Very true, Matt, and I'm amazed at the lengths that Acura went to give this car a featherbed ride. A bunch of the suspension system bushings are liquid-filled which makes them mini-shock absorbers themselves. The motor mounts are hydraulic, too, and there are even tiny shock absorbers built into the front seat runners. It bucks the current Japanese luxury car trend of offering a big V8 engine and rear-drive, and its 3.5 liter aluminum V6 engine is a bit short in the cubic-inch department, but the Honda engineers redesigned it with a slightly longer stroke and a short overlap camshaft. This gives the engine really good torque at only 2800 rpm and that's where "non-sporting" drivers appreciate acceleration and pulling power.

MATT - The RL in the model name stands for "Road Luxury" and I think that it might point to a logical procession for Honda enthusiast "baby- boomers" who have attained the status of luxury car buyer. They started with a Honda Civic in their college days, progressed through an Accord as they climbed the corporate ladder, stepped into an Acura Legend as they neared the top and now they can slide into a near-$50K luxury car and not leave the Honda fold. At over 16 feet in length and weighing in at 3700 pounds, it's definitely not a gussied-up compact. Also, the fit and finish is flawless. The only thing that separates it from most of its luxury car competition is the fact that it's front-wheel-drive.

BOB - And even there, the 3.5 RL is innovative, Matt. Most front-drive sedans carry their engines transversely in the engine compartment, so they sit pretty much on top of their transmissions. The 3.5 RL mounts its engine longitudinally, with the body of the transmission sitting behind it. This is outside of the traditional luxury car rear-drive concept, but it allows for a flat floor for the back seat passengers and adds to its unusually low center of gravity. It's a bit nose-heavy with 60 percent of its weight over the front wheels, so it produces more understeer than I like, but then again, it's not a sports sedan. That fact is reinforced by the parking brake actuation, which is done with a foot-operated pedal rather than a more "sporting" hand lever like most of the Acuras have always had.

MATT - The Bose sound system is definitely on the luxo side, as is the leather upholstery and the rest of the interior trim. The gated shift lever is something of a knock-off of its German "Brand X" luxury car competition, but it has a solid and gratifying "thunk" between selector positions. The 3.5 RL comes in two states of trim, but in a car of this quality its almost a misnomer the call the cheaper of the two a "basic" version. It was fun playing with the on-board navigational system that came on our test car. All I had to do was to type in the address of my destination and the system's on-screen map laid out the easiest and quickest route to get there. It gave instructions verbally and if I decided to make a side excursion, the system reorganized itself and gave me a new route. It picks up signals from a half-dozen satellites and never gets itself lost.

BOB - That's pretty fancy, but I never felt that I needed anything like that, Matt. I could always find my way on the road by instinct.

MATT - As I recall, you also had one of the most reliable and inexpensive navigational system going, Dad. Mom has always been great at reading road maps.