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Acura 3.5RL Premium

by John Heilig


SEE ALSO: Acura Buyer's Guide


ENGINE:3.5-liter V-6
HORSEPOWER/TORQUE:210hp @ 5200 rpm/224 lb-ft @2800 rpm
TRANSMISSION:Four-speed automatic
FUEL ECONOMY:19 mpg city, 25 mpg highway, 17.0 mpg test
WHEELBASE:114.6 in.
CURB WEIGHT:3660 lbs
INSTRUMENTS:Speedometer, tachometer, fuel level, water temperature, digital clock.
EQUIPMENT:Power windows, power door locks, power mirrors, cruise control, air conditioner, AM-FM stereo radio with cassette, heated seats, power sunroof, anti-lock braking, dual air bags.
STICKER PRICE: $44,000 (est.)

While Acura was the first of the luxury Japanese brands, and its products have always been very good, it has suffered somewhat in comparison with the Lexus LS400 and Infiniti Q45 at the top end of that market. Both of these cars are bigger and have larger engines that the Acura and are really the ultimate in luxury performance.

But the Acura Legend, which was the big Acura, suffered only in reputation. While it didn't have quite the power and amenities of the competition, it was still an outstanding automobile.

Acura has responded to the challenge of Lexus and Infiniti with its new flagship luxury car, which in Acura's new system of nomenclature is called the 3.5RL. Well, the engine is still smaller that the I and L cars. It's a 3.5-liter V-6 compared to 4.0 and 4.1 liters. But that's about the only place where you're going to find big differences.

Yes, the RL is slightly smaller than the other two, but there's still enormous amounts of leg, head, hip and shoulder room in the RL that will give drivers and passengers of almost any size great comfort in their ride.

The 3.5RL is also a good competitor in the silence department. In all honesty, Lexus raised the bar when it introduced the LS400 and most luxury manufacturers have now reduced interior noise levels to similar levels. All the cars in this class are relatively silent. The 3.5RL is definitely in the same league as the others and is in a pitched battle for first place in the league.

Interestingly, the instrument panel of the 3.5RL also has a lot of similarities with the LS400 and Q45. There are white-on-black dials with red pointers. When you turn the key in the ignition, the 3.5RL puts on a little light show in the instrument panel as the gauges power up. First the needles light up in a black background, then the gauges light.

Being a luxury car, of course, the 3.5RL is equipped with all the goodies. These include an AM/FM cassette player stereo sound system, digital heating and cooling system, all power accessories. Radio sound controls and cruise control switches are on the steering wheel, which is a convenience. Once you learn where the buttons are, you don't have to take your eyes from the road to make adjustments.

For luxury, the 3.5RL has leather seats and touches of wood accents to give Americans the feel of luxury they have become accustomed to.

Performance of the 3.5RL on the highway is excellent as well as quiet. The 3.5-liter engine gives good acceleration and top speed. You can actually "chirp" the tires if you try hard enough on acceleration, even with the automatic.

Handling is very good. The ride tends to be on the soft side. You wouldn't want to take the Acura 3.5RL on a race track. The double wishbone front and rear suspensions give the 3.5RL the type of ride quality you'd expect from a luxury car.

We drove the 3.5RL on mountain roads, on twisty roads and on Interstates, as well as chugging back and forth from the supermarket. We found it comfortable and convenient in all situations. My only major complaint was that the variable ratio power steering seemed too light at low speeds. This wasn't too bad and wasn't objectionable. Once I became accustomed to it, other cars seemed heavy.

The four-speed automatic gearbox has a gated shifter, very similar to that used by Mercedes. You can see who Acura was aiming at when they designed this car.

The 3.5RL is at the top of Acura's line of cars. It shares showroom space with the two other alphanumeric-named vehicles, the TL and CL. I liked the RL. I had a very good opportunity to drive it for about 100 miles during the introduction and about 200 miles during our extended test. If Acura would like to loan me a car for an extended test of a year or so, I'd accept.