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By Matt/Bob Hagin


Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price              $ 43,900
Price As Tested                                    $ 44,355
Engine Type               SOHC 24-valve 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"/71.7"/195.1"
Transmission                           Four-speed automatic
Curb Weight                                     3873 pounds
Fuel Capacity                                  18.0 gallons
Tires  (F/R)                          P215/60R16 all-season
Brakes (F/R)                          Disc (ABS)/disc (ABS)
Drive Train                  Front-engine/front-wheel-drive
Vehicle Type                       Five-passenger/four-door
Domestic Content                               Five-percent
Coefficient of Drag (Cd.)                              0.32


EPA Economy, miles per gallon
   city/highway/average                            18/24/22
0-60 MPH                                        8.5 seconds
1/4 (E.T.)                          17.0 seconds @ 85.5 mph
Top-speed                                           130 mph
       * Programmed fuel injection

(The new Acura 3.5RL is a luxury car that has been upgraded with exterior changes to give it a more aggressive stance, says Matt Hagin. His dad Bob says that's fine, but what he likes about the car is that its navigational system keeps him from getting lost.)

MATT - Acura was the first of the Japanese car companies to get into the luxury car market, Dad, and the company has built a reputation for building high-class cars. Its logo is on cars that range from carriage-trade boulevardiers like our 3.5RL test machine to its ultra-exotic two-seater sportster, the NSX. The 3.5RL has all the amenities necessary to qualify it for membership in the upper strata of vehicles that are considered upscale, but not to the point of being ostentatious or pompous. You might say it's for successful people who have come up through the ranks, rather than those who were born to it. Honda is the parent company of Acura and in producing an upscale line for a Honda owner to step into, Honda follows an age-old American marketing strategy of progressive buying. Kids who owned Honda Civics when they started their careers and progressed through Accords can stay loyal to "their" brand as they become more affluent.

BOB - Very true, Matt, and while the body design is all-new this year, Acura retained all the under-the-skin engineering features that give this car a featherbed ride. A great number of the suspension bushings and the engine mounts are liquid-filled, which makes them mini-shock absorbers. The company even went so far as to engineer tiny shock absorbers into the front seat runners. It goes against the luxury car trend of using a big V8 engine and rear-drive, and to be honest, its 3.5 liter aluminum V6 engine is on the smallish side, but it puts out a great deal of torque at only 2800 rpm, and that's where most drivers appreciate acceleration and pulling power. Most front-drive sedans carry their engines transversely in the engine compartment, so the engines sit pretty much on top of their transmissions. The 3.5RL mounts its engine longitudinally, with the body of the transmission sitting behind it. This front-drive layout falls outside 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 is, however, a bit nose-heavy with 60 percent of its weight up front.

MATT - But the '99 3.5RL has gone back to its Acura Legend roots somewhat, Dad. This version is more "sporting" than last year's model and the suspension has been tightened for better handling. Acura uses a slick double-wishbone suspension on each wheel that's one of those really neat engineering features. You can't see it, but if the driver is tuned in to high speed handling, that extra bit of road adhesion is going to be evident. The 3.5RL is no lightweight at 3900 pounds and being over 16 feet long, it definitely doesn't qualify as a compact.

BOB - The Bose sound system is state-of-the-art and heated, leather covered seats makes the 3.5RL a favorite with old ducks like me. Traction control is standard, along with anti-lock brakes and a host of standard stuff that I can't find room to list. The on-board navigational system that came on our test car was interesting to use and I've begun to change my mind about high-tech accessories that aid the driver. I just typed 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. It's pretty fancy, and to tell the truth, I used to feel that satellite positioning would be wasted on me since I could always find my way on the road by instinct.

MATT - And you always have access to one of the best possible backup navigational systems, Dad. As I recall, Mom has no compunctions about having you pull over and ask for directions.

DAD - You're right there, Matt, and over the years she even figured out how to correctly refold those service station road maps.