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Test drive: 2005 Acura RL

Acura gets serious with the all-wheel-drive RL

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2005 Acura RL

2005 Acura RL

© Jason Fogelson
If you are unimpressed with gadgetry, steer clear of the 2005 Acura RL. For a suggested list price of $49,470, the 2005 Acura RL throws every gadget in the book at you, from luxury and convenience to performance and safety, all with a 4 year/50,000 mile warranty. In the highly competitive field of mid-size luxury sedans, you've got to flash some style to get noticed. The 2005 Acura RL does, giving the Teutonic competition a run for the money.

First Glance

A quick look at the new RL tells you that Acura means business with this new redesign. Fit and finish are great, just as you expect from Acura. The standard high-intensity discharge (HID) headlights are particularly cool-looking, with dual projectors in each clear housing. They look high tech, and they are. The beams turn with the car while cornering, up to 20 degrees on each side, all the better for missing elk and pedestrians. No one will miss you in the RL, which gets a lot of attention on the road. Sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I'm beholding some beauty here. The RL takes an aggressive stance with a high beltline and muscular rear haunches, while still retaining an elegance and air of luxury. The Honda bloodlines of this Acura are barely visible in the style of the design. The RL looks positively - dare I say - German. And I mean that as a compliment. Form follows function in this design. All four doors swing widely on their hinges, making entry and escape a breeze. The roofline offers great headroom, even with the standard power moon roof. The trunk is also easy-access, but on the small size with 13.1 cubic feet of storage, though a pass-through to the passenger compartment makes it more useable.

In the Driver's Seat

2005 Acura RL dashboard

2005 Acura RL: Gadgetry galore, yet the driver never feels overwhelmed

© Jason Fogelson
This car just feels right. I don't know how they did it. Even though the RL is loaded with luxury features, sitting behind the wheel I felt in control, never overwhelmed by choice. Still, I could fill this whole article just trying to give you a list of the standard features of the RL. Most fun and impressive is the Voice Recognition feature, through which you can control many of the features of the car, from sound to climate to navigation. Press a button on the multi-function steering wheel, and the RL is ready for your command. Acura says that the RL can recognize 560 voice commands plus all US city and street names. In my week of driving it was well over 90 percent accurate at interpreting my voice. Though it felt like a toy at first, voice recognition was a big help in keeping my eyes on the road. In addition, Acura has made a successful effort to keep the dash uncluttered. Despite its many functions and capabilities, the dash displays are clean and clear, giving just the information you ask for when you need it, rather than dazzling with flashing lights and displays. All of the interior materials, from the leather-trimmed seats to the real wood dash, are top notch. It looks almost German. Is a pattern emerging here?

On the Road

All the luxury features in the world aren't worth a darn if a car doesn’t drive well, a lesson American and Japanese makers are finally learning. The RL's ride is tuned for luxury, smooth and quiet with decent acceleration and handling. It's equipped with the ubiquitous paddle shifters on the wheel that give the driver the option of controlling the shifts of the 5-speed automatic transmission. I was perfectly happy letting the RL shift itself most of the time, concentrating instead on negotiating traffic and road hazards. The suspension swallows up potholes and speed bumps like a champ, softening the edges and remaining connected to the road. All-wheel-drive and a stiff structure lend confidence during cornering, but the RL doesn't beg to be thrashed around the twisties like some cars do. It gets its legs on the highways and byways, and shows its strength in day-to-day comfort and sure-footedness. The RL offers a great ride to rear-seat passengers as well, with adequate room for three full-sized adults. Its 300hp V6 is rated at 23 mpg city/29 mpg highway, so a road trip is definitely in order. The RL would be a great car to take up to California's wine country (with a designated driver, of course).

Journey's End

2005 Acura RL rear view

2005 Acura RL: A possible BMW beater?

© Jason Fogelson
I have to applaud Acura. The flagship RL represents a real alternative to the heavyweights in the field, the BMW 530i and the Mercedes-Benz E320. By offering a truly full-featured car that's built to the highest standards of mass-production, Acura has carved an identity for the RL. The 530i may out-perform the RL in a pure numerical challenge, but the RL is in the hunt. The E320 feels stodgy by comparison. And to get the same level of equipment, you'll have to spend more money on the Beemer or the Benz. Among the also-rans, only the '06 Lexus GS300 and the Audi A6 offer standard all-wheel-drive. America has yet to offer a viable competitor. The Chrysler 300 is too blunt an instrument; the Cadillac STS is not well-refined; and the Lincoln LS is just too soft. 2006 will bring a new Infiniti M that will bear watching, but for now I'm ready to declare the 2005 Acura RL my favorite mid-sized luxury sedan under $50,000. If you're ready to lay out such a towering stack of Benjamins for a car, you owe it to yourself to take a test drive. The only thing I'd like to see from the RL is a sport option with a little more power and stiffer suspension options. Then we'd have a world-beater on our hands.
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