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2011 Acura RL test drive

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2011 Acura RL

2011 Acura RL

Photo © Acura

The Bottom Line

Detractors say Acura's big sedan, the RL, is more of a glorified Honda Accord than a proper luxury-brand flagship, but the truth is that the RL is actually a pretty good car -- all the more so with the improvements Acura has made for 2011. But is the Acura good enough to choose it over the competition? Well... better read on.

Larger photos: Front - rear - dashboard - all photos

Pros

  • Powerful and enjoyable to drive
  • Lots of standard equipment
  • Roomy, well-appointed interior

Cons

  • Looks and feels frumpy and outdated
  • Confusing, button-happy secondary controls
  • Small trunk

Description

  • Acura's largest sedan, refreshed and improved for 2011
  • Price range (including options): $48,060 - $56,010 ($56,010 as tested)
  • Powertrain: 3.7 liter V6, 300 hp, 6-speed automatic, all-wheel-drive
  • EPA fuel economy estimates: 17 MPG city/24 MPG highway
  • Observed fuel economy: 21.8 MPG
  • Best rivals: Infiniti M37, BMW 5-series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class

Guide Review - 2011 Acura RL test drive

I've always liked the Acura RL. Though often derided for not having a V8 engine as befits a proper luxury flagship, the fact is that the RL is still a really nice car. It's quick, its engine makes great racy noises, it rides comfortably, and it knows its way around a curvy road.

Acura has made a round of improvements for 2011, and while the new front-end styling bears all the hallmarks of cheap plastic surgery, the interior updates genuinely improve the ambiance and the 6-speed automatic (which replaces last year's 5-speed) boosts both acceleration and fuel economy. There's even a new noise-attenuating wheel design that cuts down on road noise. The Acura RL was a great car in 2010, and it's even better for 2011.

Which is why it pains me -- it genuinely pains me -- to tell you that you'd have to be crazy to buy one.

Here's why: Pricing for the Acura RL starts at $48,060 -- more than the BMW 528i ($45,425), more than the Infiniti M37 ($47,375) and not much less than the Mercedes-Benz E350 ($50,275). Granted, the RL gives you a lot more equipment at that price, most notably all-wheel-drive, dual-zone climate control, a Bose stereo and genuine leather upholstery. Actually, the RL's value-for-money equation is quite good, especially if you add on the Technology and Advance packages, which add navigation with real-time traffic and weather, dynamic cruise control, headlights that steer with the wheels, and a host of other equipment, all of which ups the price to $56,010. You'll pay way more for a German car with similar equipment, although the all-wheel-drive Infiniti M37x comes worryingly close at $56,425.

Regardless, compared to its rivals, the RL feels frumpy and out of date. Sure, it drives well and comes with a lot of equipment -- but the same can be said of the Hyundai Genesis Sedan. (Which, by the way, is another car I'd buy over the RL.) Much as I like the RL -- and I do genuinely like it -- I think if I bought one, I'd kick myself every time an Infiniti M37 or a BMW 5-series drove buy.

The 2011 RL shows that Acura knows how a luxury sedan should feel, sound and drive. But an outdated car is still an outdated car. The RL is the perfect step up for someone who has owned nothing but Honda Accords for the past twenty-five years, but for everyone else, the RL probably won't cut the mustard. Acura's parent company, Honda, typically works on a six-year product cycle, which means we should see an all-new RL in 2014. I'd suggest you wait. -- Aaron Gold

Disclosure: The vehicle for this test drive was provided by Acura. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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