Sunday, July 7, 2013

Long Term Test: 2011 Acura RL Tech post #1

Current Miles: 14,537

After the lease of my parents' 2008 Acura TL Type-S expired, my mom wanted something that was more suited to her tastes. She liked the TL Type-S in that it was well built, but the suspension was too rough and the car was a bit too noisy for her. The only reason we had a TL Type-S was because I was sharing the car with my mom, so I wanted something a bit sportier than their previous 2005 Acura RL. My mom really liked the 2005 RL, so it was only natural that I took her in to check out the 2011 Acura RL. After two years of ownership, and still driving it on a fairly regular basis despite not living with my folks, here are my thoughts on the 2011 Acura RL with Tech Package.

For 2011, the second generation RL received its second face lift (some minor changes to the much maligned "power plenum" grill, making it less offensive), a six-speed automatic transmission, and standard 18" wheels with noise reduction technology to reduce the amount of road noise transmitted into the cabin. With its first face lift came the larger, 3.7 liter SOHC VTEC V6, making 300 horsepower and 271 lb./ft. of torque.

The addition of the six-speed automatic made the 2011 and 2012 RL the most fuel efficient RL to date, which is not really saying much as it gets a relatively paltry 24 MPG highway. Acura's new fangled noise suppressing wheels dramatically reduced the amount of road noise transferred into the cabin. When my parents had the 2005 RL, excessive road noise was one of their major complaints. It is good to know that this technology works, and the technology was passed on to the RL's successor, the RLX for both the standard 18" wheels and the package exclusive 19" wheels.

The interior of the 2011 RL has not changed much since the second generation RL was introduced back in 2005. Some additional wood trim along the center console and steering wheel, and a new shift knob are the only real noticeable differences between the 2005 and the 2011. Some additional cabin space is also noticeable, as the 2005 RL was built on the 7th generation Honda Accord's platform, while the 2011 RL is built on the 8th generation Accord's platform.

This lack of change in the interior between the models is not necessarily a bad thing. I have always thought that the Acura RL's interior was built superbly. The quality of the materials easily rivals that of the RL's German and fellow Japanese competition. But as good as the interior looks and feels, it is not without its faults. Since its introduction in 2005, the RL has had a problem with a cluttered center stack. This was not as big an issue back in 2005 when navigation systems were still in their infancy, and infotainment systems were a lot more complex to deal with. Fast forward to 2011, and the center stack looks exactly the same. All the buttons and knobs are in the same place as they were in 2005. The other problem is with the RL's navigation system. When the RL debuted in 2005, its navigation system was considered cutting edge, offering such advancements as live traffic updates through XM Satellite Radio. In 2011, Acura is still using the exact same system, boring 2D graphics and all. The software itself has gotten some minor updates to include Bluetooth Audio and XM Weather, but aside from that, it is the exact same system from 2005. Every other Acura model that was on sale at the time the 2011 RL was on sale got the updated, hard disk based system with improved graphics. It still boggles my mind as to why Acura's flagship vehicle was still equipped with a clearly outdated navigation system. At least the new RLX has a brand new system. All future Acuras will be getting the new system from the RLX is some form.

Just as with the 2005 RL, the 2011 RL comes equipped with Acura's Super Handling All Wheel Drive, or SH-AWD for short. This advanced all wheel drive system, coupled with the 3.7 liter V6 and six-speed automatic makes a very admirable performer. Zero to 60 can be achieved in a very respectable six seconds, and the SH-AWD makes this big two ton sedan handle much more nimble than its weight would normally allow it to. Mash the throttle, and the 3.7 liter V6 fills the cabin with a throaty growl, typical of Honda's J-series V6 engines.

Overall, the 2011 Acura RL is actually a great performer. It drives well, acceleration is quick for its size, and comes very well equipped. Unfortunately, despite its positives, you can tell the RL is starting to get long in the tooth. The cluttered center stack, the dated navigation system, and the boring exterior design have attributed to this car's failure in the mid-sized luxury sedan market. In 2012, the RL sold a whopping 379 units. It is sad because the RL performs well, but falls flat in all other categories compared to its competitors. Because of the RL's failures, Acura is seriously hoping that the new 2014 RLX can pick up the RL's slack. So far, Acura seems to be on point with their goal of selling 5000 RLX per year. We will just have to see if Acura can keep it up.

Of course, the lease on my mom's RL is still good for another year, so expect at least one or two more articles on the RL before we return it. The next article will go over the RL's gas mileage figures and maintenance costs.

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