The star of the Acura RL is its GPS navigation system with NavTraffic live traffic data in 20 major U.S. metro areas. Instead of showing you the same route you probably travel all the time, the RL displays accidents, road repair, and other impediments ahead live on the nav screen, making this navigator much more compelling than systems that just show you a map. Versions of this system that will actively reroute around traffic problems are still in the offing, but at least know why you're stuck in traffic. Given the fact that consumer uptake of conventional GPS nav systems in cars has been pretty abysmal, we think this could be what consumers are waiting for to make GPS a must-have.
The RL's navigation screen layout typically shows an overview map on the left 60 percent of the display and turn-by-turn directions on the right-hand 40 percent. Especially nice are "bird's-eye" animations of your next turn, merge, or exit. The system also gives you the usual verbal prompts. The NavTraffic data service is included for one year with a new RL; after that, you can either add it to an XM Radio subscription for $3.99 per month or get NavTraffic alone, without XM service, for $9.99 per month. The first year of XM satellite radio is also included with the purchase of a new RL.
The RL's LCD is a bright, eight-inch unit, mounted vertically and recessed slightly at the top end of the center console. This placement seems to keep the display from washing out in sunlight or under bright lights, and it keeps glare to a minimum. Image quality is very good, with fewer jaggies and less pixelation than we've seen in other cars of this class.
Unfortunately, the RL's unique--and uniquely frustrating--user interface mars its otherwise appealing tech package. Six buttons and a multifunction knob on the console guide you through the RL's menus. With those controls, you navigate an onscreen interface unlike anything found on computers, cell phones, or even ATMs, and that isn't a good thing. We spent three days with this car and never felt comfortable clicking around. It might help if the LCD were a touch screen, but it sits too far back in the dash for that to be ergonomically practical.
One antidote to this Achilles' heel is the RL's pervasive voice-recognition system, which lets the driver control navigation, climate, audio, and other settings by voice. In our tests, the system generally performed well and became our preferred method of inputting map destinations.