The 2009 Acura RL is an evolved version of the generation of Acura's flagship that first entered the market in 2005. The main changes to the car's exterior styling are bolder chrome flashes across the revised fascia and rear decklid, as well as the usual nips, tucks, and lens reshaping. Under the hood, a larger V-6 delivers the oomph the previous RL lacked.
Inside, things are mostly familiar, with some nice trim upgrades and a subtler palette than in our previous test cars. The much-lauded voice-control system has expanded its vocabulary to 700 commands, joining a few other such additions to an already-impressive array of cabin tech.
The RL was an Editors' Choice pick in its 2005 debut, when its features put it in a tech class of its own. Needless to say, the rest of the world caught up and then some since then, but the RL fights back with a few new features, such as weather reporting and automatic route recalculation around traffic.
Test the tech: Another Acura road trip
It seems as though every time an Acura is assigned for our evaluation, the calendar coincidentally beckons with a previously planned road trip. Most recently, we ran the 2008 MDX a couple hours south to this year's Monterey Historic Automobile Races. This time, we'd see how that SUV's same 3.7-liter motor would fare in the RL with some sustained Interstate 5 cruising. Destination: Los Angeles, for one and (as it turned out) only one game of good, old, accursed play-off baseball. But no need to dwell on that here.
The most noteworthy addition to the 2009 RL's tech roster is destination rerouting based on real-time traffic information. Typically, the only time on the entire trip that we could have really, and we mean really, used the feature was unfortunately just before we activated route guidance to our destination.
Happening upon unexpectedly slowing traffic on Interstate 580 between San Francisco and I-5 south, we activated guidance about one minute too late. A "police action" on an overpass had closed the four-lane artery in both directions, with all traffic being sent down an off-ramp and onto surface streets to the next freeway entrance. Sure enough, the navigation system's recalculated route would have gotten us off the freeway one exit earlier and potentially saved us almost two hours of stop and go crawling. We still made it south in plenty of time to watch our doomed heroes largely phone it in while being good-naturedly mocked by Dodger fans, but, again, no need to dwell on that here. Lesson learned: even if you know where you're going, let the RL know, too.
To make up that lost time, it was clearly necessary to see how the RL handled some mile-munching in the light traffic and dead-straight visibility of I-5. Despite having only a five-speed automatic, the RL turns about 3,000rpm at the century mark and feels very solid and composed. Wind and road noise are deadened electronically, and we found that making Bluetooth-connected calls at speed and with the sunroof tilted open was possible without having to yell.
As we neared LA, the reported traffic alerts were predictably numerous, although with mostly the normal slowdowns and nothing approaching the sort of blockage we'd seen earlier. Although the navigation system did offer an alternate route based on traffic, this time we decided the RL's route was too complicated to be better than our plan and so we stuck to the freeway. The auto-rerouting feature can be turned off for those who always know better.
We made few concessions to conservation on this trip, driving rapidly and usually with the air conditioning blowing at a low fan speed. Over the course of our two-day mission, the RL's trip odometer showed an average fuel economy of just over 20 mpg, against our calculated 20.7 mpg.
In the cabin
As mentioned previously, the interior of the 2009 Acura RL is mostly unchanged from last year's version. A few buttons are shaped differently, the now-linear automatic shift gate looks much better with a leather boot and knob, and the steering wheel gets an imitation-wood treatment over the top and bottom arcs. Overall, small things have made a difference in the RL, although top-flight interiors from competing European sedans still have the upper hand.
As far as technology goes, however, the RL still makes its mark. We do wish the blocky interfaces on the touch screen looked a little nicer, although rectangles make nice targets. Increasingly, Acura seems to be stuffing incremental improvements into an aging system due for a redesign. Functionally, all of the tech works well, if without much elegance.
Traffic reporting is expected in a good navigation system at this point, so Acura brought the traffic-sensitive rerouting feature to the table along with less vital, but useful, weather reports along the route and elsewhere. Alerts can be scrolled through manually, or (as already noted) used to allow the system to calculate a new route based on known slow points.