Sometimes, luck rolls your way.

Acura - Honda's luxury division - is one of the few high-end car lines without either a rear-drive car or a V-8 engine in its lineup. Meanwhile, almost everyone else - including GM's Cadillac division - decided about five years ago that it would be smart to focus on rear-drive-based luxury cars, many of them powered by mighty (and mighty thirsty) V-8s.

This seemed savvy when the economy was humming along - and people could afford to indulge.

These days, even the affluent are having second thoughts about 12 mpg.

Which is why Acura might be in the catbird seat with models like the V-6 powered, all-wheel-drive RL sedan.


The RL is Acura's top-of-the-line, medium-large sedan. Base price is $46,280. A loaded model with the optional Technology Package and Acura's Collision Mitigation Braking System automatic braking system (more on that below) stickers out at $53,700. The RL can be compared with other mid-large luxury sedans in the $40k and up range that offer AWD, such as the Mercedes-Benz E350 4-Matic ($51,900), BMW 535i with xDrive ($53,300), Audi A6 Quattro ($46,100) and (the budget alternative) Lincoln's just-launched MKS ($39,555).


Hunkier - and more controversial - exterior styling, a revised interior, bigger, more powerful V-6 engine, an updated AWD system - and the addition of cutting-edge technology such as CMBS and a new GPS system with real-time traffic routing comprise the major changes for '09.


The RL's standard V-6 has been upped to 3.7 liters from 3.5 previously. The increased displacement is worth an additional 10 horsepower (300 vs. 290 previously) and 15 more lbs.-ft of torque - without any appreciable loss of fuel efficiency. (EPA rates the '09 RL at 16 city, 22 highway - while the '08 was good for 16 city and 24 highway.)

The standard transmission is a 5-speed automatic - also updated for the new model year - with Sport shift programming and F1-style paddle shifters.

All RL trims come with standard full-time AWD.

The system - which Acura calls Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) - is designed to do more than just aid traction in a straight line on slippery surfaces. It can also kick power to individual wheels, not just back and forth from front to rear axles. For instance, it can direct engine power to the outside rear wheel during hard cornering in order to help throttle steer the car safely through the turn.

Acura's goal with SH-AWD was to give the RL as much of the feel of a RWD sport sedan under hard acceleration/cornering - without the RWD car's tendency to fishtail on slippery surfaces.

Zero to 60 takes about just under 7 seconds, which is right there with the 3.0 liter six-cylinder-powered BMW 535i AWD and the 3.5 liter V-6 equipped Benz E350 4-Matic.

The RL is significantly quicker than the just-launched Lincoln MKS - which gets to 60 in about 7.8 seconds - and also the Audi A6 Quattro, which is hobbled by a much less powerful engine (255 hp from its 3.1 V-6) and which needs about 7.9 seconds to reach 60 mph.


With the exception of Audi, the German luxury brand automakers have always built their cars rear-wheel-drive; sometimes (as in the case of the Benz E350 4-Matic and BMW 5-Series) they will add AWD as an option - but these cars are still fundamentally rear-wheel-drive sedans turned into AWD sedans - while the RL is a FWD car built into an AWD car.

What does this mean to you?

Usually, rear-drive (and rear-drive-based) cars will feel better-balanced during cornering (especially, high-speed cornering) because the weight of the engine/transmission/axle is spread out over the length of the car's chassis. A front-wheel-drive car will sometimes feel nose-heavy, too- because most of the running gear is pretty much sitting on top of the front wheels. And hard acceleration can feel awkward because the same pair of wheels that steer the car are also trying to put the power to the ground.

While the problem of torque steer - the tendency of the front wheels (and the steering wheel) to jerk left and right under very hard acceleration - has mostly been eliminated from today's FWD cars via traction and stability control, etc. - it still doesn't feel as right as a RWD car when you hammer it.

Adding AWD usually helps a lot. Not only is engine power diffused through all four wheels (instead of just the front two), the weight of the car's driveline is more evenly distributed, front to rear - which improves the car's balance and makes it so the back end doesn't feel too light.

The downside can be excess weight and driveline inertia, which makes the car feel beefy and - sometimes - slow. But the RL's 300 hp is plenty adequate to comfortably cart around its 4,000 lb. curb weight; ride quality is firm enough to be fun - and the SH-AWD system does a good impression of a RWD sport sedan 95 percent of the time.

And the other 5 percent? Unless you do track days with your RL, it's not something you're going to notice.

The handling advantage of RWD-based cars like the Benz E-Class and BMW 5 is mostly theoretical on the street - while the RL's standard AWD system provides a very real everyday traction and handling advantage.


Previous RLs - like Acuras, generally - always looked upmarket but never stood out too much. The revised '09 is more noticeable - but whether that's a good thing or not only time will tell.

The new front end has a heavy, almost industrial look to it - with wide sheets of burnished metal-looking grill trim providing the centerpiece. It's sloped back and big-mouthed, with a large Acura badge that's guaranteed to loom large in the rearview mirror of the car ahead of you.

Since part of the draw (for some) of owning a luxury car is having others notice you're driving a luxury car, Acura clearly felt the RL needed to make more of an impression. Which the '09 version definitely does. On the other hand, people who have bought Acuras in the past tended to be people who aren't as much into that as, say, those who buy Caddys and BMWs. Acura seems to be trying to lure in a new set of potential buyers.

Hopefully - for Acura - the new look of the RL won't cost them current ones.

The rest of the new exterior is more conventional - but, like the front end treatment, it's also more provocative, with some asymmetrical cut lines around the tail-lights, more noticeable (drycleaner fresh!) pleats - and a "baby bustle-back" trunk among the highlights.

Inside, as Acuras have always been, it's smooth, modern and very "techno" - which is fitting given this car's wealth of gadzooks electronic equipment. The new nav system with real-time traffic updates and gridlock-avoidance is sure to be well-received. The display is easy to use and can be a big help dealing with congested urban-suburban driving.

A weak point for the RL is its smallish trunk capacity - just 13 cubic feet. A Benz E-Class has almost 16 cubic feet; ditto the Audi A6. And the MKS has a positively huge (in comparison) 18.4 cubic foot trunk.


With its optional available CMBS automatic braking system (which can anticipate the need to slow down, even when you don't - and begin to brake for you, if need be) as well as the latest active cruise control and the full array of air bags, traction and stability control - etc. - the RL is one of the most crash pre-empting cars out there, in addition to being extremely crashworthy if you do somehow manage to wreck the thing.

As far as quality: Acuras are rightly respected for being exceptionally well-built and for showing it. They also hold their value better than most and, like their more bread-and-butter Honda cousins, have an established track record for across-the-board durability that's consistently top notch.

The RL's standard AWD system gives the car all-weather sure-footedness that rear-drive cars (and even front-drive cars) can't match. But the key point to mention here is that AWD is standard in the RL, while it's an extra-cost option in virtually all its competitors.


The RL is a heavy car - well over 4,200 lbs. with driver on board - but still feels light on its feet thanks to its powerful (and eager to rev) V-6 engine. It compares very favorably, in terms of what happens when you mash the gas pedal, to six-cylinder versions of competitors like the E-Class and BMW 5.

Look at the stats; the RL is actually quicker than several of the cars it competes with, such as the A6 and MKS - and only a baby step behind the class leaders.

Yes, it's true you can up the ante in a BMW or Benz by choosing their optional high-horsepower V-8s. But you'll be paying a princely sum to do it (the Benz E550 stickers for $60,400 - without AWD. With 4-Matic AWD, that climbs to $61,900; a BMW 550i runs $60,000 and BMW doesn't even offer AWD with the V-8).

The V-8 versions of the BMW and Benz also drink gas like a '67 Chrysler Newport - with average/combined mileage in the 15 MPG range.

Nothing wrong with any of that - provided it doesn't bust the bank.

The RL, however, stands its ground impressively - matching the cost-equivalent versions of the Benz and BMW on performance and features - while arguably offering more on both counts than the A6 or MKS.


The RL's base price - with AWD - of $46,280 is considerably less than the sticker price of the Benz E-350 with AWD ($51,900) and BMW 535i with xDrive ($53,300).

The Audi A6 with Quattro is almost dead even at $46,100 - but it comes with a much less powerful (255 hp) engine, and is considerably slower. Ditto the 270 hp V-6 equipped Lincoln MKS.

Consider the RL sensible shoes for an iffy economic era.