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$70k will buy lots of luxuries, but ignores basic comfort

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | September 19th, 2005

Ask anyone and they will tell you that $70,000 is a lot of money to spend on one car. The new Acura RL will cost you that much (more once you end up paying freight/PDI, admin, a/c tax, gas tax, and government taxes). So I wonder, is this car worth it?

Acura RLTo find out, I spent a week with one, and this is how it fared.

When I picked it up, I was handed a small plastic remote device with no sign of a key to be inserted to start the car. This device has recognition capabilities, and as you approach the car and tug at the door handle it unlocks itself for you; very clever. Similarly, when you want to lock the car, you close the door and press this dot on the door handle and the car locks. As long as the key fob is on you, you can even walk up to the trunk and it will allow you to open it.

Above all, when you enter the car and wish to start it, you don't have to place this key fob in a certain place, the car will start when you want it to. The car knows you have the key fob. This key fob in the pocket item, I can live with and get used to very easily.

So, first impressions are very good. As are my second impressions, since now I am loading the trunk with my stuff. First of all, the trunk opening is huge, the trunk itself is very commodious, and the hinges disappear in their cell, so you cannot crush you luggage with them. Plus, even the trunk loading height was not bad.

Have a friend jump in the back seat and they will find it comfortable, if not overly palatial. Even though the back seats are comfortable, and you get all the usual luxury features you expect from a car of this class, I found the leg room in the back to be a bit on the tight side; more than that, my feet didn't have any place to go. It's not that you'll be uncomfortable in the back, but you could be a lot more comfortable.

In the front, space is abundant; the only thing you notice is that the cabin is perhaps a bit on the narrow side. Again, this is not uncomfortable, but the dimensions in here remind me of a Honda Accord, rather than the Infiniti M35 that it competes against.

However, any gadget fan would love this car; it has just about every toy you can ask for. To start with, it has a great stereo, automatic climate control, and the most popular feature with passengers — the navigation system. A note on the navigation system: even though it always got me to the location I wanted to go, it always took me through a longer route or a more complicated route, which at times drove me mad. However, when the navigation is working properly, the display screen, with its split screen mapping, is quite nice to use.

Nice is also how I define its front seats, they are comfortable to sit on and adjust in any way you want, as does the steering wheel. On top of the usual heated seats, it also has cooled seats. However, the cooling seat feature didn't work quite well and often I couldn't even tell if it was on. Nice idea Acura, now just try to improve the system.

An improvement over the last RL is in the way this car is styled, but most people said it didn't look special enough to justify a $70,000 price tag.

My biggest complaint about the styling came from sitting inside. With my preferred driving position, this car had terrible blind spots. Thus I preferred to cruise in one lane at most times. Cruising in this car is just fine. For a car with a 3.5 litre V6 engine which produces 300 hp and 260 lb/ft of torque, and has a clever active all wheel drive system, the fuel economy is quite good. However, for improved cruising, it should have also had an intelligent cruise control feature. Acura is thankfully working on that.

Acura certainly worked quite a bit on the five-speed automatic transmission, since the shifts are smooth, and the sport feature which allows you to change gears on the go via paddle shift levers are conveniently placed and fun to use.

Acura also must have worked hard on the RL's active all-wheel drive system. The SH-AWD, which stands for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive works seamlessly. To improve the cornering ability, the outside rear wheel spins faster than the inside wheels to allow for a sharper, more controlled line. However, body roll is a bit much, which spoils the fun you can have with this car. Somehow the ride is also a bit harsh over bumps at slower speeds.

The 3984 lbs. curb weight also strains the performance. Even though the 0-100 km/h time of 6.7 seconds is respectable, it just doesn't ever feel that quick. Also when revved hard the engine sounds a bit coarse.

So, you must be thinking that I don't like the car.

Well you'd be right in thinking that, but it is very hard to write it off anyone's shopping list. Because this is after all a premium Honda product, and it is built better than any BMW I have come across. The fit and finish is superb, and reliability-wise, this car should be unbeatable. So from an ease of ownership point of view, this car has the potential to be great, but for me, it just misses out on a few points. Hopefully Acura plans to address some of these features I mentioned, and then it'll truly be a great car that can be worth the $70,000 price tag.
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