Honda, successful purveyor of motorcycles,
exquisite little hatchbacks and sturdy compact sedans, apparently felt that Americans
wouldn't accept a luxury sedan that challenged Mercedes and BMW if it wore the modest
Honda badge. So, they created the first luxury Japanese marque, to be followed in 1989 by
Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti divisions. Now we take it for granted, but a $35,000
Honda was quite remarkable back then. Acura sold its two millionth vehicle last summer, a
sure sign of success.
The 3.5 RL takes up a lot of driveway, but, interestingly, it is not
as big as the top-of-the-line Lexus and Infiniti. Honda does not produce a V8, so the 3.5
RL flagship actually competes with the midrange luxury models from its Japanese and
European competition. But that doesn't mean that this car lacks for anything.
The RL comes only one way--loaded. Without reciting the entire
laundry list of features, the car has four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, a
leather-trimmed interior, wood on the center console, and a driver's eight-way power seat
(the passenger gets four-way). In addition, the RL boasts position memory for the driver's
seat, steering wheel, and mirrors, plus a power moonroof, alloy wheels, and a superior
Acura/Bose sound system with six-disc changer.
The only option is a navigation system, and Acura features one of
the best, with a big, seven-inch color touch screen and an intuitive user interface.
Thanks to global positioning by satellite, you can get information or directions to 3.7
million local restaurants, theaters, and other places near you. Of course, you can request
directions to a specific address.
Part of the fun of testing navigation systems is trying to confound
them. This one insisted on working well, directing me to wherever I requested. We used the
system to find stores, restaurants, and the post office, and it cheerfully narrated our
trip in slightly Japanese accented English. But beware; the system proudly led me to two
closed branches of my bank one Saturday morning.
Powering the 3.5 RL is a 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 engine with a
four-speed automatic transmission. This engine delivers 225 horsepower and a flat torque
curve for a sporting sense of power. Many sophisticated technologies enable Acura to wring
every bit of power out of the V6. The engine meets Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards,
and earns mileage scores of 18 City, 24 Highway while doing it. The engine goes 105,000
miles without a scheduled tune-up.
For peace of mind, Acura Total Luxury Care (TLC) provides free
24-hour roadside assistance, concierge service, and trip routing. And the 3.5 RL comes
with OnStar, the 24-hour, in-vehicle communication system that lets a driver get instant
vocal response from a central information office. You can get help immediately if you're
lost, and medical attention if you fall ill or are in an accident. And, you can add other
features for extra convenience at additional cost.
The only available transmission is a four-speed automatic with grade
logic control. This clever feature automatically holds the transmission in the proper gear
while ascending or descending a hill, avoiding the dreaded gear hunt.
Of course, as a top-level vehicle, the 3.5 RL comes standard with
four-wheel disc brakes with a four-channel Anti-lock braking system. It also features a
vehicle stability assist (VSA) system, which integrates the anti-lock brake at each wheel
with the throttle and the traction control system. The VSA system computer uses sensors to
compare what the car is doing with the driver's input. If it notices a significant
variation, the system can brake a single wheel or alter the throttle position to
compensate for it. Stability programs can create an artificial feeling, but Acura swears
that enthusiast drivers will love their system. I really didn't notice it working.
A 3.5 RL with the navigation system will set you back $45,650,
including the destination charge. What is it that makes it worth two Honda Accords?
Acura's no compromise philosophy combines top quality materials, expert assembly, and many
sophisticated design and technology features.
For example, on the technical side, hydraulic engine mounts adjust
their damping levels to reduce engine vibration felt in the cabin. The forged steel engine
crankshaft is microfinished for long-term durability, like in a Formula One racecar. The
muffler system and air intake are specially designed for quiet operation. The suspension
damper units use Teflon seals to reduce friction.
Luxury bonuses include specially tanned leather that stays soft and
flexible. Tendo, whose work is displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art, produces
the camphor wood trim. Engineers used NASA's NASTRAN finite-element analysis program to
analyze the springs in the seats. Heat rejecting glass minimizes discomfort from the sun.