Acura's Surprise Showstopper

The new RL looks good, drives like a dream, and brims with techno-goodies

Acura hasn't set any standards in the luxury car market for years, but its 2005 RL is bound to change that. The new flagship of Honda's (HMC ) upscale line looks better, handles better, and is better appointed than its predecessor. But where it really wallops the competition is in its sophisticated technology.

The price: $49,470, fully loaded. (No factory options are available.) That makes it a bargain compared with such competitors as the Audi A6, Mercedes (DCX ) E Class, or BMW 5 Series. The only option I ever wished for during the week I tested it in Los Angeles was a V-8 engine; the 300 horsepower V-6 had plenty of power but not enough of the oomph that's so thrilling when you floor it.

The RL gets its precise and stable handling from a system that Acura calls "Super-Handling" all-wheel drive. Many cars can split their power between the front and rear wheels, but only the RL can vary the power between the left and right rear wheels. Around corners, the system can spin the outside rear wheel faster, reducing the feeling that the car's not yet headed to where you're pointing it. Another touch: The headlights turn with the steering wheel, lighting your way around corners.

Inside, the RL has everything you expect in a luxury car, including real wood trim that swoops around from the dash to the doors. It has the full complement of safety gear and it's only the third car ever to get the highest possible ratings in government rollover and crash tests.

The interior has had a high-tech makeover as well. There's a Bose DVD-audio system that delivers surround sound to every seat, a Bluetooth link with microphone and speakers so you can use your cell phone without taking it out of your pocket, and a navigation system that recognizes more than 500 voice commands -- and all U.S. cities and street names. You enter a destination, for example, by saying: "Two-Oh-One Main Street."

The navigation system is also the first in the U.S. to display traffic information from XM Satellite Radio (XMSR ) to warn you of slow or stalled traffic on highways in 20 metro areas. One quibble: If you spot congestion ahead, you have to tell the system to find a new route. It should do it automatically. Then again, this Acura RL does everything else but drive itself.

By Larry Armstrong

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