Acura gets in drive mode
Page 1: Introduction
NEW YORK, NY - Front-wheel-drive cars are so last year, so gauche, so passe. It's the automotive equivalent of celebrities dabbling in kabbalah. Everyone is doing rear- or all-wheel-drive, so jump on the bandwagon or be left behind in Evan Marriott-ville.
Well, no, not really. For those who live in areas with iced-over roadways, there are plenty of FWD sedan choices that keep better traction in the slippery stuff than RWD and that weigh and cost less than AWD. But there is an unfounded consumer perception, perpetuated by enthusiast publications, that luxury vehicles and front-drive are diametrically opposed. True, it's a matter of physics that rear-drive and all-wheel-drive vehicles handle curves better than nose-heavy front-drive cars, but not all luxury cars must be sporting machines. Nevertheless, consumers often choose more favorably reviewed rear- or all-wheel-drive luxury vehicles, and if you're not playing on that field you're in danger of losing sales.
As such, that stalwart of front-drive, Honda, is giving its luxury division, Acura, a new 2005 RL sedan with standard all-wheel-drive. Showcased at the 2004 New York Auto Show in what Acura billed prototype format, the 2005 Acura RL's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive System (SH-AWD) distributes torque not only between the front and rear wheels, but also to the right and left wheels. Acura claims to be the first one to offer this system. "Wait a second," you say indignantly, "Hasn't the ATTESA E-TS on the Nissan Skyline GT-R been doing this for years?" Well, yes, but that system can only take away torque from the wheel with the least amount of traction; it can't add power to the wheel with more traction as on the SH-AWD system. Score one for Acura.
However, Acura has not heeded another unwritten maxim of flagship luxury car engineering. Rather than offer a V8 engine, which Honda does not possess in its arsenal, the 2005 Acura RL is motivated by a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter VTEC V6 making 300 horsepower. It's teamed with a five-speed Sequential Sportshift automatic transmission with a traditional gear selector mounted atop the center console as well as paddle-type shifters on the steering wheel. Though 300 ponies is a healthy amount of power, oil-rich and power-hungry Americans tend to favor eight cylinders or more in their luxury rides. C'mon, Honda, build a V8. The NSX really needs one, and so does your new Pilot-based pickup truck. A full complement of safety features protects the 2005 Acura RL's passengers, with an advanced crumple zone system (Advanced Compatibility Engineering, or ACE) and an intensive use of aluminum that reduces the chances of injury not only for the occupants of your car but of the car, or pedestrian, with which you collided. Side curtain airbags and stability control come standard, as do adaptive front headlamps that swivel to illuminate better around corners.
Other desirable features on the 2005 Acura RL include a 10-speaker Bose DVD stereo system, keyless ignition and the requisite wood-and-leather interior. And here's a feature that will go over big in traffic-clogged areas - a real-time traffic monitor using the XM NavTraffic service that comes with satellite radio. It'll tell you which streets are congested, about accidents that are backing up traffic and the average road speeds of different routes. It's a first for the American market, and we think it'll go a long way toward making expensive navigation systems more useful to commuters who tend to travel the same routes every day.
Page 3: Competition
The 2005 Acura RL, though technically introduced as a concept car, will debut later this year pretty much as is but without those flashy 20-inch wheels. It's high time that Acura built a flagship vehicle that gets the juices flowing. While the current RL is a nice enough car, its bland appearance and middling specs left it far behind in the hotly contested midsize luxury sedan arena populated by the likes of the BMW 5 Series and the Mercedes E-Class, both completely redesigned in the past couple of years. The next editions of the Audi A6, Cadillac STS, Infiniti M45, and Lexus GS are also slated to be released within the next year or so, further raising the stakes.Acura has some catching up to do, and with the redesigned 2005 Acura RL, they may be on their way.
-- Photos Courtesy of Acura