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Kelley Blue Book ® - 2004 Acura RL Overview

Vehicle Overview from Kelley Blue Book

KBB.com 2004 Acura RL Overview

Luxury For the Less Complicated

So many of today's luxury cars are brimming with such advanced technology, it leaves most people feeling as though they need to return to school before requesting a test drive. Indeed, the technology backlash has already begun; with some premium automakers scrambling to make their navigation systems easier to navigate and their instrument panels look more like a proper dash and not the control board of a NASA ground control station. In the midst of this rush to change the car into a rolling microchip, Acura has kept their big sedan more in line with the traditional sense of the word; fine wood, excellent leathers and a plethora of power goodies define the RL.

For 2004, Acura has given their flagship a few new features, one of which is the long overdue addition of driver's-side power lumbar support, a sticking point with us for years. Also new is the addition of XM satellite radio and Acura's excellent voice-activated navigation system as standard fare. The Voice-nav unit in the RL is one of the easiest to use thus far. Beyond its direct, intuitive inputs, the Voice Recognition software is extremely accurate in deciphering all manner of inflections and mispronunciations. Looking for a good Mexican restaurant? Just say "Mexican food" and the navigation unit automatically displays all the local establishments with driving directions to each. Another nice feature of the Acura system is that you can choose either a male or female voice to direct you, or shut-off the voice-guidance system completely.

Other than this one high-tech centerpiece, the rest of the RL's interior is simple yet elegant, with large rotary knobs to control the audio and one of the most straight-forward automatic climate control systems you can buy. The RL begins to show its age here; though the climate control worked quickly to both heat and cool the cabin, it does not feature a dual-zone system. The Bose Audio, though outstanding for its time, has now been eclipsed by the DVD-audio system found in the new TL. We imagine most of these omissions will be corrected when the all-new RL debuts sometime next year. In the meantime, the RL still packs quite a punch for a car that starts well below $50,000.

The RL's less complicated way of doing things can be most appreciated in its marvelous double-wishbone suspension. You won't find any air-spring shocks or magnetic ride control modules here, just solid, well-engineered steel components, carefully tuned to deliver superb handling and a smooth, quiet ride. You won't notice the RL's suspension much on smooth roadways, where it glides over potholes and soaks up road imperfections with aplomb. Dive into a sharp turn, and the RL drops down low to hug the ground while the speed-sensitive power steering returns accurate and linear feedback. Still, as nicely as this car handles, purists will point out that the front-wheel-drive RL is not quite up to the standards set by its rear and all-wheel-drive competitors, even with its VSA (Vehicle Stability Assist) to help control front-end plow.

If there is one area where the RL may be vulnerable to attack, it's under the hood. The standard 3.5-liter engine is a marvelously smooth and efficient machine, but with so many other makers now moving to V8's, the RL must go it alone with only a V6. Again, most people will be very happy with the RL's performance, both from a standing start and while moving through traffic. With 225-horses to pull you about, its hard to imagine a situation in which the Acura's performance might become sluggish—unless you were towing a two-ton yacht behind you.

The electronically controlled 4-speed automatic transmission delivers smooth, effortless shifts and works well in almost all situations. Acura's Grade Logic Control system actually "thinks" about the car's situation and adapts accordingly. For example, if you are accelerating up a steep hill, the transmission will hold-off upshifting in order to maintain a high rpm and thus maximize power; the system is also designed to stop the transmission from hunting for the right gear. We found in almost all situations, the RL's transmission met the promises made by Acura. However, we did notice that if you hit the accelerator hard, the transmission pauses for a split second before kicking down.

As for options, well, that's easy — there are none! Aside from color choices and few dealer-installed add-ons, the RL comes as is, ready to please whoever is wise enough to see the car for its exceptional value.

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