Acura, Road Test Reviews

2006 Acura RL – Road Test

When I first saw the RL last year I thought it was a very classy and beautiful car. Not quite as gorgeous as the TL, but definitely a car that stands out – yet at the same time it does blend in with all the other cars when in a parking lot.

First Impressions
First impressions on getting into the car were very positive. The seats are 8-ways adjustable for the driver and 4 for the front passenger. The seats are heated and cooled, according to the comfort of each passenger – not an arbitrarily temperature like some heated seats I’ve used. Another convenience is both front passengers being able to adjust the heat/air temperature in their own zone. That’s a marriage counselor included in the price of the car!

I found the seat very uncomfortable until I found the lumbar-support button, after adjusting that I was much more comfortable, but still not as comfortable as in a Volvo or even the Acura TL seat. After a week with the car I never did find a satisfying seating position where I was really comfortable.

Entry and exit is very good with the doors swinging wide for easy access. It’s quite a big car, but once you’re inside and ready to drive off, it seems to shrink. It didn’t feel as large and intimidating I was expecting. Looking out the front window and having no reference points as to the length of the hood takes a little getting used to. Drivers of Acura/Hondas won’t have any trouble, as this is simply a typical Honda trait. Once you get used to it you don’t even think about it.

Windows, mirrors and seat adjustments are very easy to find and use, but operating the stereo takes real concentration (at first) – don’t try learning it while you drive! I couldn’t even load a CD ‘til I got home and looked at the 250 page manual. On that note – you don’t have to study the manual to learn how to operate it, just a quick look-see to get your bearings should suffice. A quick thirty-second look through the manual, and I was changing the pre-set radio stations, the bass, treble, sub woofer and had a CD in the dash. As for the SatNav it has it’s own 132 page manual!

As Acura’s flagship vehicle the RL is a wonderful car. Its 3.5 Litre 24-valve V6 engine is silky-smooth and very quiet, as you’d expect from a $50,000 [$70,000 CDN] car. Horsepower is rated at 300 @ 6200 rpm, and torque is a respectable 260 @ 5000 rpm. The throttle system is Drive-By-Wire and the almost-invisible 5-speed automatic is “Sequential SportsShift” with paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

What isn’t usual among luxury cars is the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive System (SH-AWD) on the RL. The system is designed not only for the safety of all-wheel-drive, but also to enhance performance by sending extra power to the outside wheels when driving in the twisty bits. The torque can be split up to 70% front-to-back, and when cornering all the power going to the rear can be directed to the outside wheel.

The “Sequential SportsShift” with paddle shifters is very simple to use – you go from Park to Drive and it’s regular automatic. If you want to have some fun knock the shifter to the left and now you can use the flappy paddles to run through the gears. The right one up-shifts and the left one downshifts. If you leave it in gear and it reaches the rev-limiter, it automatically up-shifts so there’s no damage to the engine. I found one occasion where I was trying to gear down to overtake a car on a hill and it just wouldn’t gear down for me fast enough. It was a bit infuriating as it ended up being as sluggish as my father’s Oldsmobile.

With 300hp on tap I expected the RL to have lots of giddy-up, but it was always a leisurely stroll up to and over the speed limit with no sense of urgency. Whether kicking down the throttle in automatic, or using the flappy-paddles it was quite similar, although if you started from 1st gear there was a bit of an improvement. Maybe that’s what Acura wanted built into the RL, but I found it less than exhilarating to drive. Since there was no real difference, after the first day of driving, I’d just leave it in automatic. The Acura CSX is far more satisfying to drive using the flappy-paddle gearbox.

On the highway it was perfect while cruising at 80mph [130km/hr]. It was very quiet and took some nasty road imperfections and patches in its stride with no shuddering vibrations sent to the passengers. On the back roads it was very easy to get the car way over the speed limit, even though I thought I was driving at the speed limit. Numerous times I’d look down at the speedometer and be shocked that I was traveling at 60 mph [100km/hr], when it felt like I was going 50 [80 km/hr].

The RL is loaded with all kinds of state-of-the-art toys and gimmicks – as is expected of a car of this caliber. There’s a no-key FOB – You just have to have it on your person or in the car, and you can start the car. You don’t even have to take the FOB out of your pocket to unlock the door or the trunk, just walk up to the car, you hear a quiet beep, and open the door or trunk. There’s probably a way to have the car lock up when you leave, but I didn’t look for the instructions in the manual on how to do that. You can even open the sunroof and all the windows with the FOB as you approach it – if you’re so inclined.

There’s a SatNav system as well as an integrated Bose 6-disc, Dolby 5.1 surround sound stereo system that plays DVD-Audio, DTS as well as WAV/MP3 CD’s. An XM satellite radio and On Star are optional. I have never heard a car stereo sound so good. You have to hear it to believe it! The whole system is a bit complicated since there is more than one way to operate it, but I’m sure it would be easy to decipher with a look into the very detailed manual or if you were with the car long term.

Other luxuries include: manual sunshades on the rear passenger windows, as well as an electric one for the rear window that is operated by the driver.

The list of safety items on the RL are numerous. Some of the highlights are: Side and curtain airbags in addition to the dash/steering wheel airbags; Headlight washers – something I think should be mandatory on all vehicles, not just luxury extras; Steering wheel mounted audio/phone controls (with buttons on the steering wheel too) ; voice-activated heating/audio/navigation system; hands-free telephone; LED taillights and brake lights with directional signals in the side mirrors.

AFS – Active Front Lighting System with Xenon HID Headlamps that swivel in the direction you turn (if you turn right, the right-side headlights turn up to 20 degrees). The Xenon headlights were very impressive. Until now I’ve never had the opportunity of using them at night – wow, what a difference over regular headlights. Everything lights up like it’s daytime. The best analogy I can think of is this – think of what your TV picture was like while watching a videotaped program on an old TV, then turn your head and look at the same program live and on a plasma TV. Eye-popping is probably the best way to describe it.

The RL came with 17” rims on Michelin All-Season tires. The steering feel was nicely weighted – light when you need it while parking and heavier when speeds increase.

The ride, fit and finish are superb. The RL is an extremely likable car, but I don’t think it’s the kind of car I’d actually love. It does everything well, but I think it lacks personality. Rear seat accommodation is very good for 2, but I wouldn’t like to be stuck in the middle, so I’d class this car as a 4 seater only – never 5.

Pricing for the 2006 RL:
$49,470 [$69,500 CDN]

Fuel Consumption: [Premium Fuel]
The five-speed automatic is listed at 18 mpg – city [12.9L/100 km] and 26 mpg – highway [8.4L/100 km]
I averaged 9.3 hwy / 12.4 city and 500 km’s per tank.

Acura’s outstanding quality, fit and finish
Unbelievable sound system

Flappy-paddles are not for this car
Sluggish transmission if you want sudden power rush for overtaking
A driver’s seat that isn’t too comfortable

Would I Spend My Money On It?:
No, I’d buy the TL and use the money I saved to buy a convertible.

Back Seat Driver Test: 7 out of 10
Comfortable, but not a lot of room. A 2-person back seat.

Immediate Competition:
Audi A6; BMW 530/550; Jaguar S-Type; Infiniti M45; Mercedes E Class; Cadillac STS V-8; Lexus GS

By The Numbers…
10 – Quality
9 – Noise, Vibration & Harshness (NVH)
7 – Cargo Area/Trunk Space
10 – Special Features (Nav Sat/Heated Seats etc)

9 – Ease of Entry/Exit
9 – Front Roominess
7 – Rear Roominess
8 – Driving Position/Controls


9 – Drool Factor
10 – Fit & Finish


8 – Engine
7 – Transmission
10 – Ride & Handling

Ownership Value
7 – Bang for the $$
8 – Fuel Economy

128 Total / 150

Copyright © 2006 by Iain Shankland. All rights reserved.
Text: Iain Shankland / Images: Honda / Iain Shankland

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