Acura’s done well for itself over the years, even without a real flagship. The TL has become a desirable luxury/sport sedan. the TSX, despite its humble origins as the Euro-spec Honda Accord, has become a very, very interesting choice for a premium compact that won’t break the bank. Meanwhile, the MDX and RDX are popular in their segments because of their intelligent AWD, responsive engines (especially the RDX’s turbocharged plant), and smart packaging. But what do we all make of their “flagship” RL? I’m not so sure it’s really as good a car as the rest of the line.
The RL has been around for a good amount of time in its current form, and at first, it was different enough from the lesser models to merit a look. But, Acura hasn’t done anything to make the RL look like a better value than its little brother, the TL. For one thing, it’s over $50K for a base model, with the Advanced package putting the price to nearly $55K. For an Acura product, that’s not at all cheap. To make matters worse, it’s really not a full-size car, which I find unbefitting for a company that has a desire to compete with the likes of BMW, Lexus, and the like.
There’s other problems within the lineup that make the RL a poor value. On paper, it’s just a few inches larger in each dimension than the TL, but on the inside, the dimensions for hip, leg, and head room are microscopically different–not enough to make me sway towards it. The price difference between it and the TL is another problem. I wouldn’t pay 10K to get an extra inch or two of wheelbase. The sh-AWD TL shares its engine, automatic transmission, and drivetrain with the RL also. Because it’s lighter (by about 200lbs) and smaller, it’s more agile and has a tighter turning circle. To make matters even worse for the RL, the TL is available with a manual transmission, giving it some sporting credentials when equipped with AWD. It’s also got the Acura “grille tooth” treatment, which has been refined on the TL to give it a more attractive nose.
Meanwhile, the competition isn’t helping its case very much. The last time I checked, a loaded RL sedan is about 56 thousand bones, no small sum. For that amount, one buys a cushy, well-sized car with adaptive cruise control, 19-inch rims, all-wheel-drive, nagivation, powerfold mirrors, and a fully decked out interior, with wood, leather, and typical Acura ergonomics. While that all sounds pretty sweet, consider this: for a few thousand less, how about a loaded Cadillac CTS sedan with the big V6 (all 312hp of it), AWD, and all the bells and whistles? It won’t have adaptive cruise, but it’s a more athletic chassis, it’s lighter, and it looks a lot more exciting. The Volvo S80, despite its age compared to the RL, is cheaper with the same option set, and offers only slightly less power, while having a more attractive and understated style. Even a new 9-5 Turbo6 Aero XWD is about the same price (I know, SAAB is on the rocks, but the 9-5 is at least semi-interesting and a potential collector car if Saab does go under).
Overall, there’s no real reason for anyone to actually go buy the RL unless all that person wants is a slightly bigger TL. The TL is cheaper by about 10 grand, and other manufacturers can make a better car than the RL (in a similar size) for about the same pricetag. If Acura is really serious about their flagship, I’ve got a few suggestions. First off, why is it still FWD-based? Honda’s got a real problem when it comes to RWD platforms, as they don’t have one as of now. This hurts their ability to market the RL as a true flag waver for the Acura (and therefore Honda) brand. They also aren’t (as of right now) investing in high-performance, large-displacement engines due to the current geopolitical climate (I can understand that it might be a bit bad for image right now); this is a mistake, as a flagship should at least have a worthy engine. The big 3.5L V6 is quite a nice motor, but it would be better off with a V8, something Honda hasn’t designed for their passenger cars. In any event, the RL is lacking a lot as a flagship–if Acura wants to be taken more seriously in the higher end of the luxury market, they must do something.