1998 Acura 3.5 RL
1998 Acura 3.5 RL
The pool of luxury cars is a deep one, teeming with fine automobiles offering blue-chip credentials and exciting, highly individual personalities.
But when a car’s character is founded on subtle, exquisite refinement, it isn’t always noticed. That’s been the problem for the Acura 3.5RL, a technically and aesthetically excellent automobile that is perhaps too refined for its own good.
The 3.5RL debuted late in the 1996 model year as the replacement for the Acura Legend, a luxury car with a sporty edge. When Acura adopted the alpha-numeric 3.5RL designation for its flagship luxury sedan, it took its new name seriously. The initials stand for “Refined Luxury,” and that is precisely what it offered: a smooth, cosseting and deeply luxurious experience.
For 1998, Acura has returned some of the sportiness to the RL. Disappointing sales in recent years have persuaded the company that some of its past successes can be attributed to the sporty handling offered by the old Legend. Sporty handling and engineering excellence, after all, are areas where Acura shines. For these reasons, the suspension settings on the RL have been revised for 1998, bringing a welcome crispness to handling response without introducing harshness.
A few more features have been made standard and the optional navigation system has been improved for this year, making the 1998 RL a more visible member of the luxury class.
Walkaround and Interior
In appearance, the RL aims for an upright, conservative look. The low lines and sharp edges of the Legend were
replaced by a taller, more formal profile with a prominent front grille. The soberly elegant exterior carries over
to this year, perked up slightly by new, sportier bright-finish alloy wheels.
This front-drive sedan is a big car, about the length of a Lexus LS 400. The modest-sized trunk has a packable
square shape, with a handy niche molded into the side to keep briefcases from skidding. A narrow pass-through in
the center of the rear seats lets you fit skis in the trunk.
The 3.5RL has a sumptuously comfortable, suitably hushed interior, with an airy spaciousness and plenty of elbow
It is available in two trim levels: RL and RL Premium. The list of standard features on the $41,635 base RL is
thorough, especially for 1998. Several features that previously were found only on the Premium model are now standard
on the RL, including the rich, eight-speaker Bose audio system with cassette and CD player, and heated outside
Exclusive to the Premium trim level are heated seats, traction control and a more extensive use of walnut trim. A
six-disc trunk-mounted CD changer is also standard. (It is optional on the RL.)
Luxury amenities abound. Entering and exiting is eased by the automatic steering wheel that glides up and out of the
way when you turn off the ignition. Two memory settings restore the wheel, mirrors and seat to your preferred
positions. A power moonroof is standard.
The leather seats are soft on first contact, and remain supportive over the long haul. The long seat cushions support
the thighs, and side bolsters on the seatbacks hold your back in place.
Rear seat comfort is particularly high, a carryover from Japan where cars like this often are chauffeur-driven. Extra
knee room has been carved into the front seatbacks, and the broad track under the front seat leaves plenty of foot
room. The undersides of the front seats are even carpeted to prevent shoe scuffs. Rear-seat passengers can adjust
the temperature with controls at the back of the center console.
Acura claims its climate control system has the quickest draw in the West, or at least in its class, with an air
conditioning system that can cool the car from 100 degrees to 70 degrees in 15 minutes flat, faster than any of its
competitors. Since our visit with the 3.5RL occurred in the dead of a Michigan winter, we can’t vouch for the a/c
claim, but it reflects the intense refinement that went into every detail of the car’s comfort quotient.
The illuminated instruments convey necessary information clearly and elegantly. Controls are intelligently arranged,
pleasant to touch and operate, and comprehensible without recourse to the owner’s manual. The speed-sensitive
windshield wipers adjust their rate to the car’s speed. The headlights turn on automatically. Even the leather has
been treated to reduce the amount of oil that evaporates in the sunlight.
Our only complaints are aesthetic quibbles. The wood trim, even on the Premium model, could have been laid on a
little more generously. And the center dash console, with its high-tech trapezoidal shape and materials, looks
a little hard-edged in this otherwise soft environment.
On the other hand, that high-tech look seems exactly right when the optional satellite navigation system is installed.
The six-inch color screen is linked to GPS satellites and a database of maps. Enter your destination and the route
will appear on the screen. A pleasant female voice gives you turn-by-turn directions.
The $2000 navigation system developed in-house by Honda R&D, is easy to learn. Some of the other manufacturers
have recently introduced navigational systems that incorporate the controls for the audio, heating and ventilation
systems, and we find those units a challenge to use. Entering commands on Acura’s system, however, is quick and
easy, thanks to the touch-screen technology.
When originally introduced, the system only covered California and Las Vegas. You can now order databases for
the Eastern Seaboard, the Midwest or the Southwest as well. The database includes maps and a virtual Yellow Pages
of hotels, gas stations, restaurants, tourist sites, ATMs and more.
The original RL’s performance matched its interior appointments: exquisitely well-executed in an unobtrusive way.
The 1998 edition, with its firmer damping and faster response, has a noticeable edge under its silkiness.
The RL is powered by a smooth and silent 210-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, the largest engine Acura has ever produced.
Even more impressive is its torque: 224 pounds-feet at an unusually low 2800 rpm. That helps give the V6 the
aggressive launch of a V8 and plenty of available power at most speeds.
The V6 is paired with a four-speed automatic transmission that has unduly firm shift points for a luxury car. The
speed-sensitive power steering provides good road feel at higher speeds and plenty of assist at low speeds.
The RL’s ride and handling are fully in step with its luxury goals. Even with the revised suspension, the RL doesn’t
have the firm ride and taut handling of a classic German sports sedan. There is more feedback to the driver than
before, but the overall impression is of effortlessness–which may or may not be to your taste.
The safety-equipment list is lengthy. Dual airbags, big disc brakes with ABS, seat belt tensioners, side-impact
protection (although not side airbags), and innovative padding to increase head protection are all standard. For
1998, a three-point seat belt has been added to the center rear position. The traction control on the Premium model
provides additional control on slippery roads.
Summary, Prices, Specs
Acura has employed its formidable store of technology and intelligence to develop a lovely car whose hallmark is an
exquisite sense of ease, comfort and luxury.
The accurate steering, good visibility, supportive seats, well-placed controls, rich silence and powerful V6 all
combine to create a confident, relaxing environment whether you are driving long distances or dodging local traffic.
And Acura’s reliability and excellent service organization help make the RL as easy to own as to drive.
The RL’s price compares favorably to its most direct competitors, the six-cylinder BMW 535i and Mercedes-Benz E320,
particularly given its luxurious equipment list. But it also faces competition from the popular entry-luxury class
just below it: The Audi A4, Lexus ES 300, Cadillac Catera, and Mazda Millenia S offer similar performance and luxury
for $5000 less, but are a bit smaller.
|Model Line Overview|
|Safety equipment (standard):||Dual airbags|
|Safety equipment (optional):||N/A|
|Basic warranty:||4 years/50,000 miles|
|Assembled in:||Saitama, Japan|
|Specifications As Tested|
|Model tested (MSPR):||3.5RL Premium|
|Standard equipment:||(3.5RL Premium) ABS, traction control, air conditioning, automatic climate control, heated seats, remote keyless entry, anti-theft system, leather, power moonroof, Bose AM/FM/CD stereo with six-disc changer, walnut trim, power seats with memory, power windows, heated power mirrors, cruise control, rear seat pass-through, speed-sensitive wipers, tilt/telescope steering|
|Options as tested (MSPR):||Floor mats|
|Gas guzzler tax:||N/A|
|Price as tested (MSPR):||$44549|
|Engine:||3.5-liter sohc 24v V6|
|Horsepower (lb.-ft @ rpm):||210 @ 5200|
|Torque (lb.-ft @ rpm):||224 @ 2800|
|EPA fuel economy, city/hwy:||19/25 mpg|
|Track, f/r:||61.02/60.63 in.|
|Turning circle:||36.1 ft.|
|Head/hip/leg room, f:||38.8/55.7/42.1 in.|
|Head/hip/leg room, m:||N/A|
|Head/hip/leg room, r:||36.8./56.5/35.4 in.|
|Cargo volume:||14.0 cu. ft.|
|Towing capacity:||2000 Lbs.|
|Curb weigth:||3693 lbs.|
|Fuel capacity:||18.0 gal.|
|Unless otherwise indicated, specifications refer to test vehicle. All prices are manufacturer's suggested retail prices (MSPR) effective as of November 10, 1999.Prices do not include manufacturer's destination and delivery charges. N/A: Information not available or not applicable. Manufacturer Info Sources: 1-800-TO-ACURA - www.acura.com|