Acura 3.5 RL(2000)

The top-of-the-line 3.5 RL is the largest, most expensive car Acura makes. This is just speculation on our part, but we'd guess that Acura designers had a huge poster of a Lexus LS400 up in the design studio when they penned this baby. It's similarly shaped, similarly sized, and comparable in a number of ways. It also happens to be a lot less expensive, with a cars.com target price of $42,000 (vs. $54,000 for the Lexus).

Driving Experience

AcuraOverall, it's a very easy car to drive every day. The ride isn't quite as soft as the Lexus'. This is a sportier luxury car. The 3.5 RL comes with a 210-horsepower V6 engine and an automatic transmission. It has plenty of power, and the handling is excellent. The ride is a little on the stiff side, which is a choice Acura made, shooting for a ride/handling balance somewhere between German-style-luxury (stiff) and American-style-luxury (Jell-O). There could be a little more resistance on the steering for our preference--it was light enough to bring back distant memories of Uncle Nunzio's '74 Rivera.

Anti-lock brakes are standard on the 3.5 RL, and the front-wheel-drive should provide good traction in rain and snow.

Interior

This car is slightly bigger than its predecessor, and you'll notice that on the inside. There's now plenty of room for you and your passengers. The leather seats are supportive but not too firm, and they warm not only your posterior, but your back as well.

Acura threw every amenity they could think of into the 3.5 RL: power windows, power seats, and power door locks, electronic tilt and telescope steering column, power moon roof, heated mirrors, and a trunk-mounted CD changer. There are even separate air conditioning controls for your mother-in-law in the back--ideally suited for sending her into a hypothermic coma. The only thing missing is a lap pool.

AcuraThe 3.5 RL has one serious flaw--although, fortunately, it's an optional flaw: a navigation system that, to put it politely, doesn't know its Aspen from its Elbow Lake. It did succeed in keeping Tommy out of town for a week when he tried using it, making it a valuable accessory--if you're Tommy's wife. To be fair to Acura, we've tried other navigation systems that have also been flawed, and we're not sure if it's Acura's fault, the fault of the software, hardware or due to a cataclysmic solar hemorrhoidal flare up that irradiated the GPS satellites. The bottom line? The navigation systems are still a lot of money, and far from perfect. So if you basically know your way around, you may want to save the extra dough and wait for the price to come down and the performance to go up.

Ergonomics

AcuraIn general, most controls in the 3.5 RL are well laid out and easy to find and operate, but there were a number of small annoyances. Why do you have to turn the ignition key further than one twist of the wrist to get the thing started? Why is it so hard to turn up the radio volume without accidentally increasing the fan speed? Why are the seat controls so hard to reach, down between the seat and door? How come the cheapskates at Acura couldn't install auto-up windows, when you can now find them in cars nearly half the price? Why are the heater controls so complicated? The problems we had with the Acura were typical of what we see in lots of luxury cars these days. In an effort to impress the customer, the manufacturer makes razzle-dazzle controls that are excessively complicated. Editors agree that the best writing is the clearest and simplest. When will luxury carmakers figure that out?

Aside from our niggling complaints, most of the Acura's ergonomics are pretty good. The instrument displays are clear and well laid out. There are also radio controls on the steering wheel, even if changing the station while turning can be hazardous to one's health.

Styling

We saw one of these at a car show, and it was drawing no interest whatsoever. It had just come out, and not a person was fawning over it or peering in through the windows. You could have started it up and driven off with it (although, if you were using the navigation system, you'd probably still be in the exhibition hall, looking for an exit.) It's best described as inoffensive. Then again, that seems to be exactly what Acura was shooting for. Acura saw how successful Lexus was with the inoffensive LS400, and they're looking for a piece of that action.

Reliability

The 3.5 RL should be as reliable as any other Honda/Acura--which is to say, don't expect cards from your corner mechanic on your birthday, because you won't be helping him with any boat payments. Expect excellent reliability.

Maintenance

AcuraThis is a car that you definitely want to take to the dealer for service and maintenance. It's a complicated vehicle; you're not going to want your neighborhood mechanic trying to put a timing belt on the 3.5 RL.

Overall comments

The 3.5 RL is comfortable, smooth, big, powerful and well appointed. It has tough company, however, with the BMW 528i, Mercedes E320, Lexus GS300, and Audi A6 all in the same price range.

Acura doesn't really seem to know where they're going with this car. It may still have some inner conflicts to work out. In some ways, it's soft and cushy like a knock-off LS400, while in other ways, it's sporty, suggesting an attempt to compete with BMW. It's either the perfect compromise, or not enough of anything. It looks best when compared to the Lexus LS400... It's got comparable room, styling, features and reliability--with a cars.com target price that's $12,000 less expensive. So if you're craving a full-size Japanese luxury cruiser, but can live without the V8 and don't care to shell out $54,000 for transportation, the 3.5RL might be your new car.

View cars.com model report on this vehicle.


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