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2004 Acura 3.5 RL Full-Size Luxury Sedan

Base MSRP Range: $43,150 - $45,150
Base Invoice Range: $38,420 - $40,200
MSRP As Tested: $45,600
Versions: 3.5 RL
Vehicle Category: Full-Size Luxury Sedan
Engine Location: Front Engine
Drive Wheels: Front-Wheel Drive
Engine As Tested: 3.5-liter, Single Overhead Cam, 24-valves, V-6 cylinder, 225-horsepower at 5,200 rpm and 231 lb-ft torque at 4,700 rpm.
Transmission As Tested: Standard 4-Speed, automatic withGrade Logic Control system.
Fuel Economy (city/hwy): 18/24
Standard Safety Features: Driver and front passengerairbags, power-assisted disc brakes, Theft-deterrent system, Traction Control,Vehicle Stability Assist.
Competition: BMW 5 Series, Infiniti M 45, Infiniti Q 45, Mercedes-Benz E Class, Lexus GS 430, Lincoln LS, Audi A6


When it comes to refinement, precision, and balance, Acura's 3.5RL is so close to perfection it's hard to imagine any better car.

Its clean style, quiet interior, beautiful craftsmanship, sharp handling, and smooth V6 engine exude a sense of flawlessness that few cars can match, no matter what the price. Every piece of trim, every sound in the cabin, every mundane trip around town seems to say, "This car is very, very special." It has no weaknesses.

Yet, despite coming so close to excellence, the RL is missing the intangible quality that elevates mere passenger cars to the godlike status of world-class luxury transportation. Just sit in a high-end Mercedes-Benz, Lexus, or Audi, and you'll notice it, too.

While those cars feel rock solid, almost like being locked in a vault, sitting in the RL feels more like being sealed in a Zip-Loc bag. It's serene, sterile, quiet, and smooth, but it lacks the feeling of solidity and excess that separates the world's best from the dozens of wannabes.

Where could it be improved? The most obvious place is in the engine bay, where a 3.5-liter V6 makes an exceedingly refined 225 horsepower. Although it is among the best V6 engines ever made, a couple of extra cylinders and more displacement would give it the prestigious oomph necessary to compete with the likes of Mercedes and Lexus.

Its styling is also starting to look dated, more like a 10-year-old Accord than a contemporary curvy, swoopy Honda. Luxury cars should look like luxury cars, and this one won't draw any second glances.

Where the RL excels is in handling, a function of its relatively light weight and outstanding suspension. It has a silky highway ride to make it elegant and comfortable on long road trips, but it feels almost like a sports car on twisty roads. Body roll is kept to a minimum, steering is responsive, and brakes are firm, making it one of the most fun luxury cars available

It also has a very impressive price, costing thousands less than its nearest competition, the Lexus LS430. No options are offered because it comes fully loaded from the dealer -- even including a navigation system and satellite radio as standard equipment -- for the exceptional price of $45,600.

That's significantly less than many luxury SUVs that don't come close to matching the RL's refinement. It's also $30,000 less than a Mercedes S-Class with similar equipment, one of the few cars that match the Acura's build quality and performance.

In the end, picking the RL over other luxury flagships is a matter of priorities. Other luxury cars offer more prestige, better style, more horsepower, and fancier electronic gizmos than this top-of-the-line Acura. In that sense, the RL can't be a winner.

Then again, it has everything a luxury car needs without being superfluous or ostentatious, making it a bargain for high-end transportation. It has a feeling of sophistication and perfection that no other vehicle at its price can offer.

Perhaps the greatest luxury of all is the satisfaction of getting a good deal.

Editors' Ratings

Pros: Compared to other flagship luxury cars, the RL is a bargain. Precision engineering and attention to detail are obvious, and it comes standard with a terrific navigation system and XM Satellite Radio. Handling is superb

Cons: Other V8-powered luxury cars can out-muscle the RL's V6, and styling looks dated.

Cons: None

Ratings (1-10)
Style: 6
Performance: 7
Price: 10
Handling: 9
Ride: 9
Comfort: 9
Quality:10 Overall: 8

More Data

Where Built: Japan

Major Options: Advanced Off-Road Technology Pkg, ElectricComfort Pkg, Navigation system

Seating: 5

Number of Rows: 2

Length in Inches: 196.6

Warranties: 4 years/50,000 limited warranty,5 years/unlimited miles corrosion, 4 years/ 50,000 miles free roadside assistance

Weight in Pounds: 3,893

Maximum Payload in Pounds: Not Available

Maximum Gross Vehicle Weigh in Pounds: Not Available

Towing Capacity in Pounds: 7,716

Gas Tank Capacity in Gallons: 18.0

Destination Charge: $500