While the sport-utility war has garnered more headlines than Operation Desert Storm, a more low-intensity conflict is being fought in the luxury car segment. Here, premium brands like Acura have rejected the brawn-is-best approach, in favor of technology, sophistication, and refinement. But make no mistake, it’s still a tough fight. And the latest soldier to enter this fray is the 2002 Acura 3.5 RL. But, does this upgraded Acura have the firepower to win on the well-defended luxury battleground? There’s no doubt the freshened 2002 Acura 3.5 RL is in a luxury class with heavy hitters. But Acura didn’t earn its reputation for quality and excellence by being a shrinking violet, and the new 3.5 RL comes with plenty of upgrades to give it a fighting chance. Although the 3.5 RL is one of the few in its class to lack a V-8, it does compare well to 6- cylinder rivals. The 3.5 liter, all-aluminum, SOHC, 24-valve, V-6 has been tweaked for more horsepower, up to 225 from 210, and more torque, now 231 pound-feet, up from 224. And it generates respectable acceleration with 0 to 60 dispatched in 7.9 seconds, and the quarter mile passed in 16.1 seconds at 89 miles per hour. Our drivers wished for more low end grunt, but noted that power builds nicely in the mid-range of the powerband and continues to pull strongly to the redline. Better than good is the smooth automatic. While it has only 4 gears, it does include Grade Logic Control that virtually eliminates unnecessary gear hunting on steep grades. Acura engineers have also massaged the 3.5 RL’s suspension to take full advantage of the engine’s new-found power. As the 4-wheel independent double wishbone set up has been given firmer spring and damping rates, larger stabilizer bars, and stiffer front end bushings. These new suspension calibrations give the revamped RL added stability in our low speed slalom exercise despite some still fairly evident body roll. Understeer progresses gradually to oversteer when pushed, and in a class where numbness is the norm in the steering department, feedback from the RL’s retuned speed-sensitive rack and pinion unit is better than most. While the highway ride is tauter than the previous RL, you still know it’s a luxury sedan. However, on uneven roads the ride turned unexpectedly bouncy. And there’s less isolation than others in its class. But thanks to improved insulation in the engine compartment and dash area, engine noise coming into the cockpit is almost nonexistent. Wind noise has also been reduced by the use of new door seals, but a conspicuous amount of road noise does find its way into the cabin from rear quarters. But you may be so comfortable that you won’t notice. As all occupants are treated to plush, yet supportive seats, covered with ultra-soft leather. With driver and front seat passenger enjoying power adjustments and heat. The power tilt/telescoping steering wheel features integrated audio and cruise controls. It is also wrapped with leather and fronts a set of large and easily read analog gauges. The screen for the available DVD navigation unit sits atop the center stack, along with the audio controls, that are placed underneath, somewhat awkwardly away from the driver. But this sweet-sounding Bose system features a cassette player and CD changer, and 8 speakers driven by a collection of amplifiers that deliver a total of 225 watts of power. And the automatic, single zone climate control system is also equipped with a two layer micron dust and pollen filter. There are also air vents for the spacious rear seat with nearly 36 inches of leg room. There are no folding seatbacks, but behind the center arm rest is a ski-size pass through to the trunk, where you’ll find 14 cubic feet of cargo capacity, the 6-disc CD changer and DVD drive for the nav system. The 3.5 RL is not only plenty comfortable, it’s plenty safe too. With updated ABS 4- wheel disc brakes bringing us down from 60 in just 118 feet. Pretty impressive for a 3900 pound sedan. There’s all-speed Traction Control for slipless acceleration, and the VSC stability system to help nudge you properly around corners. However, the 3.5 RL scores its biggest hit against the competition in pricing. Base price is $43,630. That’s up a thousand dollars from last year. With Navigations system, it jumps two grand more to $45,630. That’s still about 3 grand less than an E320. As the aggressively defended luxury sedan struggle continues, the reworked 2002 Acura 3.5 RL remains capable of holding on to Acura’s piece of the turf a little while longer, at least until a V-8 arrives. And we just hope that’s soon. Then the highly refined, utterly dependable, and technologically advanced RL should have the raw power it needs to finally gain ground.
Engine: 3.5 Liter Sohc 24-valve V6
Torque: 231 Lb Feet
0-60 MPH: 7.9 Seconds
1/4 Mile: 16.1 Seconds @ 89 MPH
60-0 MPH: 118 Feet