First Generation Acura RL

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In 1996, the replacement for the Acura Legend was introduced. Known internally as "KA9", officially, RL originally stood for "Road Luxury," however some suggest that it stood for "Replaces Legend." Whatever its meaning, the 1996 Acura 3.5RL was introduced to lackluster reviews. The automotive world had been expecting a true competitor to the Lexus LS to emerge. The RL fell short and was continuing to drop in sales until it was finally redesigned for the 2005 model year. The main problems holding back the car seemed to be the option of a V8 powerplant and rear-wheel drive. So in 1996, laying to rest predictions of a VTEC V8 powerplant, the 3.5RL was powered by a 3.5 L V6 engine, derived from the previous Legend's 3.2 L unit. The engine provided 210 hp (later 225 hp). Handling was soft and ponderous. Interior space was adequate.

Despite all the compromises, the RL was still a competent vehicle. Few could find fault in it and it provided a serene, almost silent highway ride. The transmission, a 4-speed automatic, was smooth and silky. Reliability and fit-and-finish were excellent. Still, a lot was lacking in the car and sales suffered in the first three years.

The 3.5RL was a conservative, well-designed, and well-mannered luxury vehicle. The 3.5RL provided all of the expected luxury features of vehicles costing much more, yet provided the practicality of a 3.5 L, 210 hp V6 with excellent low-end torque reaching a peak at a low 2800 rpm. The 1998 3.5RL was upgraded with a refined suspension. Honda engineers, as usual, found a way to increase the firmness of the suspension without any additional harshness. It provided better driving dynamics as well as overall vehicle control. Other additions for 1998 included new wheels that improved overall style with a subtle sportiness.


In 1999, addressing those concerns, the RL received a front and rear facelift that included the addition of newer, more stylish xenon HID headlamps and integrated foglights along with new bumpers and hood. The difference, while seemingly subtle, gave the car a new more assertive stance. Suspension and chassis were stiffened and the alloys featured a new look. For safety, driver and front passenger side airbags were added. The Acura RL was back in the fold and sales increased.

In 2000, a larger navigation system screen was added. Along with that larger screen was the conversion to easy-to-replace DVD map databases. In 2002, another subtle change was given to the RL with painted lower trim and mudflaps along with redesigned alloys and a newer, more sportier suspension. Perhaps more importantly was the engine which now was upgraded to produce 225 hp and 231 lb-ft of torque along with more insulation in the engine compartment as well as the fact that OnStar was added in 2002 as well as XM Satellite Radio in 2003. The 2003 and 2004 RL's received clear turn signals in the rear lights, another new wheel design as well as various interior upgrades including new color schemes. For 2004, the navigation system came as standard as well as a more modern looking, redesigned center consol and chrome door lock pulls. Absent a major redesign in 8 years, however, the RL's sales slipped to their lowest levels in the 2004 model year. Acura and dealers both provided generous incentives on the final models.

The 2004 RL's engine was the last in the Honda and Acura lineup not to use VTEC, Honda's variable valve timing system. The 2004 RL was also the last Acura to use the numeric designator for its engine displacement.

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