2006 Acura RL
When we reviewed the , it set the high-water mark among high-tech cars. Its sheer volume of technologies was vast and included some that no other car had at the time, particularly NavTraffic live traffic data incorporated into the navigation system. Since then, however, the market has become more competitive, with the and the as interesting alternatives. So how does the 2006 Acura RL stack up against the competition? Let's start with a summary of the changes since we first drove it.
Weightiest is a new set of vehicle-control and collision-avoidance technologies called the Technology Package, an odd name on a car with this much technology to begin with. It includes the collision-mitigating braking system, which applies the car's brakes to avoid hitting obstacles sensed by its forward-looking radar. This system is integrated with adaptive cruise control and bundled with Michelin run-flat tires to justify the $3,800 additional cost.
Also new for 2006 is Acura Music Link, an intelligent iPod adapter that plays, powers, and controls iPods through the in-dash factory audio system, which already plays just about every other source of sound known to man. Music Link is a dealer-installed piece with a list price of $214.
Engine power appears to be down at first glance, but this reduction is due to Acura following the new SAE J1349 horsepower rating method when it published the specs on the 2006 car. As a result, the horsepower calculation drops from 300hp in 2005 to 290hp on the 2006 RL. The torque number is also revised down slightly under the new rules, from 260 pound-feet in 2005 to 256 pound-feet today. Also, Acura dropped the 3.5 from the car's name, although the RL is still powered by a 3.5-liter V-6.
Loaded with every tech option on the build sheet, the Acura RL comes in at about $55,000. People who prefer a high-tech premium coupe but need a sedan would find that the RL makes a good compromise. For 2006, it continues to be a--if not the--class leader in high-tech driving.The 2006 Acura RL's navigation system is one of its biggest selling points. Along with the , it remains one of the only cars that integrates NavTraffic live traffic data into its built-in GPS system. Unlike with the much cheaper STS, NavTraffic is standard on the RL. Since we first reviewed this car in 2005, NavTraffic coverage has expanded to 22 markets, and by the end of March 2006, it should be in 31 major metro areas. We're big fans of live traffic information and think it makes an otherwise pricey, occasionally used luxury a lot easier to rationalize.
NavTraffic conditions are displayed clearly as color-coded roads and icons on the map, and the car can be set to read traffic alerts aloud. This service comes at a cost, of course. After a new RL's complimentary 12-month XM Radio subscription expires, NavTraffic costs $9.99 a month on its own or $16.94 a month bundled with XM Radio. XM Radio normally costs $12.95 a month, so the bundle with traffic represents a no-brainer savings.
The Acura RL's 8-inch LCD is still big and bright, but it's starting to look a little dated; its resolution is no longer the best in the business, and it doesn't offer a bird's-eye-view mode. It doesn't have touch-screen capability either, which is becoming more common, although the RL's screen is too far back in the dash for this to be simply added without repositioning the display closer to the driver.
Getting turn-by-turn directions from the RL remains a good experience, thanks to the viewing layout that puts an overview map on the left-hand 60 percent of the screen, while turn-by-turn directions occupy the right-hand 40 percent. We like that the RL doesn't treat the driver like a child and lock out destination entry while you're underway. And being able to use the internal Zagat guide to plot a course to a good meal is a boon to the foodies among us.
The RL's unique onscreen menu interface for navigation, audio, climate, and other settings bugged us in 2005, and it bugs us now. It still seems a bit nonintuitive--unlike any PC, cell phone, or ATM machine on earth. Fortunately, the voice-command system, which understands 560 instructions, works well as an alternative.
The Acura RL's Bluetooth hands-free system was easy to set up with a, and the call quality seemed excellent with the test calls we placed. Call status is shown in a bright electrofluorescent display nestled at the bottom of the speedometer, rather than interrupting what's on the main LCD. The RL's hands-free system needs some updating in the phone-book department, as it can't copy over contacts from a cell phone. Its 50-entry phone book must be manually populated using voice commands and voice commands only.
When we reviewed the, its audio system was quite remarkable in its support for DVD-Audio discs. The 2006 model remains exceptional in that aspect--not a good report card for the progress of DVD-Audio in cars, but that's another issue. The RL's standard-issue Bose audio system uses Cabin Surround and Center Point technologies to create very accurate imaging when playing any disc, but with their 5.1 surround-sound coding, DVD-Audio discs especially stand out. There are 10 speakers onboard, driven by a 280-watt, 6-channel amp.
The car also has Acura's active noise-cancellation system, which works whether or not the stereo is on. It samples and cancels low-frequency noise from the car's exhaust note, letting softer musical nuances be heard without cranking up the volume.
We believe the RL remains the only car with a climate system tied to its GPS navigation unit. By calculating the position of the sun, the car adjusts the two sides of the climate system to account for which side of the car is, assumedly, warmer. We've never been able to figure out how the car knows if it's driving in sunny weather or a downpour, however.