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2006 Acura RL review:

2006 Acura RL

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The 2006 Acura RL's 3.5-liter V-6 pulls well and seems to do so more seamlessly over the previous model year. We suspect transmission programming has been revised, rather than any change to engine's torque curve. We like the absence of numb-throttle syndrome felt in so many other cars today, where hitting the throttle kicks in a whole series of sensors and servos rather than making the car respond in a satisfying manner. The RL's drive-by-wire throttle still feels like there's a cable running to the engine, and that's good. That said, the V-6 utters a slightly cheap note when accelerating, a problem that a couple of extra cylinders would cure.

Steering wheel paddles let the driver manually shift the automatic transmission.

Just as the RL comes with only one engine choice, Acura offers just one transmission to go with it. Its five-speed automatic can be manually shifted by either stirring the gear lever within a dedicated portion of its gate or by the use of two small shift paddles mounted on the back of the steering wheel. The left paddle downshifts, while the right upshifts. None of this matters since the paddles follow the steering wheel as it spins around, making a grab for either of the paddles a complicated guessing game. The gear lever is a much better way to influence this transmission, though we find its gate needlessly labyrinthine.

The car can also be manually shifted with the stick.

Braking was sure and smooth, with good, solid pedal feel. The car's roadholding technologies include Acura's Super Handling all-wheel-drive system and the vehicle-stability-assist program. Both work well to inspire confidence during freeway driving, as well as urban-cut and thrust-traffic negotiation.

When underway, this car feels like it looks: a biggish coupe in sedan clothing. It's light on its feet and has clean, quick reflexes rather than overprocessed smoothness. And while not truly a performance attribute, the interior cabin styling communicates a message of sporting readiness more than stately travel.

EPA-rated mileage for the 2006 Acura RL remains at 18mpg and 26mpg, city and highway, respectively. In our mix of about 250 miles of city and highway test driving, the car calculated an 18mpg average with a speed of 30mph.

The newest feature on the 2006 Acura RL is its Technology Package, which bundles adaptive cruise control (ACC), a collision-mitigation-braking system (CMBS), and Michelin Pax run-flat tires.

Adaptive cruise control is not rare any more, but combined with CMBS, it gets interesting. The system uses a radar device mounted on the grille to determine its distance from obstacles. A button on the steering wheel lets the driver toggle between three levels of following distance: roughly 1, 1.5, and 2 seconds, respectively. If the gap between the car and traffic ahead dips below the set threshold, the system lifts off the gas and can even apply the brakes. The experience can be eerie--even alarming--when someone cuts in front of the car, since the CMBS is able to clamp on the brakes pretty aggressively, although it can't actually stop the car. The system is meant for highway use, not avoiding rear-end collisions around town, and doesn't even function below 25mph.

Even when ACC/CMBS is turned off, the RL's braking system is an active design. Electronic brake distribution (EBD) biases the braking pressure from front to rear wheels depending on the attitude of the car and how it's loaded. On top of that, brake assist electromechanically works the brakes in a panic stop, applying maximum force to haul the car down to a controlled stop as quickly as possible. Both of these technologies, while not unique to the RL, are standard on the car.

The Michelin Pax run-flat tires are more than just a special tire on any old rim. Pax is a complete tire-and-wheel system. Inside the tire, mounted around the circumference of the rim bed, is a sort of skinny, semipneumatic inner tire. It allows the wheel to be driven, even with a total flat, up to 125 miles at 55mph before needing repair. A special tire-bead technology is also employed; even in the event of blowout, the tire casing should stay put on the rim. It's a tough item to test, but combined with the tire pressure-monitoring system, it certainly speaks to the new age of tire inflation.

The RL continues into 2006 with its active front-lighting system, Acura's version of low-beam headlights that swivel up to 20 degrees based on steering wheel angle and vehicle speed. The system is quite noticeable in operation and definitely throws a little more light into places 100 feet or so around the car's nose.

Each new RL comes with a year of OnStar Safe and Sound coverage, which includes remote door unlocking, air-bag deployment notification, stolen-vehicle locator assistance, and roadside assistance. After that first year, OnStar charges $16.95 a month or $199 a year to continue coverage.

The 2006 Acura RL's warranty remains at four years/50,000 miles on the overall car and any high-tech accessories optioned on it, but power train coverage has been bumped up to six years/70,000 miles, which we think is an appropriate for a $50,000 car.

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