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2003 Acura 3.5 RL

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SAN FRANCISCO: The 2003 Acura 3.5 RL is the ultimate Honda four-door sedan. Substantially larger than the ubiquitous Accord, it is a direct descendant of the Legend, which, along with the Integra, introduced the world to the new upscale Acura line in 1986.

Honda, successful purveyor of motorcycles, exquisite little hatchbacks and sturdy compact sedans, apparently felt that Americans wouldn't accept a luxury sedan that challenged Mercedes and BMW if it wore the modest Honda badge. So, they created the first luxury Japanese marque, to be followed in 1989 by Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti divisions. Now we take it for granted, but a $35,000 Honda was quite remarkable back then. Acura sold its two millionth vehicle last summer, a sure sign of success.

The 3.5 RL takes up a lot of driveway, but, interestingly, it is not as big as the top-of-the-line Lexus and Infiniti. Honda does not produce a V8, so the 3.5 RL flagship actually competes with the midrange luxury models from its Japanese and European competition. But that doesn't mean that this car lacks for anything.

The RL comes only one way--loaded. Without reciting the entire laundry list of features, the car has four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, a leather-trimmed interior, wood on the center console, and a driver's eight-way power seat (the passenger gets four-way). In addition, the RL boasts position memory for the driver's seat, steering wheel, and mirrors, plus a power moonroof, alloy wheels, and a superior Acura/Bose sound system with six-disc changer.

The only option is a navigation system, and Acura features one of the best, with a big, seven-inch color touch screen and an intuitive user interface. Thanks to global positioning by satellite, you can get information or directions to 3.7 million local restaurants, theaters, and other places near you. Of course, you can request directions to a specific address.

Part of the fun of testing navigation systems is trying to confound them. This one insisted on working well, directing me to wherever I requested. We used the system to find stores, restaurants, and the post office, and it cheerfully narrated our trip in slightly Japanese accented English. But beware; the system proudly led me to two closed branches of my bank one Saturday morning.

Powering the 3.5 RL is a 3.5-liter 24-valve V6 engine with a four-speed automatic transmission. This engine delivers 225 horsepower and a flat torque curve for a sporting sense of power. Many sophisticated technologies enable Acura to wring every bit of power out of the V6. The engine meets Low Emission Vehicle (LEV) standards, and earns mileage scores of 18 City, 24 Highway while doing it. The engine goes 105,000 miles without a scheduled tune-up.

For peace of mind, Acura Total Luxury Care (TLC) provides free 24-hour roadside assistance, concierge service, and trip routing. And the 3.5 RL comes with OnStar, the 24-hour, in-vehicle communication system that lets a driver get instant vocal response from a central information office. You can get help immediately if you're lost, and medical attention if you fall ill or are in an accident. And, you can add other features for extra convenience at additional cost.

The only available transmission is a four-speed automatic with grade logic control. This clever feature automatically holds the transmission in the proper gear while ascending or descending a hill, avoiding the dreaded gear hunt.

Of course, as a top-level vehicle, the 3.5 RL comes standard with four-wheel disc brakes with a four-channel Anti-lock braking system. It also features a vehicle stability assist (VSA) system, which integrates the anti-lock brake at each wheel with the throttle and the traction control system. The VSA system computer uses sensors to compare what the car is doing with the driver's input. If it notices a significant variation, the system can brake a single wheel or alter the throttle position to compensate for it. Stability programs can create an artificial feeling, but Acura swears that enthusiast drivers will love their system. I really didn't notice it working.

A 3.5 RL with the navigation system will set you back $45,650, including the destination charge. What is it that makes it worth two Honda Accords? Acura's no compromise philosophy combines top quality materials, expert assembly, and many sophisticated design and technology features.

For example, on the technical side, hydraulic engine mounts adjust their damping levels to reduce engine vibration felt in the cabin. The forged steel engine crankshaft is microfinished for long-term durability, like in a Formula One racecar. The muffler system and air intake are specially designed for quiet operation. The suspension damper units use Teflon seals to reduce friction.

Luxury bonuses include specially tanned leather that stays soft and flexible. Tendo, whose work is displayed in the New York Museum of Modern Art, produces the camphor wood trim. Engineers used NASA's NASTRAN finite-element analysis program to analyze the springs in the seats. Heat rejecting glass minimizes discomfort from the sun.

The only glitches I could find were a sunvisor that bumped the inside mirror, pushing it out of adjustment, and an especially long twist of the ignition key. The styling, while handsome, is beginning to look a little old fashioned next to recently redone entries from the competition. However, the 3.5 RL remains a car with numerous virtues and no vices, generously proportioned but nimble and sporty on the road, a safe and peaceful refuge from noise and stress. By Steve Schaefer AutoWire.Net - San Francisco

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Byline:  Syndicated content provided by Tony Leopardo AutoWire.Net
Column Name:  Acura is a sure sign of success.
Topic:  2003 Acura 3.5 RL
Word Count:   968
Photo Caption:  2003 Acura 3.5 RL
Photo Credits:  Acura Internet Media
Series #:   2003 - 5

Download the Microsoft Word version here:   2003 Acura 3.5 RL

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