Home » The Acura RL SH-AWD Is An All-Weather Flagship Luxury Sedan That Won’t Leave You High And Dry

The Acura RL SH-AWD Is An All-Weather Flagship Luxury Sedan That Won’t Leave You High And Dry

Super Handling Acura Rl Ts1

Whether you want to call it a delusion of grandeur or pulling one over on the man, there’s something immensely appealing in the thought of buying a heavily depreciated flagship luxury sedan. After all, you’ve worked bloody hard, so why not get yourself something nice as a reward? However, flagship luxury sedans usually come with problems. They’re often too complex for their own good, made worse by how they eventually end up owned by people who don’t give a hoot about maintenance.

The Acura RL SH-AWD is a bit different.

Vidframe Min Top
Vidframe Min Bottom

This four-doored sanctuary is a case of the Honda Motor Company doing what it knows best, and thanks to the magic of depreciation, it can now be had for genuinely sensible used car money. It’s less obvious than a Lexus LS, comes with a killer all-wheel-drive system, and best of all, this flagship luxury sedan is unlikely to let you down, provided you stick to its factory maintenance schedule. Daily driver duty? Bring it on.

Welcome back to Beige Cars You’re Sleeping On, a weekly series in which we raise the profile of some quiet greats. We’re talking vehicles that are secretly awesome, but go unsung because of either a boring image or the lack of an image altogether.

2005 Acura Rl Interior


Pulling on the door handle unlocks an artfully designed wood-clad cabin with a waterfall-style center stack being the absolute centerpiece. Even today, this is a great-looking interior, and one that holds up rather well thanks to Acura’s focus on quality. And it’s hard not to mention the sheer number of toys on offer here – we’re talking navigation, 10-speaker Bose stereo, electric rear roller blind, power-adjustable steering column, GPS-linked solar-sensing automatic climate control, active noise cancellation, and a proximity key system. Even in today’s era of gadget bloat, the RL still feels luxurious. However, the biggest, best gadget lies beneath the skin.

2005 Acura Rl Front

The party piece of Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive was and still is a fancy torque-vectoring rear differential. In the Acura RL, a set of electronically controlled clutch packs paired with a planetary gearset could overdrive the outside rear wheel when accelerating out of a corner by sending up to 100 percent of rear axle torque to one wheel. Further, cross-axle torque split could also be varied on deceleration to ensure cornering stability, and up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque could be sent to either the front or the rear axle. The result was a two-ton transverse-engined all-wheel-drive sedan that didn’t handle like a two-ton transverse-engined all-wheel-drive sedan. As Car And Driver discovered, it’s actually a fun system to play with:

Our 0.87-g skidpad performance reveals a system working miracles to keep 4030 front-heavy pounds aimed in the right direction, especially on the RL’s standard 17-inch wheels and 245/50 Michelin all-season tires–pretty tame shoes by today’s standards (an 18-inch wheel and summer-tire package will be sold by dealers). Out on the road, the RL glides through bends without a trace of plow, the steering wheel a taut linkage that is lightly weighted but alive with information. The more stupid the corner speed, the more the system shows its stuff. Stomp the gas, and the back end starts pushing, the rear rotating, the smiles widening. It’s not silly oversteer–it’s Super-Handling!

While fine details may have changed in Acura’s latest SH-AWD systems, the brand is still using torque-vectoring tech to make the vast majority of its vehicles more engaging. Speaking of engaging, there’s also lots of highbrow stuff going on beneath the Acura RL. Aluminum front and rear subframes cut weight, while double-wishbone front suspension allows for better camber curves throughout travel than a MacPherson strut setup. While we’re looking at the front axle, aluminum monoblock four-piston fixed brake calipers clamp onto beefy 12.6-inch front discs, providing ample stopping power. Nice.

Acura Rl Engine


As for propulsion, these RLs started out with a 3.5-liter J35A8 V6 making 300 or 290 horsepower depending on whether we’re looking at a 2005 model year or a 2006 to 2008 model year car. You won’t notice the 10-horsepower difference, as it’s not really there – the gap is merely the result of a revised testing procedure for horsepower calculation.

Yes, the J35 V6 will require timing belt replacement and valve adjustment at some point, but so long as you stick to the recommended maintenance schedule, it won’t leave you high and dry with unexpected problems as you may find in the German competition. Remember, BMW’s N62 V8 eats valve stem seals, early Mercedes-Benz M272 V6s had balance shaft gear problems, and the 3.2-liter FSI V6 in the Audi A6 of the time can occasionally eat timing chain guides.

2009 Acura Rl 1

For 2009, the Acura RL got an engine upgrade in the form of a 3.7-liter J37A2 V6 making, well, 300 horsepower. Sure, a gain of 10 horsepower doesn’t sound massively impressive, but an extra 15 lb.-ft. of torque and the addition of VTEC on the exhaust valves proved more useful in the real world. Speaking of useful upgrades, bigger anti-roll bars and faster paddle shifter response further enhanced the driving experience, while the addition of cooled front seats and deletion of the pesky Michelin PAX run-flat tire option made ownership a bit more pleasurable. However, the facelift came with controversy.

2009 Acura Rl


Around the turn of the 2010s, Acura was taking a big styling risk with something it called the “Power Plenum” grille, see above. It looked a bit like a vegetable-slicing implement and every model it was applied to drew the vitriol of critics and consumers. Of the 2009 Acura TL, Automobile wrote “Not even a mother could love this car’s face.” Perhaps this odd facelift was part of the reason why the 2009 RL wasn’t exactly a best-seller, with just 2,043 sold that year, less than half as many as in 2008.

The beak was revised for 2011, but the bigger story was the six-speed automatic transmission that replaced the old five-speed. Not only did the new gearbox deliver a handy fuel economy boost, it added a sizeable dose of modernity. However, it’s not the coolest thing about the 2011 RL — that would be the set of noise-reducing wheels, with a polypropylene Helmholtz resonator in each unit targeting resonance between 100 and 500 hertz. Acura claimed these wheels helped contribute to a 1.3 dB decrease in cabin noise, and since decibels sit on a logarithmic scale, that’s significant. If you can get around the styling, the 2011 to 2012 models really were the best of the breed.

2006 Acura Rl

So, if you want a slice of flagship life that won’t make you car-poor, how much outlay are we talking? Well, it varies considerably based on model year and mileage, but it all works out to be fairly reasonable. If you’re cool with a relatively early car, here’s a 2006 model with 90,412 miles on the clock up for sale in Florida for $7,882. Sure, the headlights could use a polish, but this is a lot of car for less than $8,000.

2012 Acura Rl


If you want a nice low-mileage 2012 model, the last of the breed, here’s one with 86,015 miles on the clock up for sale in Salt Lake City for $16,995. That’s pretty much the top of the market, and it’s still less expensive than a gently used Honda Civic. Except it’s not a sensible economy car, it’s a flagship luxury sedan.

2005 Acura Rl Rear

So, if you want a winter-ready depreciated slice of the good life but find that unexpected repair bills aren’t your sort of surprise, why not take a good look at an Acura RL? Smooth, punchy, traction-abundant, and well-appointed, it’s a left-field luxury pick with a promise of rock-solid dependability.

(Photo credits: Acura, AutoTrader sellers)

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Russell Robinson
Russell Robinson
24 days ago

And just like basically every other v6 Honda, it will need a new transmission

28 days ago

Don’t forget the TL-SH AWD. You could get it with a very nice clicky 6-speed manual and the same engine in a smaller package. Not sure who else makes a manual hooked to a potent v6 and an AWD system.

I don’t really have a need for one, but I do sometimes go looking for them…

29 days ago

Our 2005 RL is a great car. It has 234000+ miles and still runs fantastic, nothing mechanical has ever failed. We gave it to my son. My daily is a ’21 M235i but I use the Acura once in awhile and it’s still a pretty fun car now and the styling holds up.

The 2005 RLs had no options, they all came fully loaded. I also think the early ones look better then the refreshes.

Rich Benning
Rich Benning
28 days ago
Reply to  TDI in PNW

Not sure about the 05, but I know the 06 had a package with the run flat tires, and the adaptive cruse control. I did not want run flat, so I passed on the ACC. on that car.

Ben Chia
Ben Chia
29 days ago

My biggest problem with this is its forgettable name. RL SH AWD? That’s just a jumble of letters.

In Japan this was called the Honda Legend. Much more memorable (and appropriate)

The Dude
The Dude
29 days ago

People ask about why there aren’t any inexpensive new cars anymore, and here’s an example as to why. If I have a budget of ~$17k, do I want this or a Mirage?

Sure, the Mirage is a new car so there’s piece of mind with the warranty. Given Honda’s exceptional build quality, no question I’m getting the RL that was mentioned towards the end of the article, even with 86k miles.

Last edited 29 days ago by The Dude
Shooting Brake
Shooting Brake
30 days ago

Thomas, you are going to get people buying all my secret cars that are undervalued and I’m totally going to get around to buying cheap one day….

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x