2011 Acura RL: Driven

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What makes the RL distinct or alluring among luxury cars? How is it much different than the same-sized TL? And shouldn't a brand flagship feel a little more exclusive, a little less mainstream-lux?

These are all questions shoppers will be wondering, and we couldn't help but be left pondering them even after several days with a 2011 Acura RL Advance. In short: Performance was satisfying enough, and we felt comfortable and at ease, but as soon as we thought about what else we could get with the same money, we couldn't help but think that we'd jump ship for a Jaguar XF, BMW 5-Series, Infiniti M37. Heck, maybe even a Saab 9-5.

Part of it could be that, in a fickle luxury market, the RL's design isn't fresh. While the RL has been given a modest refresh for 2011, in the form of a new front end, revised interior tech and entertainment features, and a number of mechanical changes including a new six-speed automatic transmission, most of the car is carried over (and is now more than five years on).

Design still feels fresh inside, though not outside

For some seasoned luxury car buyers, the anonymity might be appreciated, but as Acura's left it for 2011 this sedan looks derivative and lost from the outside. Stepping around the RL, it just feels flat-out dull for a supposedly glitzy luxury car. Acura calls the RL's exterior styling aggressive, but after hemming and hawing from various angles, we just couldn't see it; it's a very conservative sedan. The snout had been its main talking point, but what replaces it this year is a revised, oddly conservative (and cheap-looking) grille treatment that looks less fluid and integrated than the original (of this generation) 2005 RL.

Inside, it's better, with the familiar Acura instrument panel layout—still close to that used in the TL—which has held up well. While stylistically it's pleasing and complex, with a middle belt that wraps across the dash and around into the doors, functionally it's refreshingly simple, if a bit cluttered, with center-stack controls nicely arranged with climate control up top, audio below that, and nav/trip controls beneath that.

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