Special Coverage

Chicago Auto Show

CHICAGO – American Honda Motor Co. Inc.’s Acura luxury brand is looking to increase sales of its flagship RL with the refreshed ’09 model, says Dick Colliver, executive vice president, at the Chicago auto show here.

Colliver says Honda has set an annual sales goal of 12,000 units for the vehicle, which has seen sales slump badly. Deliveries fell 45.6% in 2007 to 6,262 units, compared with 2006, according to Ward’s data.

When the RL debuted in is current form in late 2004, Honda expected sales of 20,000 units annually. But the vehicle never achieved that mark, even though the ’07 model was repositioned with less content and a lower starting price.

Acura acknowledges the RL’s competitive set, which includes the BMW 5-Series and Audi A6, presents its own challenges. So the auto maker promises the upgraded RL – unveiled here for the news media – is the most advanced vehicle Honda has ever built.

About 80% of the RL has been changed or updated for ’09, including its grille, which now mimics the shield design used by the Acura MDX large cross/utility vehicle.

“By the end of this year, I guarantee you won’t mistake an Acura for anything on the road,” Colliver says, noting the new RL, which hits showrooms in April, and the all-new TSX and TL sedans due later this year, will be “just the start” of Acura’s renaissance.

Under the hood, the RL gets the MDX’s 3.7L V-6, which replaces the RL’s original 3.5L. While boosting torque to 275 lb.-ft. (372 Nm) from 260 lb.-ft. (353 Nm), horsepower holds steady at 300 hp.

A new version of Honda’s VTEC valvetrain system is featured on the 3.7L. A higher compression ratio and a dual-stage magnesium intake manifold are among the powertrain’s features.

A next-generation 5-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters and a straight-gate console shifter completes the powertrain package.

To improve ride and handling, Acura equips the RL with higher-rate coil springs, bigger stabilizer bars and stiffer sub-frame mount bushings.

Particular attention is paid to the RL’s interior amenities. The AcuraLink satellite communication system now has real-time weather information, available on a single screen.

Bluetooth Audio is added to Acura’ Bose 10-speaker audio system, as is “improved button legibility” and a USB port to plug in MP3 players.

Other new interior features include a 10-way power front-passenger seat and trim that more closely resembles real wood.

Rear-seat passenger room, a complaint of the original model, has been increased, Acura says. Meanwhile, occupant interface is improved thanks to larger lettering on controls.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com