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Car Corner
Driving Impressions of the Acura RL & Chrysler 300

July 1, 2006
By Scott Lewis

I rented a Chrysler 300 while in New York a while back, and also had the chance to drive a friend's Acura RL. Having lived with the 300 for 5 days I think I can tell you what is good and bad about it. The Acura RL was another story. A friend recently bought it and let me drive it. It was a mean and nasty thing to tease me with such a wonderful car... that I cannot afford.

News

Before we get started this month I want to tease you with some news. I would write about it but this month's article was close to finished, and next month's article has been in the planning stages since October. I need to get them out before I deliver the latest news. So stick around for a couple of months, and sign up for my newsletter to be sure you know what the news is and when it will be on the web.

Oh, the calendar on this page is part of the news. Can you guess what it means?

Chrysler 300

We'll start with the Chrysler. I like the styling of the 300. It has a strong and large presence. "In Your Face" styling on some Mercedes E Class chassis components. I have been a fan of the car since it came out. I go back and forth, but in the end I think the styling of the 300 is better than the Dodge Charger.

Styling can sometimes be a bad thing. In the case of the 300 its styling is actually the source of the 300's biggest problem, visibility. Visibility around the vehicle is fine. I never had to worry about cars in any direction. I was even able to parallel park it on the first try. And I haven't parallel parked any car since 1998, so I thought this was a good thing.

It is traffic light visibility that is the big problem. I am 5' 10" and I had to duck down to see any traffic light I was at. And duck down a lot. No... I was not pulling too close to the light. I still had to duck down if there was a car in front of me. I had to be two cars back from the light to see it. This is a result of the low roof. Granted, from the inside the roof does not seem low. I had plenty of headroom. A friend of mine is 6' 2" and he found it adequate, if not abundant. However, to get that low, long look on the outside the roof line extends so far forward from the seats that it is like there is a permanent visor on the car. If you are thinking of this car make sure you pull up to a few traffic lights in your test drive. I can see this being a pain for less forgiving drivers.

Since my car was a rental it was a stripped model. I assume it had the the 2.7 liter engine rated at 190 horsepower. This engine was acceptable, but barely. I seriously recommend you step up to the 250 hp V-6. In normal driving there was enough power, but if you had to rush onto an on ramp you might worry there wasn't enough power to get the job done. Granted, I never got rear-ended or honked at, but a honk seemed close coming on a couple of occasions.

Overall I like the handling of the car very much. It feels solid, and gives a really nice ride. Yet it doesn't feel like a typical big American car. Oh, you can feel a tiny bit of the big boat feeling, but it is mostly under control. I think they struck a great compromise between ride and handling for such a large vehicle. Granted, the tires need upgrading. The ones on the rental car squealed a lot. A lot more than I thought appropriate for the driving I was doing. Having driven a Charger SRT8 with the big 20" wheels, I know they can get this car to take serious corners without any tire squeal. I checked Chrysler's web site and the base tire for the 300 is P215/65R17. I would suggest to anyone buying this car to step up to the optional P225/60R18 touring tires. You won't regret it. 

The interior controls in the base model leave a bit to be desired, but they are good enough. I really hated that the power windows were only auto down for the driver only. This is the same type of auto feature that is on my 1993 Camaro and my wife's 2001 Acura MDX. It is also the same as it was for my wife's previous SUVs, a 1996 Ford Explorer and a 1999 GMC Suburban. This car really should have auto down AND UP for at least both front doors.

The climate controls got the job done, however, I noticed at the New York International Auto Show that the 300C has automatic climate control with dual zones. Get this option if you are looking at something less than the 300C.

The seats in the base model suck. They are way to firm, and you ride on top of them. However, the 300C from the auto show saves the day as its seats were very sweet in leather with a small patch of soft suede. Upgrade the interior of the 300 to the leather seats and you should be happy. Ideally get a dealer to install the "performance" bucket seats they use in the SRT and Heritage editions. You will really like them.

One unusual feature of the car was an "auto" signal. If you depress the turn signal stalk about half way and release the blinker will signal 3 times. How nice. I have been holding the turn signal stack half way down 9or up, as the case may be) for years. This feature should eliminate that. Notes I said "should." It does not. If you hold the turn signal midway down for any length of time you loose the benefit of the auto signal. For instance, holding it half way for two blinks results in just one more blink before the signal stops. You can get up to 3 blinks otherwise you will have to hold it yourself. Frankly, three blinks in not enough. If it were 5 I would love this feature. As it stands it's mostly a novelty that I will not use enough.

I did not measure my gas mileage while in New York, but it seemed bad. I would suggest convincing a dealer to lend you a car overnight and drive a whole tank of gas through it and determine what mileage you get in your own driving style. Just to be sure. A guy in a Jetta diesel told me he sold a 300C because the mileage was terrible (he claimed 10-12 mpg). I can see this being the case in the area of New York I was, as there is a lot of stop and go traffic. Here in Texas I drive a LOT of highway miles and would hope to benefit from the cylinder deactivation of the Hemi that is rated at 25 mpg on the highway. Your mileage may vary... you have been warned.

After driving the base 300 for 5 days, and sitting in a nice 300C at the auto show, I can say I would really consider getting the 300C. Gas mileage will be the only problem. Can I live with 25 mpg on the highway. That is a step up from my Camaro, but not enough to make a real dent in my gas bill. I was hoping for 30 mpg or better from my next car.

Overall I think I would really like the 300C. As for the base model, it cuts too many corners. You should start with the Touring Edition if you are thinking of this car. Leave the base model to the rental fleets. If gas mileage is a big concern for you look elsewhere. If you want a more sporty sedan in this price range as of the 300C test drive the Acura TL, Infiniti G35 or Lexus IS 350. However, if you want a relatively big sedan with a great compromise between ride and handling, plenty of power, almost reasonable gas mileage (certainly better than an SUV) and seating for 5 then you really need to check out the 300C. I will when it is time for me to buy a car.

Acura RL

A friend recently bought this car. He let me drive it around his neighborhood while I was in New York in April. This was the meanest thing he could have done. I was so impressed by almost everything the car did. However, at $50,000 I cannot afford one. He got a great deal on his, but even matching his deal I still cannot afford it.

The Car

The Acura RL is all new. Acura/Honda are so dead set against putting a V-8 engines in their cars that they insist on putting a V-6 in their flagship car. Granted, this V-6 puts out 290 horsepower, which is as much as some V-8 cars (the Mustang has a 300 horsepower V-8, for instance). I don't know if I would be swayed just by a V-8 knowing that the Acura has as much power as it does. 290 horsepower is plenty, but some people want more. I was very impressed with the power in the Acura. I would have to test drive a V-8 powered car from Infiniti (M45), Lexus (GS430), or BMW (550i) before making up my mind. But the truth is you really don't NEED more power than this car has. More power would be frivolous on America's highways... at anything close to legal speeds.

In fact, let's take a look at the competition on this:

Car                  Horsepower
Acura RL             290
BMW 550i             360
Mercedes Benz E500   302
Infiniti M45         335
Lexus GS430          300
Cadillac STS         320
Jaguar S-Type        300
Audi A6              335

O.K. So the Acura does have the least horsepower of any of its competition. But lets take another look. The Acura and the Audi are the only cars here that are all wheel drive. Some of the cars above can be had with all wheel drive, but they drop down to a six... such as the M35 instead of the M45. 4Motion is available as an option on the Benz, but that drives the price up and the MB is already more expensive than the Acura.

If you want some real numbers Car and Driver clocked the Acura RL at 0-60 in 6.7 seconds. C&D also clocked a V-8 BMW 550i to the same 60 mph mark in 5.5 seconds. If you really NEED that 1.2 seconds you are driving in a manner that will get you pulled over in a hurry. Granted, I am a power junky myself, but this car is more than fast enough. Plus, when was the last time you saw a 550i being driven hard. The fact is, the owners of these cars use the power as a bragging thing amongst their affluent neighbors and friends. Buy smarter and get teh V-6 in the Acura. Trust me, I have driven faster than every BMW I see on the road... with a 13 year old car... and I am not trying.

Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD)

Let's talk about all wheel drive. Acura has what they call Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). This is a system that actively monitors all aspects of the car and delivers power to the wheels that need it. It is really amazing. My friend kept telling me to push the car harder and harder. I was worried being unfamiliar with the car. Plus there was a LOT of sand on the roads left over from recent snow on the ground. I would lift off the throttle and brake into the corner and try to power out of the turn. WRONG! You want to brake BEFORE the turn and POWER THROUGH the entire turn. This takes some getting used to, but it works. I noticed that when braking and even coasting through the apex of the turns (with the sand on the ground) the car would slide a touch. However, if I braked before the turn I could power through the turns and the car just hunkered down and took off with no loss of traction.

What is going on here it that the all wheel drive can only help you when it is "applying power." If you coast through a turn the all wheel drive it not doing anything. Nor is it working when you are braking. To get the all wheel drive to work its magic you have to be on the gas. And it is MAGIC. The car never once tried to slip or slide when I was powering hard through the corners of a sand fill intersection. The car just goes... and goes fast.

The on-board computer can diplay exactly how the power is being sent to the wheels at any given time. It can be a lot of fun to watch, but if it is really doing a good job you should be looking at the road and not this display.

One other benefit of SH-AWD is that more power is send to the outside wheels )particularly the outside rear wheel) in corners. This is to help the car turn. Basically powering you through the turn, even when traction is not an issue. I have read that you would need to take this car on a race track to fully appreciate what it can do for you. I agree, but you can still feel a marked improvement over on the street.

BTW... I had my brother with me when I visited my friend. We drove out to his house in the Chrysler 300. When we left for the evening I drove through the same intersection with the 300. It was sliding and spin its tires all over the place in the sand. SH-AWD is awesome!

Overall handling of this car is amazing, especially if you consider how heavy this car must be. I didn't look it up, but this is a full size sedan and it takes corners as good as a sports car. Once I got used to applying power so the SH-AWD system could do its thing, the car felt very secure an light on its feet.

Also, power was never a problem hitting very illegal speeds. My friend encouraged me to push it harder and harder. There is plenty of power available at any time. When Acura first announced they were putting the V-6 into the new RL I thought that was a mistake. I don't think that anymore. This car has all the power you need and then some. It is certainly fast enough to get you in lots of trouble with the law. I don't imagine that the owner of a BMW is going to challenge and Acura RL owner to a drag race, so don't worry about the extra two cylinders. I forgive Acura for the V-6. 

The ride of the Acura is plenty comfortable. To date, it is the quietest car I have ever driven. Considering the level of performance it is a marvelous sports luxury sedan. 

The Acura is not wanting for any technology items either. It has just about every techno crazed item you want. Bluetooth, yep. GPS, yep. Voice commands, yep. I did not try out these items, because that was not the point of driving. However, my friend did a quick demonstration of the voice commands. Too hokey for my tastes. If you have to learn specific command, and say them just right it loses something. I will prefer it when you can speak "conversionally" to your car and it will do what it is told.

The RL has an automatic transmission. Like many others they have a manual "mode." This includes paddle shifters. The right paddle shifts up and the left paddle shifts down. I briefly engaged the manual mode and flipped the paddles a couple of time. The transmission shifted pretty slow to me. The paddles themselves seem perfectly sized and placed behind the steering wheel. They were right were my fingers went to touch them. I didn't have to make any adjustments to the way I was holding the steering wheel for spirited driving. Unfortunately I did not give the manual mode my usual abusive testing. That would include running the car and not shifting to see if/when the car could shift anyway. I have yet to see a "manumatic" that doesn't take over when it thinks you are going to far. The problem is that every system I have experienced takes over too soon. My wife's Porsche 911's TipTronic will up-shift on its own at 6600 RPM in manual mode, even though redline is 7200 RPM. Oops! My guess is that the Acura would be no different. Test this feature yourself.

What is there to say about this car. It is truly a world class car. Because of this a have a hard time with Acura. Their marketing of this vehicle is terrible. This car really is so good that you would have to be crazy not to consider it the bargain of the luxury car market. Acura is not doing a good enough job letting people know they are a serious luxury car maker. That's a big mistake. This car is a great flagship model, yet I see it being overshadowed by so many other cars it competes with. All it is loses to some of the competition is that cachet that the others bring to the table. In this price range you must check this car out.

Conclusion

If you are looking for a luxury sedan that handles great you have found your car. Buy the Acura RL and know that you saved a small fortune over the BMW 550i (starts at $58,500) and the Mercedes E500 (starts at $59,825). Good luck getting the Bimmer or Benz for close to their base prices. The RL starts at $49,300 and the only option you need is the Technology Package bringing the price up to $53,100. Each of the Germans would be well over sixty grant with the same features as the RL. The RL is a bargain in the luxury car market.

If you are interested in the 300 (especially the 300C) I recommend a serious look. Like the Acura for $50K the 300C at $35K is a great car for the money.

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