Acura this fall will equip its flagship RL sedan with all-wheel drive and a 300-hp V-6 engine to challenge luxury rivals who offer rear-drive and V-8s, dealers and analysts say. A hybrid gasoline-electric powertrain also could be part of the package.
Acura would not confirm the plan. But at least eight Acura dealers say the division has told them about the 300-hp V-6 with awd. And two analysts, citing conversations with suppliers and people close to the company, support dealer reports that the RL will have a hybrid powertrain.
Such a move would show that American Honda Motor Co. is taking a unique approach - a hybrid geared as much for performance as fuel economy - in a bid to elevate its luxury brand's flagship sedan.
"The next RL will show that Honda continues to think out of the box with powertrains, and that you don't necessarily need a V-8 for luxury cars," says analyst Michael Robinet, vice president of global forecast services for CSM Worldwide in Northville, Mich.
The current RL - with front-wheel drive and a 225-hp, 3.5-liter V-6 - has undersold comparable sedans from import rivals Lexus, BMW and Mercedes-Benz. Most high-end luxury cars in the United States have V-8 engines and rwd.
The 2004 RL begins at $43,725, including destination. The nameplate's U.S. sales peaked at 16,004 in 1997.
Last year, Acura sold 6,829 RLs, down 27.3 percent from 2002. Lexus sold 23,895 LS 430 sedans; BMW sold 46,964 5-series cars; and Mercedes-Benz sold 55,683 E-class models.
A concept of the redesigned 2005 RL will be shown at the New York auto show in April.
In the past, Acura and Honda concept vehicles have closely resembled the production version.