When it comes to flagship luxury sedans, most European and Asian automakers start with a rear-wheel-drive platform and a standard -- or at least optional -- V8. As an outlier, Acura has held fast to its belief that V6 power is more than capable. This is partly mindful of fuel economy concerns and partly due to the fact that Honda simply doesn't make a V8 for any application outside of motorsports.
The new Acura RLX flagship sticks to the V6 formula, and also offers an update to Acura's all-wheel-drive system that first debuted in the RL sedan in 2005. There's no V8, but the base RLX does get a new all-wheel-steering system, while the hybrid model enhances its all-wheel-drive system with electric motors to send additional power to the front and rear wheels. Despite riding atop a 2-inch longer wheelbase than the RL sedan that it replaces, the RLX uses shorter overhangs, a wider stance and LED headlights to achieve a more compact, athletic look than its predecessor.
Acura has always trailed in this upper luxury segment with its powertrain offerings and has relied on its technological advancements to make a compelling argument. The Acura RLX continues that trend, delivering a dizzying array of tech features that include dual LCD displays, smartphone connectivity, hands-free audio, climate control and text messaging, as well as the next generation of the AcuraLink telematics service. And like most Acura vehicles, the RLX offers a high level of refinement and should deliver above-average reliability. It's enough to make Acura relevant again in this competitive luxury class.
Current Acura RLX
The Acura RLX debuts for the 2014 model year in base and Sport Hybrid versions. Both models get a 310-horsepower 3.5-liter V6, but that's really where the similarities end. The base model comes with a traditional six-speed automatic transmission connected to front-wheel drive. A four-wheel-steering system known as P-AWS adjusts the angle of the rear wheels for improved cornering and control.
The Sport Hybrid, meanwhile, produces 377 hp thanks to the addition of three electric motors. One is integrated within the seven-speed automated manual transmission to assist the gasoline V6 in powering the front wheels, while the others power one rear wheel each. Not only does this increase power and fuel efficiency, but it dispenses power where it's needed most for optimum handling. Hence, the term "Sport" Hybrid.
The base RLX comes standard with equipment that's often optional on its competitors, including LED headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, a power-adjustable steering wheel, tri-zone climate control, a rearview camera and a surround-sound audio system. There are a series of packages, which Acura also deems to be trim levels. The Navigation package's contents are obvious, while the Technology package's highlights include automatic wipers, blind-spot monitoring, an upgraded sound system and leather upholstery (premium vinyl is standard). The Krell Audio package, as the name suggests, includes a Krell premium audio system. Finally, Advance package highlights include ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, adaptive cruise control and a variety of advanced safety features like a collision warning system and lane-keeping assist.
Besides its different powertrain, the Sport Hybrid adds special noise-reducing 19-inch wheels, LED foglights, a head-up display, an electronic gear selector and a special accelerator pedal that encourages economical driving. It also comes standard with the Navigation package, while the Technology and Advance packages are available as well.
In reviews, we've found the base RLX's engine to be quiet and smooth, with ample passing power when you need it. The Sport Hybrid is even better, with an ample well of effortless electric torque that pushes the RLX forward with authority from its rear wheels. The ability to apportion left and right also aids handling, although steering feel is lacking for a car with sporting intentions. The ride quality of both models isn't as smooth as that of most rivals. Highway travel can be bouncy and road imperfections transmit some harshness to the cabin.
As with most current Acura products, the RLX offers a sumptuous interior, including a stitched instrument panel, steering wheel and center console, with wood and metal accents throughout the cabin. Although Acura doesn't offer the powertrain choices of its European rivals, its cabin environments are among the best in the class. Acura says the RLX also offers best-in-class rear seat legroom, with nearly 3 inches more room to spread out than comparable German and Japanese luxury models, and some of the widest front and rear passenger space in the segment.
Although the RLX is technically a new model for 2014, used car shoppers could consider its predecessor, the Acura RL.