The current Acura RL may technically be Acura's largest, most expensive offering, but as the midsize TL range has grown in terms of size and sophistication, the supposed flagship of the Acura brand hardly offers anything its more mainstream sibling doesn't.
That will soon change. The RL's successor, previewed by the 2013 RLX concept shown here, promises the space, technology, and power Acura's flagship desperately needs.
A New Yet Familiar Look
The RLX shares no bit of sheetmetal with its predecessor, though its headlamp and grille shape (think beak) abide by Acura's present design language. The front fascia looks taller and more powerful than before, although it is surprisingly devoid of ornamentation. In lieu of foglamps, a single chrome element spans the width of the car above the lower air intake. Headlamp optics resemble those used in the 2015 NSX show car, but they're not a conceptual folly. The so-called Jewel Eye lamps use eight separate LED lighting elements, and will appear on the production RLX.
Crisp front fender lines kick down just below the base of the A-pillar, forming a character line that rises just before fading away at the rear wheel wells. Another character line is wedged between that and the daylight opening, forming a shoulder that runs into the taillamp assemblies.
Those lights, like much of the RLX's rear end, carry considerable BMW influence. The rear door windows end by kicking up in a very Hofmeister-like fashion, while the C-pillars smoothly fade into a rather stubby tail. The taillamps remind us of upside-down 5 Series lamps, although Acura's design boasts light pipes that encircle the entire assembly.
Perhaps the BMW ties are appropriate: ever since it first publically disclosed the RLX to the press in December (albeit without a finalized name), Acura has compared the sedan to two of Bavaria's premium sedans. Acura pledges the RLX's cabin will offer space on par with a 7 Series, despite the fact its footprint is on par with a 5 Series. In fact, while the RLX's wheelbase increased by two inches over the 2012 RL, its front overhang decreased by an equal amount.
What Lies Beneath
That smaller stature, along with extensive use of aluminum, should translate into a lighter car. Acura won't provide specific figures at this point in time, but it does note the 2013 RLX should weigh "well under 4000 pounds." If so, that's a significant change from the 2012 RL: base models tip the scales at just over 4000 pounds, while loaded models are north of the 4100-pound mark.
Many competitors in this segment -- even Hyundai -- offer eight-cylinder power, but the RLX will be the exception to the norm. As we reported late last year, the 2013 RLX will be the first Acura to employ the company's new hybrid SH-AWD system, which will later be applied to the 2015 NSX sports car. In this application, a direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 will be mated with an electric motor, and power the front wheels through a seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission. The rear wheels will be propelled by way of two independent electric motors, which allows for the outer wheel to be overdriven in corners much like the present mechanical SH-AWD system. Acura says the system's net output should be close to 370 hp, and return a combined EPA rating of 30 mpg -- a far cry from the RL's present 20-mpg combined rating.
The same direct-injection V-6 will provide 310 hp in a new front-wheel-drive RLX model. Though it loses its torque-vectoring hybrid system, the front-drive RLX does gain a new electronically actuated four-wheel-steering system to improve handling. A transmission has not yet been announced; Honda's present six-speed automatic is certainly a possibility, but rumors suggest a nine-speed automatic may be a possibility at a later point in time.
Details on the interior are fairly sparse, likely due to the fact the RLX Concept -- like most other Honda and Acura concept vehicles -- is devoid of a completed cabin. Apart from the aforementioned 7 Series space comparison, Acura does note the RLX interior will pack quite a bit of technology.
The dashboard will be dominated by two different LCD displays: an eight-inch unit will likely serve as a gauge cluster, while a seven-inch touch-screen will be integrated into the infotainment system. The latter, says Acura, provides "direct one-touch access" to a number of key systems, including audio, climate, and navigation controls.
A new 14-speaker system will serve as the base audio system, while Acura's renowned ELS multi-channel system will also be available. A USB audio input and HD Radio tuner are standard, and Pandora and Aha Web-based radio services are available provided a smartphone is paired via the in-car Bluetooth system. A revised navigation system now features Bing search, and the ability for Acura's new AcuraLink telematics service to send a destination to the vehicle.
From a safety perspective, the RLX will include radar-based cruise control and a collision mitigation braking system, forward collision warning, lane departure warning, and a new lane keep assist system as standard equipment.
What Won't Make The Jump?
In Honda tradition, the RLX "concept" likely boasts some design flourish that won't transfer to the finished product, but there's little on this show car, if anything, seems removed from reality. Perhaps the lower front fascia, or the unusual wheels, which use 10 rectangular-shaped spokes, could be one of the few touches to fade away. We'll know for certain fairly soon: the finished, production-ready 2013 Acura RLX is expected to formally launch early next year.