Driven: 2014 Acura RLX

#Acura, #RLX

RUTHERFORD, CALIFORNIA - Tasty mountain roads connect Napa Valley's swank Auberge du Soleil resort with Sonoma's Sears Point Raceway. On these roads, you can push a car like the 2014 Acura RLX without beating the tires into squealing submission. After nine years, Acura has replaced the front-wheel-drive RL with another FWD luxury flagship, the RLX, and this fall adds an all-wheel-drive hybrid version with 60 more horses. A brief drive of the hybrid awaits us at the raceway.

On the way to Sears Point, the RLX exhibits competent handling: the big sedan gets around the mountain roads with very little understeer and a bit of cushy body roll, although the inevitable electric power steering is average in feel and feedback, which is to say, there's not enough of either.

Lacking Old World luxury-car provenance and a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform, Acura high-techs its way through such shortcomings. The RLX marks the debut of its Precision All-Wheel Steer, badged "P-AWS" on the rear deck. An electronic control unit in the rear suspension provides independent rear torque control, creating toe-out for the inside tire and toe-in for the outside tire in a curve. Brake early for a tight bend and you can put a lot of power down while exiting. The sport mode--a requisite feature in any modern luxury sedan--also adjusts the EPS's assist for better feel and sharpens response of the 3.5-liter gas direct-injection engine and six-speed automatic. Although the transmission quickly shifts itself out of first, it allows you to bump the redline from second through sixth.

A few laps of coned-off Sears Point make the RLX's mild understeer more evident. We had a couple of the same limited laps in an RLX hybrid with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, which uses an electric motor to power the rear wheels and combines with the 3.5-liter V-6 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to provide 370 horsepower. The hybrid's steering and handling responses are sharper, and the powertrain is a hoot: the V-6/electric hybrid should be able to keep up with the average German luxury V-8 and, at the limit, the chassis will be more likely to give in to four-wheel drifts. Acura was hush-hush about the RLX hybrid's specs. It has a series of pushbuttons in place of the front-wheel-drive car's conventional gearshift and will be a standalone option rather than a separate trim level.

The hybrid powertrain is not the Acura RLX's most startling techno-feature. That would be the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which relies on the RLX's adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and a color camera in the lower front fascia to read road marks, Botts dots, and the like. It takes the car one step closer to autonomous driving. The adaptive cruise can bring the car to a stop, although if it does so you have to reengage the cruise control when you start moving again. With LKAS on and no hands on the steering wheel, the car is able to steer itself for up to ten seconds around gentle curves on the highway. Acura says this reduces driver fatigue. More important, it makes it easier for the driver to change the radio station or perhaps tap a number into a smartphone. Grab the wheel while LKAS is activated, and you'll feel odd feedback that could only come from an electric power steering system, similar to Audi's lane-departure control system. A few software tweaks would make the car more of a self-driver, large car project leader Yousuke Sekino says, though he warns, "If you start to over-trust the systems ... you could go too far."

Other techie items include AcuraLink with real-time street traffic info, Pandora, Aha, and SiriusXM radio, applications that let you control features with your smartphone, and a fourteen-speaker Krell hi-fi that supersedes Acura's excellent ELS audio systems, which are still available. Even with all those features, Acura has cleaned up the RL's busy center stack. The supple interior's fit and finish is nearly perfect, with generous padding for every leather and plastic surface that could conceivably come into contact with the driver's hands.

The car surely is the quietest Honda-based product ever. With a two-inch wheelbase stretch over the RL, the RLX has a vastly improved back-seat package. We only drove the $61,345 top-of-the-range Advance model, but an RLX with Navi package - which should be standard - is $51,800, and from there trim levels matriculate through a Tech package and a Krell package. Advance includes active cruise control and lane-keeping assist.

Exterior design is what you'd expect of a luxury Honda sedan with the familiar Acura nose. The swage line that cuts downward from the top of the front fenders to the front door cut reduces wind noise at the sideview mirrors. The main problem is the transverse-engine dash-to-axle relationship, but there's little Acura can do about it, and it won't matter for most mid-lux sedan customers. Those drawn to the car who are enthusiasts of Honda's frisky FWD handling of yore will find the RLX's sport setting competent. They'll enjoy technology that lets them safely text, make calls, or find that perfect iPod playlist while in heavy traffic. Like Lincoln, Acura also has launched a concierge service to find RLX owners "responsible luxury" resorts like Auberge du Soleil [full disclosure: I'm here with my wife and am one of several journalists from major outlets enjoying the resort with a significant other], to where I return from Sears Point in the RLX on more mundane roads, fully relaxed.

2014 Acura RLX
Base Price:
As Tested: $61,345

3.5-liter SOHC 32-valve V-6
Horsepower: 310 hp @ 6500 rpm
Torque: 272 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: Front-wheel

L x W x H:
196.1 x 74.4 x 57.7 inches
Legroom F/R: 42.3/38.8 inches
Headroom F/R: 37.6/36.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 15.3 cubic feet (15.1 cu. ft. with Krell Audio and Advance packages)
Curb weight: 3997 lb
EPA rating (city/highway): 20/31 mpg

Acura has a cool Virtual Tour iPad app for the RLX on iTunes:
This is such a boring car.  Acura needs a new design team, that grille is still very ugly.  Only a fool would buy this car. 
swing and a huge miss Acura.. this is your flagship? Yuck!
Uncle Stabby
Another massive visual yawn from Acura. At least the hideous, steel Kraken beak styling theme is being subdued somewhat, but now the cars just look generic and derivative. Squashed 7-series anyone?. Maybe they can hire Schreyer away from Kia . . .
Gary Craig
A Luxo Civic,with 150HP for $30,000! I think not.
When will Honda get it? They are behind the times. No one is willing to spend this kind of money for a front drive V6. Audi barely gets the point, but they're trying. The 300, Charger, or Genesis are much better alternatives for this kind of money. And it looks like the expensive Civic clone they now have. Acura needs to fire current designers and start anew.
Derek Maynard
Those LED headlights look really strange. Another lukewarm, boring product from Acura...yawn.
Mattso Samsonite
The people that worked on the pre-refresh Civic must have been transferred to this project. Boooring.
"After nine years, Acura has replaced the front-wheel-drive RL with another FWD luxury flagship"Um, Todd?  The RL hasn't been FWD in all of those nine years.  Remember Super Handling All-Wheel Drive which made its debut on the 2005 RL and introduced torque vectoring to the world?   Surely you have at least made fun of the name in some previous Acura review.
Lee Klein
To me, this is competent mediocrity in the Asian luxury market. I don 't know if that's a good or bad thing, but this is a huge demographic. It should do fine.
Miles Krasic
You can make fun of Acura, but they will last. I have a 2005 TL with 112,000 and it still drives with flying colors.
Automobile Magazine
But Eric, doesn't it seem out of character (and out of the realm of possibility) for this to happen? Keep in mind that Acura/Honda has neither an RWD platform nor a V-8 engine lying around--and the expense of creating one of each would be massive. -BT
Joe Lussier
They make useful vehicles, but a far as styling, not a single Acura makes me want to buy one, save the NSX, of course. I would buy a Fusion before I bought this car.
Will Prada Humiliti Bledsoe
Im glad its still around...luv it. We'd buy one.
Eric Banks
Honda needs to get rid of their luxury division if this is the best they can do. It's 2013 and they still don't have a V8 rear wheel/ all wheel drive luxury sedan.
Ben Doolittle
Epic sad face in the passenger side interior...
Dikela Dee Ngaleka
Looks good to me.. Features are great too
Frankiko Ly
Still the same old front grille..lazy!
Pete Colombus
clown car
Clarence Rogers
Still looks like a ten year old Accord. Damned shame how they've squandered what little brand equity they had left.
Dammy Onafowokan
They need to fire their entire "styling" dept. and kidnap the guys from Audi.
I have a TSX with 1888888 miles and it still runs smooth.
who buys v8 except old fat americans? euro cars are downsizing to v6 or 4 with turbo and so is everyone else. I don't like paying for gas to support middle east.

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