When it comes to its identity, Acura continues to be a work in progress. Is it an aspirational luxury brand or merely a Japanese version of Buick: a step up on the ladder but not the top rung? Now along comes the RLX, the new flagship sedan for Honda's luxury division, which does improve on its predecessor, the RL.
Appearance: First to catch your eyes are the sparkling Jewel Eye LED headlights, which Acura says are brighter than halogen or HID lights. Beyond that, the RLX looks like a rather ordinary, slightly stretched midsize sedan. The front fender bulges contribute to this elongated look. The grille is a more subdued version of Acura's shield. Chrome trim and 19-inch alloy wheels add a sporty touch.
Performance: Unlike the RL, the standard RLX is a front-wheel drive. Bad thing? Lyra says no; Peter would like a rear-wheel-drive like the competition. (Acura says there is an AWD hybrid with a 7-speed automatic coming later this year.) What the RLX does have is P-AWS: Precision All-Wheel Steering system, where the wheels in the rear pivot as much as 2 degrees in the same direction as the front wheels. Translation? Improving stability and handling, especially with the Agile Handling Assist system. We did find the RLX to be stable — if not nimble — in sweeping curves. The engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 with cylinder deactivation to help save on gas. The estimated mpg is a respectable 20/31. The quiet V-6 puts out 310 horsepower and is paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission with a sport mode and paddle shifters. (Many luxury competition has 7- or 8-speed gearboxes.) The transmission shifts smoothly, and the engine has enough power for most driving situations; a performance sedan it is not. We both felt the ride was "floaty," like driving in a much bigger car. Our tester came with the Technology Package, which includes driving aids such as lane-departure warning, blind-spot monitor and forward collision warning.
Interior: This is where the RLX shines. The cabin design is elegant, with a nicely curved dash and lots of stitched leather, and aluminum and wood trim. The tech-laden interior also is library quiet, helped by active noise cancellation system and acoustic windshield. That quiet can be shattered by the optional high-end Krell audio with 14 speakers, including a sound bar above the rear seatback that resembles an aftermarket system. Impressive. The interior is roomy, much better than the previous RL model. The plush Milano Leather seats are comfortable, with 12-way adjustments for the front seats. There are two screens on the center console. One is primarily a display screen (with a hood that reduces glare) and one is mainly a touchscreen that has haptic feedback. There's also a multifunction control for navigation and media input. As in other Hondas we've driven, we found this approach redundant.
Our 3 favorites
Headlights: I just wish the look-at-me design carried over to the rest of the car.
Seats: Comfortable and roomy, front and rear.
Technology: The RLX is a showcase, if a somewhat busy one.
Headlights: Jewel Eye LED headlights are diamondlike.
Design: It's conservative and minimalist; not all cars have to be flashy.
Steering: Driving into turns became more fun with the Precision All-Wheel Steering system.
The bottom line: The RLX shows that Acura is still struggling to define itself. The car is somewhat generic, but its technology is not. Is that enough to compete in the luxury market? We'll see.