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Acura would like to think that its flagship sedan gets a fresh start for 2014, with the introduction of the RLX, which replaces the RL. While the 2014 RLX doesn't ante up exotic hand-massaged leathers or acres of responsibly harvested wood, it flies under the radar with a philosophy of "luxury defined by you." In many respects it goes for something remarkably nuanced.
We're apt to define luxury as something more intensely flavored, unique, and barely attainable. Is Acura's take nebulous enough to woo back the shoppers that might have been smitten by the biggest Acura when it was a Legend--and now find themselves behind the wheel of a Lexus, an Audi, or even a Mercedes or BMW? Leather and branded audio and electronic driving assists are available in $30,000 family sedans these days. After our first in-depth drives, we're not so sure about the front-wheel drive version, although the technology and handling of the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD model have us more convinced.
The 2014 RLX is a polite, well-composed premium sedan, a contender in the ring with the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS--but not crazy, not flagrantly out of skew, not brilliant enough in any single facet to run any of the old-money names off the VIP list. That's despite some thoughtful new safety gear and some nifty handling tricks that obscure its front-drive running gear.
This is a sedan that has understatement down pat while it runs lean on sizzle. It's a gentle reiteration of the BMW 5-Series with a softer Acura boomerang of chrome applied to the front end, a hint of animal musculature over its front wheels in the fender lines. It's a no-drama zone from LED headlight to LED taillight, elegant in the same way the cabin is pretty and handsomely constructed, orchestrated instead of inspired. The leathers and grains are better than any Acura we've sampled. They just need a touch of alchemy.
The name's only two vowels away from "relax," and that's a clear predictor of how the Acura RLX tackles the road. It's up only 10 horsepower in a crazy age where the Lincoln-cum-Volvo MKS has 365 hp--and the Hyundai Genesis, 429 hp. On principle it gets the best gas mileage in the class, by Acura's estimates, and in practice, it feels it, with ample but steady acceleration, woken up at 3000 rpm with some intake snarl that's bound to be remixed in 12-inch form on the upcoming NSX's soundtrack.
For those who want stronger performance and don't mind the idea of having an under-the-radar luxury sedan that's a surprisingly strong performer, there's also the new Sport Hybrid AWD, with surprisingly good dynamics. Head into a corner a little too hot, and using what feels like physics-defying magic at the rear wheels, the RLX sends power selectively to each of the rear wheels—the outside rear wheel especially—nudging your trajectory back right where it should be. It's rather unsettling at first, because you feel that nudge from the driver's seat, but not through the steering wheel.The system combines a 3.5-liter V-6 with a new seven-speed dual-clutch gearbox that contains an electric motor, and adds two electric motors in back to provide both ell-wheel drive and pretty awesome dynamic prowess in tight corners. While performance is the priority over fuel efficiency with this hybrid system, it still boosts mileage--to 28 mpg city and 32 highway.
The front-drive RLX eschews the adaptive suspensions common in the class for a well-tuned set of coils, links, and digressive dampers. It's a setup that is well aware of what the RLX wants to be: a mildly cushy cruiser, with only token amounts of road-surface feedback. That's what makes the RLX's electric steering system so unusual: it has actuators on the back wheels that work in concert to deliver rear-wheel steering, an effect that lends stability to the RLX on the interstate but sounds like an exotic solution for a car without high-performance intentions.Size is a factor Acura hopes will appeal to RLX lookers. It remains about the same size as the outgoing RL sedan, although overhang has been shortened somewhat and the wheelbase is two inches longer—which together with two more inches of width, in all, means more passenger space inside. The front seats are supple and trimmed in very rich leather, but rear headroom is scant for tall adults, and trunk space is only average.
Safety is again a focus for Acura's flagship sedan. The brand's first application of Lane Keep Assist is available, and all RLX sedans have standard Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. In addition to the usual roster of safety features and airbags, the 2014 RLX will include a driver's front knee bag. Acura is expecting top five-star scores from the federal government, although they aren't out yet. But it is already an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ vehicle. The optional adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping systems even work together as a follow function: the RLX will steer itself at low speeds behind another car, say, in stop-and-go traffic.
Five grades of the RLX lineup are on the order sheet so for the 2014 model year: RLX, RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, RLX with Krell Audio package, and RLX with Advance package. All have an extensive list of features including dual LCD displays for infotainment functions, while upper trim levels get a next-generation AcuraLink Communication system and the Aha streaming-audio interface, as well as an expanded range of infotainment and connectivity features based on smartphone integration. The navigation system now includes surface-street traffic, and security features include stolen vehicle tracking, airbag deployment notification remote locking and unlocking, and 24-hour concierge services.
Prices will be announced for the RLX Sport Hybrid closer to its spring 2014 on-sale date. The other RLX models start from just under $50,000, and the top Advance retailing for more than $61,000.
- Smooth V-6 growl
- Gas mileage estimates lead the class
- Interesting new safety features
- More spacious rear seat
- Pure, clear Krell audio sound
Next: Interior / Exterior »
- Design isn't distinctive
- Rear-wheel steering is a pretty exotic solution
- Multiple screens, multiple guesses?
- Less rear-seat headroom than there seems to be