- Smooth V-6 growl
- Gas mileage estimates lead the class
- Interesting new safety features
- Design isn't distinctive
- Rear-wheel steering is a pretty exotic solution
- Multiple screens, multiple guesses?
The 2016 Acura RLX offers some minor updates to an already competent—if subtle—luxury package. It's an interesting alternative to the other cars in its class.
The Acura RLX is a subtle interpretation of luxury for the massive automaker. It may not appeal to everyone with its understated design and an interior that's relatively free of gimmickry. At equal turns, the RLX fades into the background, but it's also the luxury automaker's flagship. We think the combination of these traits makes the RLX an intriguing outlier in the market.
Acura has seen fit to introduce some early updates to the RLX for 2016, just two years into the model's run. The changes coincide with modifications to just about all of Acura's 2016 models. For this big sedan, the adjustments are mostly minor, but they include reintroducing the Sport Hybrid back into the lineup after its curious absence for the abbreviated 2015 model year. The active-safety offerings get some additions, while the suspension has been tuned, and all models will now come with 19-inch wheels.
This is a sedan that has understatement down pat, although it runs lean on sizzle. The design borrows from the BMW 5-Series, adding a softer Acura boomerang of chrome to the front end, and a hint of muscle over its front fenders. 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 leather and grained plastic are better than in any Acura we've sampled—they just need a touch of alchemy.
Interior space 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 2 inches longer—which together with 2 inches of width, in all, means more passenger space inside. The front seats are supple and trimmed in very rich leather, but rear head room is scant for tall adults, and trunk space is only average.
The 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 safety gear and some nifty handling tricks that obscure its front-drive running gear.
Its name is only two vowels away from "relax," and that's a clear predictor of how the front-drive RLX tackles the road. It's up only 10 horsepower in a crazy age where the Volvo-cum-Lincoln MKS has 365 hp—and the Hyundai Genesis packs 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, the engine waking up at 3,000 rpm with some intake snarl that's remixed in 12-inch form on the NSX's soundtrack.
The front-drive RLX skips the adaptive suspensions common in the class and instead goes 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. For 2016, the suspension gets tuned with new spring rates, upgraded dampers, and a less-stiff rear stabilizer bar. Acura went as far as redoing the front shock mounts and replacing the rear bump stops.
Those who want stronger performance will be steered toward the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive model. The Sport Hybrid system is a pretty ingenious setup. A hybridized V-6 drives the front wheels, while an all-electric rear differential with two motors sends torque to the rear wheels, recreating digitally the all-wheel-drive wonder that Acura has for so long been able to create with its mechanical SH-AWD systems. The engineering smarts extend to the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission up front, which uses the rear electric motors to get things going from a stop, which avoids the tendency of dual-clutches to step off in a jerky, unluxurious way. The result of all this is refinement and superb handling, with all-electric torque vectoring at the rear to keep the car stable and aid turn-in. While performance is the priority over fuel efficiency with this hybrid system, it still boosts mileage up to 28 mpg city, 32 highway. After being offered briefly in 2014, the Sport Hybrid was absent for the RLX's abbreviated 2015 model year and will rejoin the lineup in spring as a 2016 model.
Safety is again a focus for Acura's flagship sedan. The brand's first application of active lane control 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 RLX includes a driver's front knee bag. The RLX has earned top five-star results from the federal government in every category. It's also an IIHS Top Safety Pick+ vehicle, with top ratings in every category. 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. The system isn't calibrated as well as in other vehicles, though; its closest setting is still too far away for tight traffic, letting others cut in front, which then sets it off into aggressive braking to keep the distance. As part of the 2016 update, Acura has rebranded its safety suite as AcuraWatch. It has added an available surround-view camera system, as well as a road-departure mitigation system and cross-traffic monitoring that can detect passing vehicles when backing up.
The non-hybrid RLX is offered in just three trim levels for 2016, down from five for 2015: RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, and RLX with Advance package. The base model without navigation is now gone, as is the Krell Audio package that sat between the Technology and Advance models. All have an extensive list of features, including dual LCD displays for infotainment functions, while upper trim levels get the 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 includes surface-street traffic, and security features include stolen vehicle tracking, airbag deployment notification remote locking and unlocking, and 24-hour concierge services.
Even with the updates made for 2016, Acura has not increased prices model-to-model. Front-drive 2016 RLX models start from just above $50,000, while the top Advance crests the $60,000 mark. Pricing for the Sport Hybrid starts at $60,890.
The front-drive, non-hybrid RLX earns gas-mileage ratings of 20 mpg city, 31 highway, 24 combined. EPA ratings for the Sport Hybrid models jump to 28/32/30 mpg.