- Confident handling
- Hybrid model offers good fuel economy
- Comfortable seats up front
- Krell audio system's clarity
- High-tech AWD system
- Styling looks a class or two down
- Rear-wheel steering is neat, but complex
- Too many screens inside
- Rear seat head room is tight
- Little customizability
If the Acura RLX's weak sales figures are anything to go by, its subtlety is lost on most consumers.
With its understated design, the Acura RLX doesn't do a lot to stand out in the competitive mid-size luxury sedan field. Yet beneath its derivative looks lies an advanced chassis and a powertrain that inspired the company's NSX supercar.
We're not totally sold on the RLX's chops as a $50,000-plus luxury car, however, so we've awarded it a 6.5 out of 10 overall, knocking it mainly for its looks and an overall feel that's somewhat sub-luxury. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The RLX marches into 2017 unchanged aside from the discontinuation of last year's base model, remaining available in front- and all-wheel drive variants with a choice of Technology and Advance trim levels.
Acura RLX styling and performance
It may look a lot like an overgrown Honda Accord, but the Acura RLX shares little with its parent company's high-volume model. The RLX's front fascia is clean, a result of last year's mild refresh that brought with it minor adjustments that nonetheless keep it light on sizzle compared to the more evocative Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S80, among others.
Inside, the story is much the same; if you like the Accord, you're going to like the RLX, even though they're essentially unrelated cars. There's a two-tier dashboard with twin LCD screens, which comes across as an oddball approach to solving the inherent complexity concerns raised by increasingly baffling infotainment systems.
Behind that anonymous facade sits the heart of a sports car, at least in the RLX Sport Hybrid. But let's back up for a moment; this is actually the tale of two RLXs. A front-wheel-drive variant delivers 310 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V-6. The Sport Hybrid adds to that powertrain a pair of electric motors good for an extra 47 hp. Those electric motors deliver power to the rear wheels, making the RLX Sport Hybrid among the more advanced all-wheel drive cars on the market.
Regardless of powertrain, the RLX lives up to a name that's only two vowels away from “relax" which is a clear predictor of how the front-driver tackles the road. There's ample but steady acceleration and an intake snarl reminiscent of (but way toned down compared to) the NSX. The front-wheel drive RLX's electric steering has actuators on the back wheels that work in concert to deliver rear-wheel steering in order to aid highway stability on the freeway.
The performance pick is the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) version of the RLX. The hybrid setup is smart, and helps the hybrid be not only fuel efficient but also relatively fun to drive. A hybridized 3.5-liter V-6 drives the front wheels while a smart differential and pair of electric motors handle duties in the back. It's a digital take on all-wheel drive, but also allows the system to act as a torque vectoring sedan with sharper turn-in and response. The engineering know-how goes further with the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that lets the electric motors handle take-off duty, to avoid any jerkiness commonly associated with dual-clutch automatics. The setup prioritizes performance over fuel efficiency, but the latter doesn't suffer: the EPA rates the Sport Hybrid at 28 mpg city, 32 highway.
Acura RLX comfort, safety, and features
One major downside to the Sport Hybrid model's electric motors is that they rob the trunk of a considerable amount of room. On the other hand, its interior provides good space for front seat passengers and decent room for anyone under about 6 feet in the second row. Taller second row riders will find compromised head room.
The RLX's interior is well-outfitted but not exactly elaborate in its design or materials. Every rival feels more special inside than the deeply conservative Acura.
Acura makes active lane control available in the RLX, the first application for the brand. All RLX models have standard forward collision and lane departure warnings. In addition to the usual lineup of airbags, the RLX features a driver's side knee airbag for additional protection. The IIHS rated the RLX a Top Safety Pick, acing every test by the independent agency, except the newer headlight test. We've found that the adaptive cruise control can be useful, but it's not as well calibrated as other systems, especially in its follow functions. There's still too much space between the RLX and the car ahead of it, even in the closest setting, so when you're inevitably cut off by another driver the system responds viciously and quickly. Last year's update rebranded the active safety suite to AcuraWatch, and added an available surround-view camera system with rear cross-traffic monitoring that can spot vehicles while backing up.
Acura has pared the RLX's lineup down to just two trim levels available on either the front- or the all-wheel drive Sport Hybrid models. The Technology is well-equipped with LED headlamps, an ELS-branded audio system, AcuraWatch, and navigation. The Advance, meanwhile, adds a breathtaking Krell audio system, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a surround-view camera, and remote engine start, among other items, for $6,000.
Once you've picked your package, it's just a choice of colors. Rivals offer a far higher degree of customizability—even down to paint-to-sample colors just in case you've always imagined matching your car to your sweater.
The front-drive, non-hybrid RLX earns gas-mileage ratings of 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined. EPA ratings for the Sport Hybrid models jump to 29/30/29 mpg.
2017 Acura RLX
Take Honda Accord, enlarge, and copy. That's the Acura RLX, and that doesn't work in this segment.
Inoffensive, but forgettable, the Acura RLX does little to stand out in its class.
And that's a problem, especially at a price point that can top $60,000. We've subtracted points for the RLX's bland exterior and its derivative, surprisingly downmarket interior, bringing it to 3 out of 10 points overall. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
There's simply not a lot of creativity going on with the RLX. Its stance and proportions are acceptable, and the BMW-like turn to its roofline manages to carve out a new variation on that German brand's longstanding theme without looking like a copycat. Yet there's nothing that would have us looking back twice at the RLX. We've said the same thing about the Honda Accord, with which the RLX shares virtually nothing. Yet the Accord is half the price, and what's forgivable there isn't here.
Inside, the RLX's interior similarly lacks passion and enthusiasm. It's functional and nicely detailed, but it's more of the same. Its definition of luxury manages to feel muddy and uninteresting. There's none of the precise, modern, and almost sterile look you'll find in an Audi, yet it does without the whimsy and elegance of the Volvo S90. That said, the choice of materials, grains, and finishes is point-perfect in the RLX. It has the refinement down pat but lacks the sense of drama that's become a basic requirement in cars of its ilk.
2017 Acura RLX
The RLX's high-tech powertrain and suspension make it ride well, but it's not particularly quick against its rivals.
Given the level of technology under its hood and integrated into its suspension, you could think that the Acura RLX is among the sportiest offerings.
That's not quite the case, but it is quiet and composed with good thrust from its V-6 engines, which earns it 7 out of 10 points. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
Unlike its rivals, the RLX doesn't take a high-power approach to performance. Instead, it uses unique technological solutions to differentiate itself. Both the base and the available Sport Hybrid with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (or SH-AWD) start with the same platform and the same basic 3.5-liter V-6, they reveal distinctly different personalities.
Even among the milder versions of the other sedans in its class, the front-drive Acura RLX's 310-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 isn't a spec leader, nor is its 272 pound-feet of torque. There's not much urgency in the way the RLX pulls away from a stop, or in its relaxed uptake. It's more powerful than the turbo-4 engines used in the Mercedes-Benz E30 and Volvo S90 T5, but there's not a distinct advantage to one type of engine over the other in this competition.
Front-wheel-drive versions of the RLX rely on a 6-speed automatic to do all the shifting duty. Upshifts are smooth and downshifts are somewhat more aggressive, but silky smooth consistency is the goal here. The standard RLX uses a four-wheel-steering setup that Acura calls Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) that can dial in a couple degrees of steering to the rear wheels. It's not a performance-minded system, but does enough to make the big barge feel more confident in corners. In lane changes, it moves in concert with the front wheels and can help cut down the long width baked into the car's stance.
But it seems a little out of place here. The RLX doesn't purport to be a sporty car, but P-AWS clearly suggests otherwise. Though it is well-tuned, the car winds up feeling a little confused about its mission. The base suspension setup is tuned to soak up the road's imperfections and casually lean into corners. For that kind of slog, you won't miss any adjustable suspension trickery that the RLX doesn't offer. Start asking more from the suspension and you might be a little disappointed by the RLX's mono-spec setup, but not every car needs to be a sports car, after all.
RLX Sport Hybrid
The sportier version of the RLX is found in the Sport Hybrid model, oddly. While electron power is usually reserved for more efficiency focused cars (the Sport Hybrid is still efficient too), the RLX Sport Hybrid cleverly uses three motors to boost the performance. The front wheels are driven by a 3.5-liter V-6 and 7-speed dual clutch automatic with a 35-kw motor built in. The all-wheel-drive system and a pair of electric motors are housed in the electric rear differential that handles torque vectoring duty and takeoff from a stop to avoid any jerkiness from the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Each rear motor is rated at 27 kw and can capture energy from braking to boost the battery pack, which is located in the trunk.
All in, Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system makes 377 hp and 377 lb-ft of torque. And this chassis makes the best of it, with what feels like physics-defying magic transferring power selectively between the rear wheels to nudge your trajectory right back where it should be. You can feel that nudge from the seat of your pants but not through the steering wheel, an unusual disconnect that's easy enough to get used to. Moreover, the system provides good inclement weather traction since power darts between the wheels imperceptibly and urgently.
Otherwise, the Sport Hybrid is extremely responsive to stabs of the throttle, and it accelerates almost like an electric car with an uninterrupted line of thrust. The motor systems fill in neatly when the dual-clutch gearbox is snapping its way into its next gear.
Both RLX models have a conventional suspension tuned for comfort first, with a bit of lively feel dialed in via electric power steering and either the actuators at the rear wheels or the trick electric differential. The RLX's steering has a light touch on center that's very noticeable at parking speeds, entirely intentional, before it transitions to a more consistent heft. The transition's less obvious at speed, where the ability to steer its rear tires becomes the RLX's most significant new hardware bullet point. Last year, Acura overhauled the suspension system thoroughly, touching the dampers, shocks, rear stabilizer bar, front shock mounts, and rear bump stops. The goal was to reduce noise, vibration, and harshness, and also further soften the suspension's responses, hopefully without dulling the handling.
2017 Acura RLX
Comfort & Quality
Passengers are treated to comfortable seats and nice materials in the RLX, but its trunk is pitifully small.
On paper, the Acura RLX's cabin looks like it's going to be just right. Everything is beautifully screwed together with nice materials and there's good room for typical sized passengers.
However, a closer look at things reveals some foibles: The rear seat doesn't offer much room for larger passengers and there's a distinct lack of storage space. For this, the RLX scores a 7 for its comfort and quality. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The RLX is fractionally longer than the company's old RL: the wheelbase has been stretched by 2 inches and it is 1.8 inches wider overall. Those size differences register instantly once you get inside.
When you open the door, the RLX emits a little musical jingle (yes, a jingle) and shimmers its dual screens in an emotional display we're not used to from the pragmatic Japanese luxury brand. The interior looks large, and it's not all visual tricks. The clever stylists have had their way, though, creating rectangular passenger spaces that read more like architecture than car design.
Up front, the seats are like broad-backed executive desk thrones. Their 12-way adjustment and standard heating, with ventilation as an option, can't quite match some rivals with massaging seats and more levels of adjustment, but they're still fantastic over a long haul. There's good head room up front and enough space for broad-shouldered passengers.
The rear seat appears capacious and mostly makes good on that visual promise. Big door openings make it easy to access and there's terrific thigh support from the ample lower cushions. However, the slope of the roof means that taller folks will rub their heads on the ceiling; that's something we rarely encounter in this segment.
While there's decent small storage space, the RLX loses big points for its dinky trunk. Its 14.9 cubic feet for the front-wheel drive RLX Technology is acceptable, but opting for the Advanced model drops that to 14.7 cubes. Go for the Sport Hybrid and the trunk shrinks to just 11.6 cubic feet. Even the Acura ILX, the brand's smallest model, has a larger trunk.
The interior materials in the RLX are impressive, and are a noticeable step up from the Accord. Every surface that you can touch is pleasant, and grains and grips are top notch. Acuras aren't known for a growling engine, but the note from the RLX is welcome. While there was much to-do about Acura's hollow-core wheels absorbing some road noise, we still heard some seeping into the cabin.
2017 Acura RLX
The Acura RLX has performed very well in crash tests and it comes with plenty of advanced safety tech.
Unlike a lot of its rivals, the Acura RLX has been subjected to the full barrage of crash tests administered by federal and independent agencies. With one small exception, it came away with impressive results.
It's a 9 out of 10 by our measures. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
All RLX sedans come with the usual airbags and stability control. A driver-side knee airbag is standard as well, as are a rearview camera and Bluetooth, two features we consider almost essential in combating driver inattention. The RLX's rearview camera actually displays a 180-degree view of its surroundings, for even better visibility, while a 360 degree version is optional. It helps too that the RLX doesn't have the very thick roof pillars or very small rear glass of some rivals and its belt line is a bit lower—all of which improves visibility.
Last year, the RLX gained adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning as standard. Together, they grant a degree of autonomous driving as the RLX can stop itself at lower speeds.
The IIHS has given the RLX top "Good" ratings in all five of its categories, including the new small overlap front test, but a "Marginal" score for its headlights, which earns it the Top Safety Pick rating rather than the full Top Safety Pick+. And in federal testing, conducted by the NHTSA, the 2016 RLX earned perfect five-star scores in front and side crash tests, as well as all subcategories. It also earned a top five-star result in the rollover test, which consists of static and dynamic components.
2017 Acura RLX
The Acura RLX is well-equipped, but there's only one option package available. Competitors offer way more customizability.
You won't have many decisions to make if you're in the market for an Acura RLX. That's something that may work for some buyers, but it certainly goes against the highly configurable nature of the mid-size luxury segment.
That said, the base RLX is well-outfitted and a relatively good deal and the lone option package includes some impressive features. We've scored the RLX a 7 out of 10 for its feature count. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
For 2017, Acura has dropped the base model (which was called RLX with Navigation), leaving only the RLX with Technology and RLX with Advance. Both trims are available on either the front- or all-wheel drive Sport Hybrid. Your biggest decision, given the big price gap between Technology and Advance, will be paint color.
At $55,390, the RLX with Technology includes the kind of features we expect at this hefty price point: leather upholstery, a proximity key, heated 12-way power seats up front, an ELS-branded audio system with navigation, and the company's suite of AcuraWatch safety tech. AcuraWatch bundles adaptive cruise with low-speed follow, collision mitigation braking, forward collision warning, lane-departure warning, active lane control, road-departure mitigation, blind-spot monitors, a multi-view rear camera with dynamic guidelines, and rear-traffic monitoring under one umbrella.
The Advance Package tacks on another $6,000, and although it's badged as a "package" Acura considers it a separate trim level. Whatever you call it, if that really matters, it includes front and rear parking sensors, a surround-view camera system, ventilation for the front seats, heated rear seats, power sunshades, and a 14-speaker Krell audio system with reference-quality sound, one of the near-overkill systems usually found on ultra-premium brands.
Finally, there's the choice to upgrade your RLX front-wheel drive to the Sport Hybrid. That'll run you an additional $5,500, bringing the top-of-the-line RLX price to $66,890. That's a whole lot of money.
Acura RLX infotainment
Of all the features integrated into the RLX, the AcuraLink system and the dual-screen output of the infotainment system will take the most time to learn. The logic behind both sounds reasonable. AcuraLink's basic setup uses a smartphone app as the gatekeeper for dozens of other apps like Facebook. With one link they're all accessible through the head unit, and new information, like points of interest, can be accessed without massive, regular updates. Still, it's an additional interface between the driver and safe driving. AcuraLink also offers paid services to connect to live operators, a service we've never been sold on or quite understood in the smartphone era.
Then there's the dual-screen setup itself. It's an interesting spin on the complexity of systems like MyLincoln Touch and Cadillac's CUE. By splitting functions, Acura hopes to keep the non-touch-information on the larger, more visible screen, while controls like audio toggles are placed closer to the driver on the smaller touch-sensitive display. A third color display between the gauges offers still more information.
As you might guess, the result is a little much. There's nothing fluid or intuitive about hunting from screen to screen for the information or settings you want, and at times it can actually increase distraction while in motion. In addition, the touchscreen's placement low on the center stack almost assures a few seconds' worth of eyes off the road.
2017 Acura RLX
The competition has caught up.
Like the rest of the Acura RLX lineup, the flagship sedan's fuel economy is a two chapter story.
We've rated the front-wheel drive model, which isn't as fuel efficient but sells better. It comes in at a 6 out of 10 for its fuel economy. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The front-drive RLX earns gas mileage ratings of 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined. EPA ratings for the Sport Hybrid models jump to 29/30/29 mpg.
Both models require premium fuel, but that's not unusual for this class. While the hybrid is among the most efficient in its segment, its 29 mpg combined rating isn't that far off of less complex rivals like the Volvo S90 and the Audi A6 come in at 25 mpg in the same test.