Acura has completely reinvented its flagship sedan, now known as the RLX, for the latest model year. Although it still occupies a "tweener" position between competitors' mid- and full-size models in terms of price and proportions, the four-door has been reborn as a technological tour de force - complete with cutting-edge convenience and connectivity features in addition to a sophisticated and highly efficient all-wheel-drive hybrid powertrain.
Sporting the "aero-fused" design language that debuted on Acura's entry-level ILX sedan, the RLX features crisp character lines, a graceful rendition of the automaker's corporate "shield grille" and distinctive "Jewel Eye" all-LED headlamps. However, it's beneath the sheetmetal that the RLX's most impressive elements are to be found.
Although its overall dimensions are similar to the outgoing RL model, Acura significantly increased interior space by pushing the wheels farther towards the corners of the sedan. As a result, rear passengers receive stretch-out legroom and more overall space than all similarly priced mid-size luxury sedans.
Up front, there's an impressive array of technology to be found. The center stack houses not one but two LCD screens: an eight-inch upper unit for the navigation system, below which is a seven-inch touchscreen that provides one-touch access to climate control, entertainment, and navigation functions.
Along with smartphone integration, Pandora radio and text-to-voice SMS text capability, the RLX offers the cloud-based AcuraLink connectivity system, which brings real-time traffic and weather updates and a concierge service that can make restaurant reservations. Also part of the system is Aha radio, which can play streaming internet radio stations and podcasts as well as read aloud content from Facebook, Twitter, audiobooks and news reports.
Material quality throughout the new cabin is impressive, with wood-grain and metal accents, a stitched-leather instrument panel hood and available Milano perforated leather seats. Audiophiles can choose from no less than three audio systems ranging up to a impressive Krell ultra-premium setup.
Efficient, Tech-Packed Powertrains
The RLX is available in two distinct flavors - front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive hybrid.
Regardless of driven wheels, both RLX models start with a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. The all-wheel-drive model adds a pair of electric motors at the rear of the car to power the rear wheels exclusively, which brings total output up to 370 horsepower while also improving fuel economy.
Just what is Acura's Sport Hybrid SH-AWD system? In the automaker's upcoming NSX sports car, it uses twin electric motors to send power to the front wheels, while the rear wheels use the gas engine. In the RLX, the opposite is the case: The rear wheels are motivated by the electric motors, while the front wheels are powered by the gas engine.
The system provides all-wheel-drive traction and also works as a torque vectoring system by instantaneously transfering torque between the electrified wheels for improved traction. Uniquely, the motors can provide positive or negative torque automatically to create what Acura calls an "on-the-rails"Âť feel. The setup eliminates the need for a more complex differential to achieve the same handling-improving effect.
Front-wheel-drive RLXs feature the automaker's new All Wheel Steer system, which independently adjusts the toe angle of the rear wheels by working with the car's stability control and its variable gear ratio electric power steering. All Wheel Steer is designed to both make the RLX more nimble in urban situations and to make its handling faster, more stable and more direct at highway speeds.
All RLXs send power to their wheels via a six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddles. Fuel economy is estimated at 20/31/24 mpg city/highway/combined for the FWD model and 30 mpg across the board for the AWD hybrid.
Standard and Optional Features
The entry-level RLX comes standard with leatherette upholstery, heated front seats, a 10-speaker, 404-watt ELS audio system with SiriusXM radio, HD Radio, and AUX and USB inputs, a 15 GB hard drive, Bluetooth connectivity, a proximity key, push-button start, a rear camera, a power moonroof, tri-zone automatic climate control, full LED exterior lighting, full power accessories, power-adjustable front seats and 18-inch aluminum-alloy wheels.
The RLX with Navigation adds a nav system with realtime traffic updates, the AcuraLink connectivity system and satellite-linked automatic climate control.
The RLX with Technology Package brings Milano leather upholstery, leather garnish for the instrument panel, center console and door trim, an upgraded 14-speaker, 588-watt ELS Studio audio system, a blind spot information system, rain-sensing windshield wipers, acoustic glass and 19-inch aluminum alloy wheels.
The RLX with Krell Audio Packages includes - logically enough - a state-of-the-art Krell stereo with 14-speakers and 450-watts of sonic output, along with simulated wood interior trim.
The RLX with Advance Package adds heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, front and rear parking sensors, adaptive cruise control and all of the safety technologies detailed below.
The RLX with Advance Package debuts several new-to-Acura safety systems - Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Keeping Assist (LKA) and Lane Departure Warning (LDW). CMBS uses a camera mounted high in the windshield to detect potential collisions with vehicles ahead of the RLX and provide visual and auditory alerts to the driver. If the system senses that the driver will not be able to brake in time, it can automatically apply the brakes to lessen the severity of the collision.
LDW alerts the driver if the RLX is beginning to drift into an adjacent lane, while LKA can help reel the sedan back into its proper lane.
An available Blind Spot Information System alerts the driver if there is a vehicle present in one of the RLX's blind spots.
All RLX models come standard with dual front, front side and side-curtain airbags in addition to a driver's knee airbag, traction and stability control systems and a tire-pressure monitoring system.
The RLX's most direct rivals are the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKX, which are also FWD/AWD "tweener" luxury sedans that offer near-full-size space for mid-size money while packing loads of technology features. Alternatively, potential buyers could check out smaller but more prestigious rides such as the BMW 5-Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Audi A6.