Pros: Luxury car ride with performance car handling; huge interior; cutting edge infotainment and audio options; super comfy front seats
Cons: Pricing is a bit high; poor city fuel economy figures; subdued styling and interior color choices
What's New: The RLX replaces the aging RL sedan. It's an entirely new design with a new 3.5-liter V6, all-wheel steering and a host of new electronic safety and infotainment features.
The 2014 Acura RLX replaces the aging and rather forgettable RL sedan and it comes none to soon. The RL, while competent, had fallen behind most of the major luxury brands in terms of features, power and price. It was even in danger or being run over by Hyundai's high-end models. But the RLX remedies all that, with an elegant new cabin, lots of electronic goodies and best of all, performance handling that places it near the top of its field. Acura's new Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS) employs electronic actuators that steer the rear wheels in conjunction with the front. The result is one of the best handling front-drive cars we've driven. Of course, we doubt many RLX drivers will ever push their cars to the limits we did, but it's nice to know that when spirited drives or emergency maneuvers arise, the RLX has the athleticism to handle whatever is thrown its way. It remains to be seen, however, if consumers will be willing to pony up as much as $60,000 (the starting price is around $48,000) for a car with rather subdued styling and no V8 engine option.
Comfort & Utility
Nobody likes a cramped luxury car, least of all Americans. We need room to stretch and sprawl, which is why we think Americans will love what Acura has created inside the RLX. The car's cabin has all the prerequisite bells and whistles, along with copious amounts of leather on the seats, doors, dash and console. But what really stands out are the supremely supportive and comfortable front seats and the abundance of space, not just for legs and heads, but elbows and hips too. In fact, there is so much space between the driver's seat and the door armrest that my arm kept falling into the gulch separating the two. This same theme carries over to the rear seat, where two fairly tall adults can comfortably sit for hours.
From the driver's seat, the RLX controls are numerous, but logically arranged and fairly intuitive. Immediately to the driver's right are two large LCD screens, one that operates controls for heating and ventilation, audio and Bluetooth cell phone functions and the other to display the available navigation screen. We like this setup and wish more manufacturers would follow suit, although we must complain that there are too many menu-driven steps to perform simple functions like adjusting the fan speed. Sometimes, a simple rotary knob is all that is required. The RLX model's steering wheel is festooned with buttons, some redundant for the audio and some primary for the adaptive cruise control and Bluetooth, as well as the multi-tasking information screen. We didn't like that the primary stalks for the headlights, wipers and turn signals were obscured from view, making it nearly impossible to read their functions.
One last observation pertains to the cabin at highway speed. Where we expect an Acura to be quiet, the RLX goes above and beyond, isolating out the most annoying noises while still allowing in just the right amount of engine and exhaust notes so as not to give the impression you're driving a cocoon.
Technology is always a strong suit with Acura and the 2014 RLX doesn't disappoint. The list begins with a suite of active safety features designed to help keep the driver's attention on the road ahead. Included in the group are Lane Keep Assist, Blind Spot Information (BLIS), Adaptive Cruise Control (maintains a safe distance between you and the traffic ahead) and Collision Mitigation Braking. However, to get the BLIS system requires purchasing the Technology Package, while the Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keep Assist can only be had by purchasing the Advance Package option.
The Krell Audio Package brings a high-end Krell audio system with 14 speakers, while the Navigation Package adds a voice-activated navigation system with 8-inch touchscreen. Included with the navigation package is AcuraLink, a system with real-time traffic updates, as well as 2-way communication with the web and apps through a cloud based service. For a slight fee, users can add more features, including automatic collision notification, stolen vehicle locator, in-vehicle local search or search by voice and a personal assistant featuring a live person on call 24/7 to assist you.
Other available features of note include jewel-eyed LED headlamps, power retractable side mirrors, a rearview camera, Smart Key entry with push-button start, heated rear seats, rain sensing wipers and rear parking sensors.
Performance & Fuel Economy
To power its new luxury sedan, Acura conjured up an all-new 3.5-liter V6 engine equipped with direct-injection technology. Direct injection provides a better way to deliver fuel to the engine resulting in more power and better fuel economy. Rated at 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque, the RLX model's V6 is no slouch, although it still doesn't offer up the kind of gut-punching start you feel with a nice, torque happy V8. Fuel economy figures are a mixed bag, with a rather dismal city rating of just 20 miles per gallon, but a much better highway figure approaching 31 mpg.
Acura has taken pains to ensure the RLX will sail through all its crash tests, anticipating a 5 star rating from the government and a good rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Standard safety equipment includes full airbag protection, including a driver's side front knee airbag. Additional equipment such as Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning can help avoid accidents, as can the advanced suspension and steering assists.
Over long stretches of paved roadway, the RLX cruises effortlessly, almost serenely, as it absorbs bumps and blemishes and delivers a first class luxury car ride. The trick up its sleeve, however, comes when the road begins to twist and wind. Where other luxury cars become wallowing marshmallows with tires squealing at every turn, the RLX carves through s-shaped asphalt like a scalpel-wielding surgeon late for his tee off time. The RLX model's electrically-assisted power steering feels direct and precise and the 6-speed automatic transmission is responsive and quick to pick the right gear when extra throttle is administered. But it's the RLX model's P-AWS coupled with the Agile Handling Assist (it uses active braking to help keep the RLX traveling on the intended path) that really gives this big sedan its moves. A front double wishbone suspension and multi-link rear suspension setup fits this car perfectly, allowing us to tear around corners on an enclosed track with abilities previously known only to Acura's legendary sport coupe, the NSX.
Other Cars to Consider
BMW 5 Series: The 5 Series isn't as roomy inside as the RLX and its ride tends be a bit on the stiff side. However, the rear-drive 5 Series still feels a bit more agile in the curves and it can be had with a manual transmission and V8 engine.
Audi A6: Although the A6 isn't as powerful as the RLX and its suspension feels somewhat softer, the A6 model's interior outshines the RLX, as does its exterior styling.
Infiniti M37: A nicely equipped M37 costs about the same as the RLX with the Advanced Package and offers more hp but worse fuel economy. The M model's color palate is rather drab and its rear seat is not as accommodating as in the RLX.
If you're not all about performance driving and cutting edge electronic assists, we think the RLX with navigation and the Technology Package will satisfy most luxury sedan buyers. The price remains reasonable and the features are quite impressive. Music lovers may want to toss in the Krell audio package as well. Those seeking the ultimate in performance and handling may want to wait for the upcoming S-AWD Hybrid RLX due out later this year.