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Acura is an enigma. It has been for some time, with car designs bordering on the bizarre and a baffling strategy that results in its own products being pitted against each other.
But the all-new RLX sedan, unveiled at the Los Angeles Auto Show, is a step in the right direction. It replaces the mediocre RL sedan, which wasn’t remarkable enough to distinguish itself from the less expensive TL, so instead ended up competing with it.
The RLX is a 2014 model that’ll go on sale this coming spring, with a hybrid version to follow later in 2013.


It represents a sea change for Acura: the handsome, if unexciting, styling and innovative underpinnings finally give the company a distinguished flagship to showcase the best of its new design and technology. And the change comes just in time, as competition in the luxury sedan segment heats up with new and improved models from competitors such as Cadillac and Lexus.

In Pictures: 9 Highly Anticipated New Cars From The L.A. Auto Show
Some might balk at the RLX’s conservative styling. It doesn’t break new ground or offer much wow factor. But it’s clearly an improvement over the RL’s design and attractive enough to appeal to the practical, value-conscious buyer that gravitates toward Acura.
Whether it’s distinguished enough to keep the RLX from getting cross-shopped with Hondas and Toyotas, as many current Acuras are, is another issue entirely.
The headlights, each one with 10 LEDs stacked in two rows, are the most striking exterior feature. Headlights with LED technology—which use less power, but shine brighter—are in vogue and tend to be pricey options on other cars. They are standard on all RLX models, in keeping with Acura’s strategy of offering more than the competition for less money.
On the outside, the 2014 Acura RLX is a midsize sedan. On the inside, it’s almost full-size. The rear seat is considerably more spacious than the cramped one on the RL. Acura says the RLX has up to three inches more rear leg room than the Audi A6, BMW 535i and Lexus GS350. That’s a significant advantage.




Acoustic glass and wheels designed to lower tire noise by seven decibels should make for a quieter ride. Many of the buttons and knobs that overwhelmed the center console of the discontinued RL have been replaced with a touchscreen, which sits below the main display screen. Having two screens in the dashboard seems odd, but if it improves ergonomics, the change is worth it.


The RLX is lighter than the car it replaces. The use of high-strength steel and aluminum in the body helps trim 275 pounds compared with the RL, and the improvement in fuel efficiency is an impressive 20 percent.
A new 310-horsepower V6 that drives the front wheels and gets an estimated 24 miles per gallon overall will be the only engine available when the car goes on sale in spring.



LED headlights, which use less energy and shine brighter than traditional headlights, are standard on the 2014 Acura RLX.

The discontinued RL did not offer a hybrid version, but the RLX will. A new hybrid system that uses a gas engine to power the front wheels and electric motors to power the rear wheels will be introduced sometime in 2013. Combined output will be 370 hp with estimated fuel economy of 30 mpg overall.

The RLX is going to be Acura’s second hybrid. The company recently launched the 2013 Acura ILX Hybrid, a compact premium sedan.
In Pictures: 9 Highly Anticipated New Cars From The L.A. Auto Show
One feature debuting on the RLX that Acura touts as unique to the brand is Precision All-Wheel Steer, which uses the rear wheels to better steer the car through turns and keep it more stable when changing lanes.
“It will represent a distinct competitive advantage over conventional rear-wheel-drive cars,” said Jeff Conrad, vice president and general manager of Acura, at the car’s unveiling in L.A. His statement takes aim at BMW and Mercedes-Benz, whose rear-wheel-drive sedans are among the best sellers in the luxury category and have traditionally been viewed as having superior driving dynamics.
All-wheel steering is not new, though. Honda offered it on the Prelude starting in 1990. Various other automakers, including BMW and Mitsubishi, have offered it over the years as well.
As with all the new premium sedans, the Acura RLX will be overflowing with high-tech and luxury features: fancy leather, rear window shades, parking sensors, multi-angle back-up camera, cruise control that acts like an autopilot, accident avoidance technology and so on.
Still, Acura promises a driving experience that connects the driver to the car and to the road—which Conrad referred to as “man-machine synergy.” Exactly how well the new RLX delivers on this promise could be the key to conquering buyers that might otherwise favor European luxury brands.
 
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