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Tech-packed flagship RLX inches us ever closer to our future

Acura’s new queen mother sedan, the RLX, is full of surprises. Take the cruise control. It’s one of the most complete cruise systems this side of Google’s self-driving cars. It’ll maintain its distance from cars ahead of you, brake down to zero, and re-accelerate from a stop with a tap of the accelerator. That’s relatively old-hat, though, in high-flying realm of luxury sedans—the RLX’s true twist is its smooth lane-centering tech.

I tried this out on a 120-mile highway jaunt, and was flabbergasted by the precision. The system analyzes the road and constantly works to keep the car between the lines. It’s rarely spooked by things like interruptions in road markers from freeway branching—you know, exit ramps and the like—and its presence is continuous. Whereas other lane-keeping systems tend to simply bounce you off lane markers as you approach them, particularly when you’re entering slow curves in the road, Acura’s Lane Keeping Assist System won’t let you near the edges. It’s so effective that you can practically keep both your hands and feet off the controls on the highway.

Of course, systems like this are ripe for abuse, and there will certainly be some who use this trick feature as a texting and smartphone-surfing enabler. But Acura spots those bozos a mile away: If you take your hands off the wheel, the system starts to fade out and an alert pops up on the instrument cluster helpfully reminding you that “Steering is Required.”

Talk about a warning from the future.

The headlights also merit reflection, so to speak. These Jewel Eye dual-stack LED arrays illuminate farther down the road and more evenly than comparable LED headlights. Each side has ten separate LEDs shooting through thick, precisely aimed crystalline lenses to help paint the roadway ahead of you with pure white illumination. What’s more, they look awesome, adding a degree of flair that’s often missing from Acura’s fairly predictable design language.

Swoop down to road level, and the surprises stack up further, with a new four-wheel steering system. It electronically adjusts the rear wheels’ toe-in and toe-out by up to 2 degrees in either direction to assist with lane changing, cornering, and even controllability while braking. Called Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS), the system is Honda’s first effort at AWS since the Honda Prelude had it in the mid-1980s. The effect is subtle, but surprisingly detectable in a variety of situations. On the highway, lane changes are a bit spooky, as the car levitates itself nicely through high-speed changes. In more aggressive turning, such as around corners, it responds as a smaller, shorter car would, with added stability and smoothness.

Inside, you’re greeted with dual-LCD screens for both your audio and GPS functions—a confusing system at first, but you eventually sort it out—as well a refined audio hookup, featuring a 404-watt, 10-speaker array with a 15 gigabyte onboard hard-drive for your tunes. (You can bump yourself up to a Krell Audio Package if you like, as well.) Poke around further and you’ll find a voice-recognition system in the GPS, roomy rear seats, and AcuraLink, the company’s connectivity tool with built-in cellular communication for snagging traffic warnings, remote door lock/unlock capabilities, and text and email reading.

All of these techie refinements are great—and certainly push Acura’s RL replacement to an attractively competitive position—but is it enough to place the car in standing with the likes the top-shelf offerings of Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes? Yes and no. The RLX is positioned as an economical entry-level to the top-end luxury market, so while it’s Acura’s flagship, it competes most directly with other manufacturer’s second-tier offerings, such as the BMW 5-Series and the Mercedes E-Class. It still feels like a re-imagined Accord more than a fully luxed-out statement-car of its own. But that considered, the RLX is still competitive, feature- and performance-wise, with the S-Class Merc and the 7-Series BMW. Furthermore, it’s cheaper than all of those, starting at $48,000 and topping out at about 60 grand for the fully loaded Advance Package.

It further helps that the car has fully legit performance creds. Given Honda’s penchant for doing more with less, I assumed the RLX would have anemic throttle response at best, with the feeling of a four-cylinder turbo hauling around a full-sized platform. Fortunately, that’s not the case. The RLX has a state-of-the-art, 3.5-liter 310hp V6 under the hood. Electronic cam-timing helps modulate throttle based on your desires—casual driving generates casual response from the engine, but when you lean on it, the car wakes up and you’re rewarded with firm acceleration and a suitably aggressive exhaust note. This doesn’t feel in any way like an underpowered car. Variable cylinder deactivation helps keep mpg’s in check, returning a combined 24 mpg, which is extremely good for a full-size sedan.

Now, here’s the deal. I like this car a lot, but I seriously can’t wait for the all-wheel-drive version to come out later this year. That car will have 370hp, a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission for uninterrupted torque flow to the wheels, and an unprecedented hybrid AWD system: You’ll have a hybrid engine/motor system powering the front wheels and a pair of electric motors driving the rear. It will permit precision torque vectoring for racetrack-worthy cornering, and a combined 30 mpg, which will also be unprecedented.

Welcome, my friends, to the future.

Acura RLX Review | Men's Health
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