2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Review
The 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD packs a lot of high-tech features and a punch with its integrated hybrid system, but vanilla styling and interesting driver integration choices may not be enough to sway customers away from Audi and Mercedes-Benz.
Amazingly smooth transmission
More legroom than the competition
Most powerful Acura built to date
Uninspiring steering feel
Less than stellar gas mileage
Acura's RLX Sport Hybrid takes Acura to new levels both in power and technology. Every driver aid you can think of is available, including lane-keep assist, multiview backup camera and adaptive cruise control, just to name a few, along with an all-wheel drive hybrid system that makes this car the most powerful Acura ever made. But the bells and whistles can't mask an utterly anonymous design, and while the overall driving experience is good, we wonder if it will matter to [I]"sport hybrid"[/I] buyers.
The 4-door RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) is available in 2 trim levels, with the Advance package as the base and the Technology package as the range-topper. Some common features between the 2 are LED lighting at every corner of the car, a power moonroof, navigation, Bluetooth and satellite radio, and an acoustic glass windshield to help cut down cabin noise. A fine-looking set of 19-by-8-inch wheels designed to reduce noise are shod with 245/40/19 high-performance all-season tires.
A Technology package includes a blind-spot information system, the Acura/ELS Studio audio system with media storage, and a collision mitigation braking system with head-up warning and rain-sensing windshield wipers. Spring for the Advance package and you add a crisp Krell audio system, power rear sunshade, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and a lane-keeping assist system.
[B]Under the hood[/B]
The RLX Sport Hybrid has a single powertrain option sending power to all 4 wheels. The 24-valve single-overhead-cam i-VTEC 3.5-liter direct-injection V6 engine produces 310 horsepower at 6500 rpm and 273 lb-ft of torque at 4700 rpm that goes to the front wheels. Rear-wheel power comes from a pair of permanent magnet electric motors, each producing 36 horsepower and 54 lb-ft of torque, thanks to a 1.3-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion battery pack. A single electric motor integrated with the dual-clutch transmission provides a 47 horsepower and 109 lb-ft of boost to the front wheels, as well as regenerative braking for converting engine power to recharge the lithium-ion battery. Total system power comes in at a whopping 377 horsepower — the highest for a production Acura to date.
As mentioned, a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is responsible for getting the petrol power to the ground and can be controlled by a set of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. Gear selection is no longer through a physical gear selector, but rather an electronic set of Drive, Neutral and Park buttons mounted in the center console (Reverse is selected by its own dedicated switch).
1 of the 1st things you'll notice is the quiet interior. It shouldn't come as a surprise, either, because the engineers at Acura spent a lot of time trying to reduce noise levels over the previous RL. Acoustic material backs just about everything, from the rear deck to the carpets. Special 4.7-mm-thick sound-insulating glass is used for all doors, featuring an acoustic membrane that helps reduce interior noise up to 14.7 decibels over the outgoing RL's thicker 5 mm tempered glass. Their hard work certainly paid off.
A longer, wider chassis allowed for increased interior space, most notably for the rear-seat passengers. At 38.8 inches the RLX has the longest rear-seat legroom when compared with the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 or Lexus GS.
The head-up display that shows vehicle speed and torque vectoring is a bit confusing and distracting, especially when you're trying to actually see the road while driving. Fortunately, the feature can be disabled, allowing you to see the road and not worry about how much torque is going to the right rear wheel in the middle of a turn. It is a cool thing to show the neighbors, though.
Call us old fashioned, but we weren't overly impressed by the dual-screen infotainment display. A 7-inch on-demand multiuse display controls the audio system and relies on a touch screen in lieu of physical buttons. While it reduces clutter, we miss the more direct feel of control provided by physical knobs and buttons. We really missed a central command knob a la Audi MMI controls. The second 8-inch screen displays navigation instructions and vehicle information, including hybrid system performance. That's 2 different displays on top of the traditional gauges and head-up display. It's almost information overload.
Steering-wheel controls are a bit cluttered as well, and their operation can be a bit complicated. By our count there are 8 systems controlled through the various knobs and buttons mounted on the wheel — but again, a tech-savvy prospective buyer might see the clutter as a boon.
The newly styled transmission controls are intuitive and they really clean up the center console, almost leaving it too bare. This could have been a good opportunity for an MMI-like dial for system control.
[B]On the road[/B]
The new RLX Sport Hybrid is fast — faster than both the Audi A6 3.0T and the Lexus GS Hybrid. During normal operation the engine drives the front wheels and the hybrid system lies in wait. The motor connected to the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission is at the ready for a power boost, and both front and rear systems combine when max power is needed.
Also impressive is the new torque-vectoring management of the SH-AWD system. In dynamic driving situations, the system — based on steering and throttle input — will produce negative torque from brake-energy regeneration on the inside rear wheel while the outside rear wheel gets an e-boost from its electric motor, helping to rotate the rear of the car. Unlike the old system, the updated torque vectoring works both in on- and off-throttle situations.
Though you have to really push to feel the effects of the SH-AWD, it's impressive. Fight the urge to countersteer when you've got the tail wagging, and the RLX Sport Hybrid simply sorts itself out. You'll hear the front tires squealing, but the car doesn't actually understeer.
That being said, while the system itself is great for managing the RLX, the steering feel could be a lot better, especially considering the amount of effort engineers put into its development. It's a little light, and the ratio just isn't fast enough. An Audi A6 was on hand for us to compare, and even without the Sport package the Audi's steering was a much more fluid proposition; it didn't feel like we needed to keep correcting midcorner. In the Acura you feel like you turn the wheel, enter the corner, and then have to dial in more steering. On initial steering input, it feels as if you have to turn the wheel too much for the result you're looking for.
At times the car felt a little oversprung, but that's because it weighs 4,312 pounds. Compared with a similarly equipped nonhybrid RLX, the all-wheel-drive hybrid system adds over 300 pounds to the car. When compared with the Audi A6, we have to tip the hat again to the A6 as it provided a more comfortable ride.
The 7-speed DCT is impressively smooth. It's 1 of the best we've driven to date. Sport mode provided aggressive shifts, while Acura's Grade Logic Control System kept the transmission in the best gear instead of continuously shifting around when we went up steep hills. Also impressive were seamless transitions from electric power to gas and vice versa. Acura took the opportunity to optimize the camshafts to smoothly re-engage the engine from an idle-stop as well as to completely close the valves on the rear cylinders when the variable cylinder management deactivates half of the cylinders.
The adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow is a great feature. It uses radar to manage distance to the car in front, as well as regulating distance when you prefer to use a preset speed. The low-speed follow is designed for use in congested traffic and, once you gain trust in the system, reduces driver workload in those stressful situations. Again, using the adaptive cruise control radar, the system can maintain a preset following distance and actually stop the car if it detects that the car ahead has slowed to a stop.
Fuel mileage during our time behind the wheel was a bit confusing. The RLX is rated at 28 mpg city/32 mpg highway, but we had a tough time meeting either of those numbers, even when driving at a reasonable pace. Perhaps we should have relied on the reactive-force gas pedal a little more (it informs the driver when gas mileage is about to worsen, and when traction is less than ideal).
[B]Right for you?[/B]
With production set to take place in Sayama, Japan, Acura is launching the RLX Sport Hybrid in the spring of 2014. We have yet to receive any pricing details, but we expect the RLX Sport Hybrid to retail in the neighborhood of $67,000.
Our struggle with the RLX Sport Hybrid is that we're not quite sure what Acura is trying to accomplish. Behind the wheel it's not fun or fluid enough to really push, so why equip it with all the fancy tech? It's cool stuff, and the closest thing you're going to get to a preview of the upcoming NSX systems, but the car doesn't exactly make you want to go tackle the twisties. Coupled with a design that blends in with its contemporaries, and anonymity is 1 of the RLX's biggest downfalls.