Acura's all-new 2014 RLX is the most powerful, spacious, and technologically advanced sedan it's introduced. (Acura)
Sonoma, Calif. - Acura had to do something. Its flagship RL luxury sedan had become outdated and irrelevant. U.S. sales shriveled from a high of 17,572 eight years ago to just 379 last year. The 2014 Acura RLX sedan that arrives in showrooms next month makes up for a lot of lost time in the highly competitive midsize luxury segment with new styling, better performance and a load of unique features, including striking "jewel eye" multi-faceted headlights and a pioneering all-wheel steering system.
With two inches added to both width and wheelbase, the RLX has more interior space. Acura claims the RLX has more rear legroom than BMW's 535i, Lexus's GS350 and Audi's A6. Starting at just under $50,000, it costs less.
The striking LED headlights have 10 small separate projector pockets on each side. Up close they look dramatic, like sparkling diamonds, but from a distance, the lights blend to look like a single bright headlamp.
The interior is not opulent, but it is comfortable, practical and appointed with more leather, wood, metal and higher quality soft touch materials. The console is dominated by two video screens, the top one for standard backup camera and optional navigation display. The bottom screen is touch-sensitive for operation of climate and infotainment. Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free cell phone operation is standard.
The center storage console has an ingenious hinge that allows easy opening of the cover in opposite directions from the driver's side or the passenger side. New 12-way, power adjustable, heated front seats are more deeply bolstered and supportive with pneumatic lumbar supports. Seat ventilation is optional.
There is no engine noise in the cabin, unless you push the accelerator to call on the new 3.5-liter V-6's ample 310 horsepower. Even then, the sound of the engine, wind and tire noise is far improved over the 3.7-liter V-6 powered 2012 RL I drove for comparison. The RLX comes with 18-inch alloy wheels with clever chambers inside that are designed to reduce tire noise.
This is Acura's first direct injected engine. It not only is lighter and more powerful than the RL's, it also boosts fuel economy to 20 mpg in the city and a class-leading 31 mpg on the highway. That's an increase of 4 mpg in the city and 7 on the highway.
Faster and more efficient
Fuel economy is additionally aided by cylinder deactivation. I could not tell when the V-6 switched to just three cylinders while cruising.
When you aren't in the mood for saving fuel and feel like taking advantage of the RLX's improved suspension geometry, there is a "sport" mode that dramatically increases throttle reaction and makes the steering feel more heavily weighted. Lighter and stronger steel, along with aluminum hood, fenders and doors make the RLX about 75 pounds lighter and more nimble than the old RL.
A higher horsepower version of the RLX comes later this year with all-wheel drive powered by a hybrid engine and combination of dual electric motors. Until then, front-wheel drive, the strong V-6 and a smooth shifting six-speed transmission make up the only available drive train.
Another new technology is allowing Acura to change the very character of its ride. Traditionally, Acuras ride stiff, a nod to their motor sports heritage. But the RLX has the same kind of new dual valve dampers that made the compact 2013 Acura RDX crossover so smooth when introduced last year. The initial ride is compliant. Drive aggressively and the secondary valves cause the dampers to become stiffer. It is a more affordable way to achieve the dual personality displayed by more expensive cars with electronically adjustable dampers.
An optional lane-keeping system takes the RLX's standard forward-looking camera-based lane departure warning system into the realm of assisted driving. When you come close to a stripe at the edge of a lane, the electronic power steering nudges the car toward the center. To test this, I let the car guide itself, hands-free, through a couple of sweeping expressway turns. After many miles of receiving no human steering inputs, a warning appeared in the driver information screen reminding me that "steering is required." It must have been a lawyer-inspired warning because obviously my steering hadn't been necessary for miles. Auto steering did not work in anything but wide turns.
All wheel steering
The rear wheels turn up to 1.8 degrees the opposite direction from the front wheels. This conjured images of a tiller operator steering the back wheels of a long fire truck. Cool when you are a kid, but radical for a luxury sedan. However, Acura's Precision All Wheel Steering is subtle. You don't feel it and I couldn't see the rear wheels move when I followed another RLX closely.
Acura says the system helps reduce natural under steer in the front-wheel-drive car. It definitely makes the large car handle as though it is much smaller. The rear wheels also toe inward to help keep the car straight whenever you brake hard.
Before taking the RLX for a long drive on a variety of highways, twisting roads and city streets, several of Acura's Tokyo-based engineers crawled with me on our hands and knees so I could see the electronic actuator motors that turn the rear wheels in response to computer analysis of the driver's steering wheel inputs. They insisted that the added electric motors and rear wheel movement won't require special maintenance or alignment.
I also tested the RLX on a portion of Sonoma Raceway north of San Francisco that included the IndyCar and NASCAR track's big downhill carousel turns. It was raining and I inadvertently put the big car into a long four-wheel slide. I learned firsthand how balanced the RLX feels, how much more nimble and small-car-like it reacts, and how easily it recovers when pushed too far.
When asked by my new engineering friends if I felt Takaburi, which in Japanese means excitement, they needed no translator when they saw my grin . They knew I had.
2014 Acura RLX
Price: $49,345 to $61,345 (includes $895 delivery)
Type: Full-size, five-passenger luxury sedan with front-wheel drive
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6 cylinder
Power: 310 horsepower; 272 pound-feet of torque
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
EPA gas mileage: 20 mpg city / 31 mpg highway
Interior: Comfortable, quiet and logical
Exterior: Acura’s polarizing design motif still includes the big metal nose shield
Performance: All-wheel steering makes the big car handle as though it is smaller
Pros: Competitive interior size, extraordinary technology and outstanding fuel economy
Cons: At competitive disadvantage until hybrid all-wheel-drive option arrives this year
Grading Scale: HHHHExcellent HHHGood HHFair HPoor
From The Detroit News: New styling, better performance, unique features revive Acura RLX | The Detroit News | detroitnews.com