Has Acura made the rear-drive luxury car irrelevant?
by Colum Wood
Imagine for a second that you are driving along a slippery snow-covered road. Despite going cautiously, you’ve overestimated the level of grip and enter a right-handed corner too fast. The car begins to plow into the other lane, pushing left in the direction physics wants to take it while you (exacerbating the situation) fight to add steering to make it turn.
In a front drive car, if you were to give a quick tug on the parking brake, the rear wheels would lock simultaneously, whipping the rear end around to properly align its wheels with those on the front of the car. With the rest of the vehicle now pointed in the same direction as the drive wheels, you could then add power and continue to head in your desired course.
An hyperbole of sorts, this is what it feels like to drive the 2014 Acura RLX (the replacement to the abysmal selling RL) thanks to a new technology the brand calls Precision All Wheel Steer, or PAWS for short.
FRONT DRIVE, REAR STEERING
Rather than using the brakes, however, the RLX has actuators attached to the rear wheels, which can change the “toe” or angle of the wheel independently. Essentially, it’s rear-wheel steering, though the adjustments are by just few degrees.
That’s all that’s necessary, however, to produce a dramatic improvement in handling; one that you notice through the general sensation of grip, rather than the perception of rear wheel angle changes.
Skilled drivers may notice the slight pivot motion as the rear aligns with the front. Tested on a auto-cross course it’s almost like faking the steer-it-with-the-throttle sensation of a rear-wheel drive car… except unlike, say, the BMW 5 Series we were provided with to test against, you don’t have to be a pro to drive the Acura.
To anyone else, the car just drives better. Dive into a corner and just when you expect understeer to take over and the car to begin plowing… it doesn’t. Instead you get this immediate sensation that it is actually well within its comfort level.
Amplifying just how good the RLX handles is its size. You’d wouldn’t expect a car this large to corner so well… especially not one that’s front wheel drive.