No big secret. Acura had to come up with a new flagship sedan or quit competing in the area of midsize luxury cars, such as the Infiniti M37, BMW 5 Series and Audi A6.
The RL, Acura's biggest and most-expensive car, managed to snag just 379 buyers all last year, Autodata tallies show, way down from 1,096 in all for 2011.
Got 'er fixed, Acura says. The 2014 RLX, replacing the RL, is a showpiece, the most-sophisticated Acura.
Something's right, because the high-end, $61,000 RLX test car drove about as pleasantly as any premium vehicle in a long, long time.
• Ho-hum styling. Has a Lexus look in back, an anonymous look from the side and what you'd call an Acura look in front. Thank goodness it has toned down the extended, overbite-style, cowcatcher grille, reminiscent of an 1800s locomotive, that has damaged most Acuras for some years now.
RLX isn't ugly, but it isn't distinctive. Strikes us as a lost opportunity.
• No all-wheel drive. That's very important. So key, in fact, that Jaguar, as an example, has redesigned its cars to have it because it was missing half the U.S. market, more or less — places where no AWD is a deal-breaker.
RLX will field an AWD model this fall, but it'll be a gas-electric hybrid. Gas-electric combo in front, and a separate electric motor on each rear wheel. That'll allow very sophisticated control over the rear wheels, but it slings a lot of extra hardware under the car and probably a lot of extra price onto the window sticker (the hybrid price has not yet been specified).
BMW, Audi, Infiniti, Jaguar — a lot of high-end brands provide AWD using more conventional means that seem more than sufficient. Hard to see why AWD and hybrid drivetrains have to be paired.
• Screwy controls. We're mainly talking about how stupidly difficult and non-intuitive the radio is. A big knob below the screen helps manage many functions. But does it do the logical thing and become the easy-to-spin tuning knob in radio mode? Noooooo. Is it easy to get the screen to display as much as you want to know about the station, artist and selection? Same answer.
All-in-all, controls aren't the RLX high-water mark.
But it sure is nice to drive.
The feature that Acura likes to spotlight has the unfortunate acronym P-AWS. It's for precision all-wheel steering. Old-timers will remember Honda and Mazda fooling around with 4-wheel steering a few decades ago. It's back and handled electronically now, so it works better. The back wheels of the front-drive RLX each can steer in or out through a 4-degree arc.
At low speed, the rear wheels turn opposite the fronts to make sharp turns into tight parking spots and so forth. At highway speed, they can hold dead ahead or steer the same direction as the fronts for crisper lane changes and less-fussy steering on long trips.
Worked fine; the test car had a nimble feel that lacked any artifice.
But it doesn't seem to tighten the turning circle, which is a wide 40.5 feet in diameter.
Engine's a sweetheart. The 3.5-liter V-6 has direct injection (DI) and cylinder cutoff, cycling between all 6 cylinders and just 3, to save fuel when the demand is modest. Usually DI is noisy, the price of its seemingly magic ability to save fuel, boost power, cut emissions. But not on RLX. Engine sounds pleasantly husky when you nail the gas, but never the coarse voice common in DI engines. Nice job.
And it goes very smartly when you do shove the gas. Speed accumulates rapidly and smoothly. Thrilling, if not quite for the boy/girl racer types. Oh-so-composed and mannerly. And how nice not to be saddled with a small-displacement turbocharged engine instead of a real powerplant.
A "sport" setting on the console makes the engine more responsive, the steering quicker, the suspension firmer. Just what you want. The fun, though, is at the expense of fuel economy.
The seats in the high-dollar test car were marvelous. Supple, perforated leather that gave you such a positive 1st impression that it took quite awhile to notice the funky radio controls and so on. Really excellent chairs. And the back seat has unexpectedly generous legroom.
Steering and brakes work as well as the engine. Quick to respond to the driver without being touchy.
The faults are annoying, but the overall driving experience is so good you might not care.
2014 Acura RLX details
• What? Overhaul of brand's flagship sedan, previously called "RL." New one's a 2014, replacing the 2012; there was no 2013. Front-drive only until a gas-electric hybrid with all-wheel drive joins this fall.
• When? On sale March 15.
• Where? Built at Sayama, Japan.
• How much? Starts at $49,345 including $895 shipping. Top RLX with Advanced Package is $61,345. No price yet on hybrid.
• What makes it go? 3.5-liter gasoline V-6 rated 310 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 272 pounds-feet of torque at 4,500; 6-speed automatic with manual-shift mode.
• How big? Midsize: 196.1 inches long, 74.4 in. wide., 57.7 in. tall on 112.2 -in wheelbase. Weighs 3,933-3,997 lbs.
Passenger space, 102.1 cubic ft. Trunk, 15.3 cu. ft. (or 15.1 with Krell audio and Advance package, which puts some hardware in the trunk).
Turning circle diameter, 40.5 ft.
• How thirsty? Acura expects ratings of 20 miles per gallon in the city, 31 highway, 24 in city/highway mix.
High-end test car, driven often in fuel-gobbling "sport" mode, showed 14.5 mpg (6.9 gallons per 100 miles) in suburban use.
Prefers premium, holds 18.5 gal.
• Overall: Milquetoast styling, absurdly complicated radio, but a sweet-driving, lovely-feeling machine otherwise.
For years Acura struggled with the fact that its biggest and best sedan was a far cry from the $100,000 luxury cruisers produced by the likes of Mercedes-Benz and Lexus. The 2014 RLX also does not punch in that uberweight class, but delivers a big luxury upgrade over its predecessor, the RL.
Although only slightly longer than the RL, the all new RLX comes in at almost 2 inches wider, and the cabin feels much roomier. Acura rightly compares the RLX to the Lexus GS, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
More than just an upgrade to the RL, Acura uses the RLX to showcase technology such as 4-wheel steering, LED headlights, direct injection, and connected features. Most of these features may not be entirely new, but they are new to Acura.
During a 1-day press preview organized by Acura, I tested the driving character and handling of the RLX, along with some of its driver assistance features and cabin electronics.
Following Acura tradition, the engine sits laterally under the hood, signaling the RLX's front-wheel-drive platform. However, this new 3.5-liter V-6 adds direct injection to Acura standbys such as i-VTEC and cylinder deactivation, to produce 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. That is 10 horsepower more than Acura's older 3.7-liter V-6.
Acura seats its new V-6 sideways to power the front wheels.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)
Acura said it was able to use lower gear ratios in the 6-speed automatic transmission due to the engine's efficiency, which led to satisfying acceleration that squealed the front tires on a hard start from 0. Driving on the track, freeway, or a series of twisty roads, I never felt the RLX lacked power.
With the RLX in Sport mode, impressive transmission programming became evident on the track. Acura thankfully activates all the car's sport settings at the touch of a single button, affecting throttle, transmission, and steering.
A glance down at the tachometer showed the transmission keeping the engine speed above 4,000rpm even as I braked for a hard corner. An Acura representative told me the transmission programming takes into account steering angle, so it won't upshift right in the middle of a turn.
Acura's signature handling technology on the RLX is something it calls P-AWS, or Precision All-Wheel Steering. This cute acronym indicates 4-wheel steering, something that crops up now and again in production cars. On the RLX, the front wheels use an electrically boosted power-steering system, tuned for precise but easy steering-wheel input. Actuators at the rear wheels add about 2 degrees of steering angle in response to the front wheel angle and other factors.
To improve cornering, the rear wheels point to the outside of a turn, reducing lateral forces on the tires and making them less likely to break grip. During braking, the rear wheels can both point in, going a bit pigeon-toed, to enhance stability and keep the RLX from fishtailing.
The RLX leans a little in this slalom, but P-AWS helps it negotiate quick turns.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)
The effect was subtle on broad turns, but made itself felt when I took sharp corners at speed. Hammering the RLX down a zig-zagging section of road, I found it handled like a smaller car, and I had to remind myself that it was well over 16 feet long and close to 4,000 pounds. A few 90-degree corners on the track required hard initial braking followed by a snap of the steering wheel, to which the RLX responded with impressive stability.
A broad turn happened to be wet that day, making for minimal traction, which caused at least 1 driver to go off the track. I came into the turn a little more carefully, but still got to feel a moment of traction loss followed by the car's electronic road-holding setting me back to rights. Put that one down more to traction and stability control than P-AWS, but it boded well for the RLX's ability to handle slick roads.
The fixed suspension, tuned for a compromise between sport and comfort, did not keep the car entirely flat in the turns. The body leaned out noticeably, reminding me that the RLX is not really designed for the sporting set. Cruising along the highway, the suspension did not smooth over rough patches as well as a softer suspension would have.
Although P-AWS proved to be interesting and effective technology, I think a better mix would have been the same torque-vectoring all-wheel drive and active suspension used in the current MDX. Acura's SUV handles remarkably well, especially considering its center of gravity. Torque-vectoring all-wheel drive would give most of the benefits of P-AWS, while the magnetic suspension technology would actively adjust the ride quality depending on driving conditions.
Of course, all-wheel drive usually takes a toll on fuel economy. I was very impressed that, after a few hours of back-road and highway driving, the RLX's trip computer had recorded an average of 26.5 mpg.
The hybrid version of the RLX that Acura plans on releasing later this year will not have P-AWS, but will have torque-vectoring all-wheel drive courtesy of 2 electric motors at the rear wheels. The initial specs Acura has thrown out for that version of the car give it 370 horsepower and somewhere around 30 mpg.
Automatic collision avoidance
In addition to these road-holding technologies, the RLX I drove bore a whole raft of driver assistance features. The car featured camera-based collision and lane departure warnings, the latter feature so hyperactive that I had to turn it off, as it beeped every time I brushed against a lane line when cornering. Other systems on the RLX are adaptive cruise control, lane drift prevention, which uses the electric power steering to nudge the car back into its lane, and blind-spot monitors.
These LED headlights are a standard feature on the RLX.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)
The RLX's headlights stand out as a solid step into the future. Acura calls its LED headlight technology Jewel Eye, with each casing holding 10 LED projectors. Not only do these LED headlights consume less power and last longer than current projectors, Acura says the throw is longer yet less blinding for oncoming traffic. That sounds like wins all around.
The cabin tech that stood out the most for me was the Krell audio system. Krell is 1 of those high-end home stereo manufacturers that you do not generally hear about unless you like to spend thousands of dollars for individual stereo components. My listening was limited to just a couple of albums on my iPhone, "Ceremonials" by Florence and the Machine and Muddy Waters' "Folk Singer," but both sounded exceptionally good through the Krell amp and speakers. With the volume relatively low, the music came through with pleasing detail. Vocals gave an impression of closeness that showed big dynamic range from the system.
However, I was not as crazy about Acura's electronics interface in the car, which featured some confusing duplicated controls. The car had two LCDs in the center dashboard, the one at the top being a non-touch-sensitive screen showing navigation and audio selections. Another LCD, this one a haptic-response touch screen, sat lower down on the stack, within easy reach of the driver. It gave limited control over music selection and the Bluetooth phone system. And below that screen were a large dial and buttons controlling the color LCD at the top of the stack.
Acura's cabin tech interface is a bit clumsy, saddled with two screens and duplicated controls.
(Credit: Wayne Cunningham/CNET)
The reason for this odd controller configuration is that Acura makes navigation optional on the RLX. Get the car without navigation and the touch screen becomes the main cabin tech interface, while the dial and the color LCD either go away or get replaced by equipment with reduced functionality. As the RLX is its top sedan, Acura should really just make navigation standard and consolidate the interface.
I was also disappointed to find that voice command did not seem to let me request music from my iPhone when it was plugged into the car's USB port. It did, however, let me request music from the car's own hard drive. This voice command test was limited by the short nature of the press event, and Acura says the car retains the Song By Voice feature of its current models. When CNET gets the car in for a full review, I will investigate further.
Other cabin tech features look pretty full-featured. The navigation system includes perspective-view maps, something Acura has not had in the past. Traffic data comes into the car through a dedicated cellular data connection, rather than satellite radio, and includes surface streets in addition to highways and freeways. The destination input screens look similar to those currently used by Acura.
Online in the RLX
That cellular connection also works for the AcuraLink telematics service. AcuraLink includes concierge and emergency services, carryovers from current Acura models, but will also offer smartphone-accessible features. With the system's smartphone app you can view the car's fuel level and some diagnostic information, schedule maintenance appointments, look up destinations and send them to the navigation system, and remotely lock and unlock the doors.
A separate AcuraLink Streams app incorporates the Aha service, which lets you listen to a wide range of Internet content, such as music, social networks, and podcasts. It includes destination search services based on Yelp, which lists the nearest restaurants and coffee shops. The RLX also features Pandora integration. Both AcuraLink and Pandora require the apps to be loaded on a phone paired with the car through Bluetooth.
The 2014 RLX looks and feels worthier of being Acura's flagship sedan than the outgoing RL, and things will get a lot more interesting when the hybrid version comes out. The RLX still does not equal the top sedans from other luxury makers, but it also costs a lot less, remaining will within its midsize-luxury competitive set. The base-model RLX will go for about $50,000, while the fully loaded version, complete with Krell audio system and advanced driver assistance features, comes in at a little over $60,000.
Acura has had a tough time hawking its RL flagship luxury sedan these past few years. With U.S. monthly sales in the double digits for all of 2012, it's refreshing to hear from an Acura rep that the biggest thing the new RLX shares with its predecessor is the 1st 2 letters of its name.
Indeed, the majority of the car has been redesigned for the new model year -- enough to market the car as an all-new machine for a very new era. With increased comfort and luxury a priority for the car's middle-aged, baby boomer target market, the RLX has a wheelbase and track stretched 2 inches over the RL's, giving it an improvement in interior space, especially in the limo-like rear cabin, where 38.8 inches of legroom is enough to best the Mercedes E-Class, Audi A6, and Lexus GS.
Despite its increased interior dimensions and slightly increased width, overall vehicle length is roughly the same as on the old car, meaning it's not any tougher to park or maneuver. In fact, if anything, it's slightly easier to steer this full-size luxury car around town, thanks to Acura's new Precision All-Wheel Steer system. PAWS alters the toe angle of the rear wheels with steering and braking input, making the car more agile and stable when being driven quickly, as well as slightly reducing the car's turning radius.
Acura freshened up the exterior design and skinned the doors, front fenders, and engine hood in aluminum. (The total weight of the RLX is down more than 160 pounds on the RL; it's also the most aluminum-intensive Acura since the original NSX supercar of the 1990s.) Acura's designers went for strong horizontal character lines along the side of the car, with a distinctive pair of jewel-like LED headlights up front that will likely become a familial feature in models to come. The overall design is more elegant than flashy, in line with Acura's current sedan styling directive.
The interior has also been revamped. Our car was trimmed in high-quality, well-stitched leather and looked worth every penny of its price. The most distinctive new feature will be the twin LCD display screens. The upper screen primarily displays the navigation, and the lower 2is for radio and climate controls. It's an evolution of Acura's previous system's single-line monotone display for audio and climate settings, and with its new full-color screen and haptic feedback, it works well. The next-generation version of AcuraLink also rolls out with the new RLX, using a button on the ceiling -- OnStar style -- for route information, vehicle assistance, emergency services, and other features based on subscription level. (The most basic features are free for 3 years.)
The RLX also introduces several Acura "1sts" that we suspect will trickle down to other models in time. The engine is an all-new 3.5-liter V-6 that features both direct injection and cylinder deactivation (Variable Cylinder Management), along with Acura's proprietary VTEC variable-valve timing setup. Though the engine has been slightly downsized from the RL's 3.7-liter 6, output is up by 10 hp for 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque. A revised 6-speed automatic remains the only transmission choice, and Acura's Sportshift sequential paddle shifters are mounted on the steering wheel. Fuel economy is said to be 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway, with a combined rating of 24 mpg -- a 22% improvement over the outgoing RL.
Other Acura 1sts in the RLX aim at taking safety to the next level. The RLX is the 1st Acura with an active lane-keeping system, knee airbags, and revised adaptive cruise control with what Acura calls Low-Speed Follow -- the ability to brake the car all the way down to a stop when the car ahead stops, without driver involvement. Acura expects the RLX to garner a Top Safety Pick + rating from the IIHS when tested later this year.
We got a chance to sample the RLX around some of Northern California's finest wine-country roads in Napa Valley, along with a brief stop at Sonoma Raceway (formerly Infineon and Sears Point) to sample the car on a short-track configuration. On the road, the RLX is comfortable and fairly quiet, with excellent isolation from wind and engine noise, thanks to new acoustic glass and added sound-deadening, but a little more tire noise than we'd like finds its way inside the cabin. Nevertheless, for a car that Acura markets as a somewhat sporty offering, the noise is acceptable.
The ride is on the sporty side of comfortable, with generally high levels of compliance and control. Acura's new belt-driven electric power steering is light and somewhat lacking in on-center feel, though it feels precise when carving through curvier roads -- a benefit in our testing environment that made for an entertaining drive. At the track, the Acura proved surprisingly fun to drive for a front-drive sedan, lacking heavy understeer in eight-tenths driving and giving generally neutral behavior. The brakes felt strong without being overassisted and grabby, but even in Sport mode the manual shifts via paddle were a little slow -- both up and down -- for track work. We predict fewer than 1% of RLXs built will ever set tire to track, and found the shift times adequate for road use for the other 99% of RLX drivers.
A hybrid all-wheel-drive RLX is under development, with a 7-speed dual-clutch gearbox, 370 hp, and a goal of at least 30 mpg combined. After a brief drive in a prototype, we're able to say it'll be worth the wait. Sales for the FWD RLX start in March for impatient folks.
2014 Acura RLX
BASE PRICE $49,345
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE 3.5L/310-hp/272-lb-ft DOHC 24-valve V-6
TRANSMISSION 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3950 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.1 x 77.4 x 57.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20 / 31 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONS CITY HWY 109 / 169 kW-hrs/100 mi
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mi (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently
Is This the Midsize Luxury Dark Horse?
Published: 02/15/2013 - by Josh Jacquot, Senior Editor
It's not the blind crests, lack of shoulders or even our own unfamiliarity with California State Route 121, also known as Monticello Road here in Napa Valley, that's curtailing our fun. In fact, those things actually enhance the experience. Rather, it's the occasional frost-covered shady patch and the fact that the 2014 Acura RLX's thermometer hovers between 32 and 34 degrees that's got us nervous.
There is no room for error.
Underneath us there's a new all-wheel steering system and a new suspension design. Power is sourced from a direct-injected version of the Accord's 3.5-liter V6 driving a paddle-shifted, rev-matching 6-speed transmission.
We settle into a quick but prudent pace that keeps both our confidence and the RLX on solid footing. Push too hard and the big Acura's dampers can't keep up. It's not slow exactly, but we can't avoid the notion that our confidence isn't peaked. Driving the RLX harder than seven-tenths rapidly exceeds its comfort zone. And ours.
What the Acura RLX Isn't
It's possible that Acura's 2014 RLX sedan will be more widely remembered for what it doesn't offer than for what it does. With a transverse power plant driving the front wheels, the RLX (as it's being introduced) flies in the face of conventional midsize luxury layouts, where a longitudinal engine driving either the rear or all 4 wheels is the status quo.
Later this year, the flagship RLX (a hybrid all-wheel-drive version with electric motors powering the rear wheels) will be available. For now, though, this big Acura is all about the front wheels, and in more ways than 1.
But according to Acura representatives and simple reasoning, most buyers aren't purchasing these sedans for the dynamic benefits offered by a rear-drive platform. These sedans aren't, after all, sports cars.
"We learned with the [all-wheel-drive] RL, which was among the best handling cars in the class, that having the best handling car doesn't mean you have the best-selling car," 1 Honda executive told us.
True. But maybe rear-drive, or at least a rear-drive philosophy, does.
Whether sales are a product of philosophy or function is irrelevant because Acura desperately needs a winner in this class. Last year it sold fewer than 400 RLs, while Lexus and BMW both sent more than 12,000 rear-drive GS 350s and 535is to new homes.
Though Acura isn't keen to predict sales, it's clear that it intends for the 2014 Acura RLX to fix that problem.
But Will the RLX Succeed Where the RL Failed?
Power won't be an issue. Certainly the RLX can't pump iron with the V8-powered competitors in the segment, but this Acura is not underpowered. Though its engine is downsized relative to the outgoing RL's 3.7-liter power plant, the new mill is both more powerful and more efficient. Cranking out 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque, the engine adds 10 hp and 1 lb-ft of torque to the sedan's résumé.
Variable Cylinder Management (VCM in Honda-speak), in conjunction with direct injection, yields a big bump in efficiency to 20 city/31 highway/24 combined mpg, up from the RL's 17 city/24 highway/20 combined mpg ratings. Contrary to most fuel-saving strategies, Acura lowered the ratios of all 6 gears and the final drive in the RLX, which should improve acceleration.
There's a Sport mode that increases throttle and transmission response and increases gain on the rear-wheel steering system, though the transmission still won't hold gears at redline.
More puzzling is a lack of optional adjustable or adaptive suspension, which is available on the RLX's biggest competitors. We're big fans of a single suspension calibration, but aren't convinced that the RLX delivers the driving experience luxury buyers want in this segment.
What's Holding the RLX Back?
3 words: Front-wheel drive. Despite being a capable front-drive sedan, there's no escaping front-drive dynamics.
Acura made a 2013 BMW 535i and 2013 Mercedes-Benz E350 available to drive back to back with the RLX on a small handling course where body control, transitional stability and the ability to power out of low-speed corners were priorities. But thanks to the 535i's adjustable damping, this was not the demonstration Acura had hoped for. We preferred the BMW and would put money on it being quicker through the course. The Benz, however, was clearly not as controlled.
It's fair to say that most luxury sedan owners won't subject their cars to such a test. Still, it illustrates the confidence Acura has in its new sedan: confidence which is largely a product of the RLX's Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS). The system is capable of independently controlling the rear wheels so it can execute stability-increasing moves like adding toe-in under heavy braking. Otherwise, its behavior is not unlike previous systems, which steer the rear wheels in phase or out of phase with the fronts depending on a number of factors.
In practice, the effects of rear steering are subtle enough that you'll likely never notice. Certainly it enhances the RLX's handling, but you won't find yourself aware of crabbing across lanes during a freeway lane change. Chassis engineers also use the individual brake application to introduce yaw in certain conditions, which they call Active Handling Assist.
Given its size, the 2014 Acura RLX is a respectable-handling front-driver, but its dynamic abilities aren't game-changing.
Its Looks Are Not Deceiving
Let's face it. The RLX isn't the most striking sedan to ever come out of Japan. Or from anywhere. It's been pegging our forgettable meter since its quiet debut last November at the L.A. auto show, which is ironic given that Acura names "elegant and exclusive style" as the No. 1 priority of luxury sedan customers.
But it is big, inside at least.
It's here that the RLX can make some real claims, like best-in-class interior space. Specifically, and maybe most importantly, that means more rear legroom than its rivals from Audi, BMW, Lexus and Mercedes-Benz. At 112.2 inches the RLX's wheelbase is 2 inches longer than the RL's and is identical to the Lexus GS 350.
There's also less narrowing of the greenhouse above the beltline than these competitors, which results in more shoulder room and head space. Indeed, sit anywhere in the RLX and there's no sense of confinement and visibility is good.
Despite its interior dimensions, the 2014 Acura RLX encapsulates its driver and front passenger in a warmly personal space. Its 12-way adjustable seats will suit for long stints and its steering wheel is both small in diameter and thick-rimmed, giving the sense that you're controlling a smaller machine. Materials and assembly quality are befitting a car in this segment.
Instrument panel space is split evenly between a large tachometer on the left and a large speedometer on the right, both of which are typically clear in presentation. Otherwise, Acura's strategy for secondary controls is to allow multiple means to access features, which pays off in keeping the button count reasonable.
The RLX's cabin is among the most serene we've experienced thanks to a set of active engine mounts and active noise cancellation through the audio system. And if you're into that sort of thing, there's an available 14-speaker Krell audio system that even makes Paul Simon sound tolerable. Combined, these amenities make the RLX a solid long-haul choice, as good as or better than its competition.
Genuinely Useful Tech
Perhaps the RLX's most impressive feature is its ability to steer itself. Acura calls this feature the Lane Keeping Assist System, and it does just that. Truth is, the car steers itself for about 10 seconds. Then it wants you to steer again, which seems fair.
A forward-looking camera monitors lane position and keeps lane wanderers from wandering too far. On mildly curving roads it's so subtle and effective that we hope every driver in Los Angeles gets 1. In longer corners we noticed the system making small corrections against our input. Still, it's worth it most of the time and easily switched off.
Besides being extremely well-calibrated for the inevitable space-cushion thief, the RLX's Adaptive Cruise Control will now comfortably stop the car and requires only a tap of the throttle or "Resume" button to once again begin tracking back to its preset speed.
The Cost/Benefit Ratio
The 2014 Acura RLX will be available with five packages (Base, Navigation, Technology package, Krell Audio package, Advance package) starting at $49,345 including destination when it hits dealers next month. The car we drove here, outfitted with the Advance Package, will cost $61,345, which will get you a BMW 535i with the Technology and Dynamic Handling packages or a loaded rear-wheel-drive Lexus GS 350.
The full verdict on the RLX won't be in until the all-wheel-drive hybrid version shows up. But even then, the ultimate question facing the RLX isn't whether it can be competitive on features and price, but rather if it can be desirable.
All-wheel drive will help, and the RLX needs all the help it can get.
Tasty mountain roads connect Napa Valley's swank Auberge du Soleil resort with Sonoma's Sears Point Raceway. On these roads, you can push a car like the 2014 Acura RLX without beating the tires into squealing submission. After 9 years, Acura has replaced the front-wheel-drive RL with another FWD luxury flagship, the RLX, and this fall adds an all-wheel-drive hybrid version with 60 more horses. A brief drive of the hybrid awaits us at the raceway.
On the way to Sear's Point, the RLX exhibits competent handling: the big sedan gets around the mountain roads with very little understeer and a bit of cushy body roll, although the inevitable electric power steering is average in feel and feedback, which is to say, there's not enough of either.
Lacking Old World luxury-car provenance and a front-engine, rear-wheel-drive platform, Acura high-techs its way through such shortcomings. The RLX marks the debut of its Precision All-Wheel Steer, badged "P-AWS" on the rear deck. An electronic control unit in the rear suspension provides independent rear torque control, creating toe-out for the inside tire and toe-in for the outside tire in a curve. Brake early for a tight bend and you can put a lot of power down while exiting. The sport mode--a requisite feature in any modern luxury sedan--also adjusts the EPS's assist for better feel and sharpens response of the 3.5-liter gas direct-injection engine and six-speed automatic. Although the transmission quickly shifts itself out of 1st, it allows you to bump the redline from second through sixth.
A few laps of coned-off Sears Point make the RLX's mild understeer more evident. We had a couple of the same limited laps in an RLX hybrid with Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, which uses an electric motor to power the rear wheels and combines with the 3.5-liter V-6 and 7-speed dual-clutch transmission to provide 370 horsepower. The hybrid's steering and handling responses are sharper, and the powertrain is a hoot: the V-6/electric hybrid should be able to keep up with the average German luxury V-8 and, at the limit, the chassis will be more likely to give in to four-wheel drifts. Acura was hush-hush about the RLX hybrid's specs. It has a series of pushbuttons in place of the front-wheel-drive car's conventional gearshift and will be a standalone option rather than a separate trim level.
The hybrid powertrain is not the Acura RLX's most startling techno-feature. That would be the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which relies on the RLX's adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and a color camera in the lower front fascia to read road marks, Botts dots, and the like. It takes the car 1 step closer to autonomous driving. The adaptive cruise can bring the car to a stop, although if it does so you have to reengage the cruise control when you start moving again. With LKAS on and no hands on the steering wheel, the car is able to steer itself for up to 10 seconds around gentle curves on the highway. Acura says this reduces driver fatigue. More important, it makes it easier for the driver to change the radio station or perhaps tap a number into a smartphone. Grab the wheel while LKAS is activated, and you'll feel odd feedback that could only come from an electric power steering system, similar to Audi's lane-departure control system. A few software tweaks would make the car more of a self-driver, large car project leader Yousuke Sekino says, though he warns, "If you start to over-trust the systems ... you could go too far."
Other techie items include AcuraLink with real-time street traffic info, Pandora, Aha, and SiriusXM radio, applications that let you control features with your smartphone, and a fourteen-speaker Krell hi-fi that supersedes Acura's excellent ELS audio systems, which are still available. Even with all those features, Acura has cleaned up the RL's busy center stack. The supple interior's fit and finish is nearly perfect, with generous padding for every leather and plastic surface that could conceivably come into contact with the driver's hands.
The car surely is the quietest Honda-based product ever. With a 2-inch wheelbase stretch over the RL, the RLX has a vastly improved back-seat package. We only drove the $61,345 top-of-the-range Advance model, but an RLX with Navi package - which should be standard - is $51,800, and from there trim levels matriculate through a Tech package and a Krell package. Advance includes active cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Exterior design is what you'd expect of a luxury Honda sedan with the familiar Acura nose. The swage line that cuts downward from the top of the front fenders to the front door cut reduces wind noise at the sideview mirrors. The main problem is the transverse-engine dash-to-axle relationship, but there's little Acura can do about it, and it won't matter for most mid-lux sedan customers. Those drawn to the car who are enthusiasts of Honda's frisky FWD handling of yore will find the RLX's sport setting competent. They'll enjoy technology that lets them safely text, make calls, or find that perfect iPod playlist while in heavy traffic. Like Lincoln, Acura also has launched a concierge service to find RLX owners "responsible luxury" resorts like Auberge du Soleil [full disclosure: I'm here with my wife and am one of several journalists from major outlets enjoying the resort with a significant other], to where I return from Sears Point in the RLX on more mundane roads, fully relaxed.
2014 Acura RLX
Base Price: $49,345
As Tested: $61,345
L x W x H: 196.1 x 74.4 x 57.7 inches
Legroom F/R: 42.3/38.8 inches
Headroom F/R: 37.6/36.9 inches
Cargo capacity: 15.3 cubic feet (15.1 cu. ft. with Krell Audio and Advance packages)
Curb weight: 3997 lb
EPA rating (city/highway): 20/31 mpg
Why was the old Acura RL so firmly nailed to dealership floors, with just 379 sold last year? That’s easy: It was too small. Its back seat was so tight that rear riders could practically adjust the stereo, could possibly even drink from the front cup holders with a long-enough straw. Too in thrall to Honda’s minor-key virtues of frugality and modesty, the RL couldn’t compete with the chest-thumping, lane-filling champions of the mid-size luxury-car segment.
Repeat: It was because it was almost Civic-sized in back, and not because it had a 6-cylinder engine or was based on a front-drive chassis. In fact, you could argue that the rest of the luxury-car fleet has finally caught up with the Acura flagship. Amid rising fuel-economy standards, a 6-cylinder luxury sedan no longer seems like a tin Rolex. Furthermore, all-wheel drive is now the de rigueur luxury-car format, and Audi has even sold front-drive A6s and A8s with a straight face. All this might not get the new RLX the respect it deserves, but what Acura has produced here, for better or worse, is a car fully in sync with these comfort-, mpg-, and tech-obsessed times.
The RLX overcompensates for the old car’s biggest failing. It’s full-figured, with a 2.0-inch-longer wheelbase and 1.7-inch-wider body than the outgoing RL’s. The cabin is far airier and roomier than before, with lots of clearance for occupants’ extremities. It’s also beautifully finished in muted tones, but its 2-screen radio and nav interface is confusing; you never quite remember which of the screens and knobs will deliver the function you want. Also, the seat bottoms are too short for even the moderately lanky.
Engine-downsizing touches the RLX, but only by 0.2 liter. The naturally aspirated, direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 feeds the front wheels 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque, up 10 and 1, respectively, from the old 3.7 liter. Fuel efficiency should be very competitive in the class, at 20 city/31 highway, figures we’re inclined to trust as they’re derived from a naturally aspirated engine.
Interestingly, Acura’s fuel-sipping strategy doesn’t rely on a tiny engine or sluggish gear ratios to achieve its result. Its final drive is actually 14% lower than the RL’s, preserving the high-revving, coltish character of the powertrain primarily via careful management of its variable-valve-timing and cylinder-deactivation systems. The car retains the high-rpm urgency and natural linearity—abetted by a telepathic transmission—that’s missing from the turbocharged set.
But some of the fuel savings comes from, of all places, the rear suspension. Good news, lovers of high-tech Japanese cars from the late ’80s: Rear-steering is back. Acura calls it Precision All-Wheel Steer, or, cutely, P-AWS, and it can toe the wheels independently. Under braking, for example, it pigeons the rears inward to keep the car stable. It also incorporates an ersatz torque-vectoring software program dubbed Agile Handling Assist (AHA [seriously]) to rotate the car into corners.
Beyond its handling benefits, the independent rear steering also helps fuel economy by reducing tire scrub in corners. It’s an expensive and complicated way to eke out some fuel savings, but it spares drivers from having to suffer low-rolling-resistance tires that impose braking and cornering compromises.
P-AWS and AHA give the RLX vivid path accuracy and turn-in characteristics, as the car refuses to betray its front-wheel-drive layout and 61/39-percent front/rear weight distribution until pushed hard. The steering is as predictable and progressively weighted as we’ve experienced in a front-drive Honda product. Despite the flat and stable ride, though, we found wheel impacts to be a bit too harsh for a car that boasts fancy new ZF Sachs dampers.
Hold on; we’re not done with the acronyms and abbreviations yet. The Advance trim we drove had LKAS (Lane Keeping Assist System) and ACC (Adaptive Cruise Control), as well as the FCW (Forward Collision Warning) and LDW (Lane Departure Warning) that are standard on the base car. Sadly, none of these letters conjure images of fuzzy animals or contrived surprise, but the first two do create a force field around the car in stop-and-go traffic. The Acura folk call this the “405 feature,” in reference to L.A.’s clogged carotid. ACC prevents the RLX from hitting a leading car by slowing to a full stop if necessary, and LKAS keeps the car in a lane, its camera-based intelligence actually steering the car away from a road line. So text away, idiots. These control-seizing functions aren’t on by default, and the multi-button process to engage them isn’t well guided, but at least you have to willingly deploy these systems. Acura’s legal department thanks you.
Honda’s upscale brand is not bashful about charging customers for all this, with the base car starting at $49,345. That includes an adequate but by no means complete raft of acronyms: P-AWS, LDW, FCW, full LED headlights, and the basic but excellent 10-speaker ELS audio system. The Navi package adds navigation and $2500. The next level up is called Tech, at $55,345, and it brings 19-inch aluminum wheels, four more speakers, blind-spot warnings, power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, and very soft Milano leather. Add the 14-speaker Krell audio package for another $2500, and you get a system that spent four years in development. You can hear it in its absolute fidelity at high volume, and its level of sonic detail; you notice things in old songs you’ve never heard before. A fully stocked RLX Advance, with all of the above plus ACC, LKAS, vented front seats, parking sensors, heated rear seats, and pre-crash braking and seatbelt systems, comes to $61,345. That’s suddenly real money, even if it’s about $5000 less across the board than the German competition. And an all-wheel-drive RLX, with a 370-horse three-motor-hybrid V-6, a seven-speed DCT, and expected 30/30/30 fuel economy is coming later this year. We’ll see if it can command the $70,000 it’s expected to cost, but you’ve got to admire Acura’s chutzpah.
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.
1. A new, smaller 3.5L V6 engine gets a increase in power and fuel economy at 310 hp and a 20 mpg city, 31 mpg highway rating.
2. Prevision All Wheel Steer or PAWS delivers rear steering.
3. The 2014 RLX offers best-in-class rear-seat legroom.
4. Available features include lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow and an autonomous braking system.
5. Late this year Acura will introduce a Sport Hybrid SH-AWD model with a V6 hybrid under the hood and two rear electric motors, making 370 hp and delivering 30 mpg combined.
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; 1 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 1 that’s front wheel drive.
Yes, gone is the brand’s grip-tastic Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. It is set to make a return, however, in an impressive hybrid form, but not until later this year.
Being a front-driver, if there’s anything the RLX could use, it’s a limited slip differential. Arguably overkill in a machine like this, designed more for luxury cruising than sporty performance, if Acura wants to compete with brands like BMW, it wouldn’t hurt. Even 1 of the low-tech electronic LSDs would be a good move, and would add little to the cost of the car.
FRONT-WHEEL DRIVE HAS ITS ADVANTAGES
The PAWS system is Acura’s engineering answer to its competitors, which are all almost entirely rear-wheel drive. In many ways it levels the playing field and allows Acura to take advantage of the fuel economy and packaging advantages of a front-wheel platform. As a result Acura can claim best in class interior room and fuel economy – though that final boast is misleading.
With the footprint of a mid-size sedan, Acura says the RLX is more of a full-size inside. Compared to rivals like the Mercedes E-Class, BMW 5 Series and Lexus GS it has more shoulder and head room, while delivering as much as 3-inches more legroom.
Compared to the old pointy-nose RL, it’s surprisingly no longer, though the wheels have been pushed out to each end by 2 inches. It’s also 2 inches wider, and the new design gives it a stately look more becoming of its class. That’s definitely a good thing because Acura has a real issue with its overlapping lineup of front-wheel drive sedans.
Unfortunately the RLX still doesn’t look like much, though calling it less than handsome would be unfair. Acura is perhaps timid to try anything wild after the polarizing look of the TL. A notable design highlight includes the unique headlight assembly which Acura calls “jewel eye”. With 18-inch wheels standard, 19s are optional. One Acura employee did comment under his breath that he’d like to see 20s offered to help spice up the look. It wouldn’t hurt.
The added size is obvious inside with several inches of legroom to spare even for the over six-foot crowd. Plus trunk size has grown to a best-in-class 15.3 cu-ft. Now obviously bigger than the TL, the RLX has a reason to exist.
FLAGSHIP TECH FOR A FLAGSHIP SEDAN
As the brand’s new flagship sedan it’s also introducing plenty of other new technology features, many which aren’t new to the industry, but which have been sorely lacking at Acura.
First up is adaptive cruise control with low speed follow. You just set the distance from the car ahead and a max speed and it will keep you rolling, even in stop-and-go traffic. It may sound like technology you’ll never use, but trust us, it’s one of the best convenience features money can buy and once you’ve used it, you’ll never go back.
In addition, there’s a lane keeping assist feature that will monitor the road ahead and then add steering if it detects you’re sliding out of your lane. We tested it at highway speeds, and it will keep the car in its lane as the road curves, even with no hands on the wheel! (Don’t try this at home).
Technology and features aren’t just on high-grade trims either. Starting at $48,450 the RLX gets a power tilt and telescopic steering wheel, keyless access and push button start, forward collision warning, lane departure warning plus an 8-inch screen up top to display the back up camera and available navigation, while an additional 7-inch screen directly below it is used for audio and redundant climate controls and features haptic feedback – meaning it pulses when you touch it.
The dual screens do seem redundant, though it does avoid having to switch between an audio screen and navigation screen if the car is so equipped. It also cleans up the cabin considerably, something Acura needs as its cars have historically featured dashes littered with buttons.
Rivals like Lexus solve the same issue by just having one massive 12.3-inch screen stretch across the dash, and it definitely makes more of an impact in the cabin.
Another standard feature is the latest generation AcuraLink telematics system. Through a tethered smartphone it allows a long list of apps to be brought into the car, from Pandora Internet Radio to a suite of Aha functions that can do everything from stream audio books to read your twitter and Facebook updates. Plus, vehicles equipped with navigation can also get realtime traffic updates for both highway and surface streets free for the 1st 3 years. Upgraded packages are also available offering everything from a stolen vehicle locater to a personal assistant.
PREMIUM YET SIMPLE CABIN
Certainly premium, in the usual understated Acura way it lacks the opulence of some rivals – again, the Lexus GS comes to mind. The design is clean and minimalist (perhaps too much so), though it does look modern – even the wood.
The gauges are a simple white on black, bookending a small digital multi information display screen. Adding navigation will change that screen to color, while added luxuries come with the volume Tech Package, which at $54,450 includes blind spot warning, a 14-speaker audio system, 19-inch wheels and upgraded leather.
Those in the hunt for more goodies and more luxury can get the lane keeping assist and adaptive cruise control features, along with collision mitigating braking (which will apply the brakes for you in case a collision is seen as unavoidable), vented front seats and heated rears for $69,450 in the Advance package.
UPDATED V6, SAME OLD TRANSMISSION
To better advance the big Acura down the road is a new 3.5-liter V6 engine. Smaller than last year’s 3.7-liter it gains direct injection as well as the first use of variable cylinder management (allowing it to run on just 3 cylinders) in an Acura, to deliver more power and better fuel economy.
Output is rated at 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque, while fuel economy is 20 mpg city, 31 mpg highway and 24 mpg combined. That is better than any of the RLX’s six-cylinder competitors, though short of the BMW 528i’s turbocharged 4-cylinder engine.
The car pulls adequately and perhaps the most surprising attribute of the powertrain is the 6-speed automatic. In an era where all of its rivals have to moved to 7-speeds (or more), having a new car with a six-speed conventional automatic is, from an engineering standpoint, downright embarrassing.
Acura is prepping a 7-speed dual-clutch unit, though it won’t arrive until the new Sport Hybrid Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) RLX goes on sale later this year. Still, the six-speed auto isn’t just smooth shifting, it’s excellently suited to aggressive driving. While RLX drivers aren’t likely to hit the track at Sonoma Raceway like we did, they can enjoy the fact that in Sport mode it stays in low gears for maximum acceleration and even when making mid-corner adjustments, a light lift won’t send it into a higher gear killing the throttle response.
If only Acura spent as much time fretting over the car’s design as engineers did on the mechanical bits.
The rest of the drive is perfectly suited to this segment of machine. With excellent grip, it’s masked by a smooth and quiet drive, thanks in part to a noise canceling function by the speakers. As for the steering, it’s extremely light, though responsive.
Easily a better value than German rivals, unfortunately for Acura, value isn’t the #1 concern for buyers in this segment. Neither is blending in, which the RLX tends to do.
German traditionalists also won’t be won over by a front-driver, though the RLX proves that for the most part (and for buyers in this segment), which wheels the power goes to is pretty much irrelevant.
Holding true to the Acura brand reputation for going against the grain, the RLX delivers a genuinely surprising drive. Unfortunately, it’s missing the visual impact to match its engineering achievements.
An undeniably smart buy, those looking for more excitement will get it soon with a 370 hp Sport Hybrid SH-AWD model that arrives later this year. Let’s just hope it has the looks to match.
PAWS really works
Great new tech
Plenty of luxury value
No gotta-have-it looks
No wow-factor under the hood
Could use a limited slip differential
Spoiler alert: The 2014 Acura RLX is a good car. But that shouldn't come as a surprise. Despite the fact that Acura is subject to a lot of criticism for things like its odd positioning in the automotive landscape, questionable styling choices in recent years, and the fact that, more or less, its products feel like lux'd-up Hondas rather than something truly unique, the cars have always been inherently good – decent to drive, nice to sit in and reliable to own. That's what happens when you ride that sort of "affordable luxury" line.
Because Acura's sedans don't really fit into any 1 definable segment, the brand hopes it can draw customers from a broader range who aren't necessarily dedicated to a certain marque. And while there's certainly rhyme to that reason on the more entry-level end of the spectrum, that proposition makes less sense as you move toward higher price points. (Have a gander at the Hyundai Equus, if you will.) On the other hand, Acura pulled data from a 2012 Strategic Vision survey that showed the #1 purchase decision for luxury buyers last year was value for the money, with manufacturer reputation coming in at a close 2nd.
Which brings us to the 2014 RLX, a flagship that will compete in the mid/high luxury segment, battling cars like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, but, according to Acura, reaches up into 7 Series and A8 territory, as well.
"This is the best car Acura has ever produced," said Michael Accavitti, the automaker's vice president of national marketing operations. And he may be right. But is it truly good enough to be a more renowned player in this higher-end segment than the outgoing RL was? (That shouldn't be too hard, given the fact that the RL was the worst-selling car of 2011.) We hit the roads around Napa Valley to find out.
When Acura 1st debuted the RLX in concept form at the 2012 New York Auto Show, it showed that the brand was finally starting to refine and smooth out the angular design language that 1st appeared on the 2008 TL to mostly poor reviews. In production guise, the RLX is a handsome car, and certainly more striking than the RL that came before it, but there are still a few awkward bits to address. 1st of all, if that rear end looks familiar, it's because it bears a keen resemblance to the BMW 7 Series. That isn't a bad thing, but we aren't the only ones who immediately noticed this while staring at the Acura's rump.
The rest of the design is all well and good, though not very emotional. The fascia looks sharp, especially with the 2-by-5 LED headlamp cluster in full shimmer, and the profile shows attention to clean, smooth surfaces, though the downward slope just aft of the front wheel well seems a bit abrupt. It's a nice car to look at, but nothing about the RLX's appearance will lead you to believe that it isn't just a front-wheel-drive Honda underneath.
At 196.1 inches in length, the RLX is only one-tenth of an inch longer than the outgoing RL, though the wheelbase has been increased by 2 inches versus the old car. The 2014 model is also 1.8 inches wider than the old RL (77.4 total) and the car stands just under half an inch taller. To put it in another perspective, those dimensions are all just ever so slightly larger than that of a BMW 535i, though the Bimmer does ride on a 4-inch-longer wheelbase.
All RLX models come standard with the Jewel-Eye LED headlamps you see here, though stepping up to the Technology package will net you the handsome 19-inch wheels of our test car (18s are standard) wrapped in Michelin Primacy 245/40R19 all-season tires. Other features that come on every model include 12-way power/heated seats, Pandora radio, Bluetooth and USB/iPod connectivity, ELS premium audio, a multi-view rear camera, electronic parking brake, about a billion different alphabetic safety features, and the brand-spanking new P-AWS (Precision All-Wheel Steer) system that makes its debut on the RLX. (We'll get to that shortly.)
Our fully loaded Advance model came packed with things like a sweet-sounding Krell audio system, active cruise control with a low-speed function that will actually bring the car to a dead stop, heated and cooled front seats, heated rear seats, sunshades for backseat riders and Milano leather. Cozy stuff.
So many mid/high-level luxury cars have well-appointed-but-boring cabin designs, and while the RLX isn't up to Audi levels of cockpit ambiance, it's a really nice place to be. We do wish that the glossy wood trim were replaced with some swanky aluminum inserts, but that's a personal aesthetic preference. Still, every touchable surface feels great, and the design of the instrument panel and center stack is easy to navigate. We like the sculpting of the dash and the way it flows into the prominent console area that houses a two-screen design (sort of like the Honda Accord). Up top is an 8-inch screen that displays vehicle functions and navigation data, controlled by the large knob near the bottom of the stack, and below is a 7-inch touchscreen for on-demand functions like audio selection and heating/cooling operation. That lower screen also has haptic feedback behind it, so you'll feel a slight buzz when you're getting touchy-feely. It's not off-putting, but not entirely necessary, either.
Models equipped with navigation also get a smaller TFT color display in the gauge cluster, controlled by small switches on either side of the steering wheel. It's not complicated to use, and only after about 10 minutes behind the wheel, we had the entire system figured out.
The launch of the 2014 RLX also brings forth the latest version of the Japanese automaker's AcuraLink in-car connectivity, now featuring remote features on a smartphone app. The whole package features a more prominent in-vehicle experience that better integrates what's on your smartphone to what's in the car. It's sort of like Toyota Entune in this regard. Pricing for the AcuraLink system will be revealed closer to the car's launch, but specific features include real-time traffic (including data for surface streets, not just highways), vehicle messaging, map services, vehicle remote, diagnostics tools and full-blown concierge services.
Front passengers in the RLX are treated to supportive, nicely appointed leather seats with good amounts of side and butt bolstering. In back, the 3-passenger bench is equally supportive, and 2 full-size adults will have no trouble getting comfy back there. When it comes to all-important rear legroom, the RLX's 38.8 inches of stretchable space bests smaller numbers from midsize luxury competitors like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Lexus GS and Audi A6.
Now, the tricky part: on-road demeanor. The big problem that Acura faces here is that even with its fancy P-AWS technology, the RLX is still a front-wheel-drive offering in a segment of rear- and all-wheel-drive players. Acura will soon offer a SH-AWD version of the RLX with a 3-motor hybrid drivetrain producing somewhere around 370 horsepower, all mated to a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. We took a prototype of this car around Sonoma raceway for 2 short laps back-to-back with the front-drive P-AWS car, and can already tell that it's absolutely superior. But that's another story for another day of driving.
Before we move on, here's the 1 problem we see with Acura advancing as a luxury brand from a driver's perspective. Because it relies so heavily on Honda technology, Acura has always been behind in terms of powertrain technology. Whereas other companies are already using 7- and 8-speed transmissions, Honda's luxury arm is just now rolling out 6-speed units to its cars. And while other automakers are fitting turbochargers and superchargers to efficient direct-injection engines, Acura is just now using DI for the 1st time. The 3-motor hybrid with DCT setup really intrigues us (and from our short stint behind the wheel, impressed us), so perhaps that can add some extra cache to the RLX package when it launches.
In the meantime, the standard RLX is powered by Honda's 3.5-liter Earth Dreams V6, tuned to 310 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 272 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Power runs to the ground via a 6-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters (if you feel so inclined) and a sport setting that changes transmission mapping, throttle response and steering feel. We've enjoyed the 3.5-liter V6 in the Honda Accord, and we feel the same way about it here – there's a linear power delivery, good throttle response and an adequate amount of power on tap.
The RLX in no way feels slow, thanks in part to a transmission that's willing to work with you when it comes to properly delivering power. We drove the car along a long stretch of Sage Canyon Road in Napa Valley – a truly excellent road, if you get the chance – and with the transmission in Sport mode, the RLX was eager to hold a gear for long stretches of quick curves and would even preemptively downshift every now and then when it detected braking before turning into a corner.
If we're honest, the RLX is actually quite eager to perform on winding roads. The whole package feels light on its feet – our loaded Advance model weighing in at 3,997 pounds – but a lot of that can be credited to the nicely weighted, engaging steering and well-tuned suspension (MacPherson struts up front, a multilink setup out back and high-strength stabilizers both fore and aft). Pedal feel from the stopper is solid, though after long stretches of driving, we noticed a detectible amount of fade from the brakes.
The real reason to like the RLX on twisty roads is its Precision All-Wheel Steer system, a bit of technology that actively steers the rear wheels during turning and braking. This isn't the 1st time we've experienced technology like this, but that doesn't make it any less good in this application. While cornering, the inside wheel will toe in and the outside wheel will toe out, making steering efforts through a turn even easier, and because of this extra effort from the rear wheels, understeer is reduced. During lane-changes, both wheels will turn in the direction of travel to provide direct, stable response, and during straight line braking, both wheels will actually toe in (picture a downhill skier coming to a halt), which aids in stopping performance.
In addition to our canyon drive, Acura let us loose through a handling course set up in the paddock of Sonoma Raceway, where we could really test the agility of the steering and P-AWS system against a couple of key competitors. It only took us 2 laps in the Mercedes-Benz E350 to tell that the Acura easily outpaces it, but the real competition came from a BMW 535i. In terms of a FWD large car, the Acura is easily best of the bunch, but you just can't match the rear-drive dynamics and precise steering of the 5er. And while one wasn't available to test, we're willing to bet that the Audi A6 with Quattro would stomp all over the whole group. We put the RLX somewhere in the middle of the pack.
The 2014 Acura RLX will officially go on sale on March 15, 2013, with a starting price of $48,450. Models with navigation start at $50,950, adding the tech package brings that up to $54,450, the Krell audio pack takes it up to $56,950, and our top shelf Advance model hits the $60,450 mark. (All prices do not include $895 for destination.) Option a rear-drive BMW 535i up to similar levels of equipment and you're looking at close to $70,000 for a vehicle that matches our Advance tester. But spec a fully loaded RWD Lexus GS 350 F Sport with all the trimmings and you only hit $54,275.
The RLX looks most attractive to people who want something ever-so-slightly larger than the 5 Series crowd but don't want to shell out for the full-on premium sedan treatment. If that Strategic Vision data about luxury buyers really looking for value above all remains true, then the RLX is definitely worth considering. But once again, we're back to where we started. Yes, the RLX is good. Very good. Is it the best Acura ever built? In terms of technology and refinement, absolutely. It's a vastly improved vehicle that, in a vacuum, is excellent. The problem here is that it isn't quite far enough removed from its Honda bones to be considered a stand-out product in this highly competitive segment.
What's New: Acura's flagship, formerly the RL, is revamped after 8 long years. Under the hood a direct-injection version of the Honda/Acura 3.5-liter V-6 replaces the old 3.7-liter, and makes 10 extra horsepower with massive 4 city/7 hwy mpg jumps in fuel economy. We'll do the math for you: 310 hp and 20/31 city/hwy fuel economy. The interior is similarly revolutionized, with 7-inch touchscreen “Multi-Use Display” to supplement the main 8-inch screen and take the place of the myriad buttons that clutter other Acura center consoles.
This car will be known for its jewel-eye cluster of LED headlights, which literally glitter in the daylight. As for the rest of the styling, the best we can say about the RLX is that it looks better in person. Acura has taken a critical beating for some of its recent designs; perhaps as a reaction to that the RLX is perfectly inoffensive but lacks distinctive character, aside from those lamps. Overall length is about the same, but wheelbase and width both increase about 2 inches. Going back inside the car, those dimensions contribute to what Acura claims is best-in-class rear-seat legroom.
RLX buyers can choose from 5 trim levels: base, Navigation, Tech, Krell, and Advance. Each offers an increasing level of content and technology, but the mechanical bits remain the same. And trim levels from Tech on up come with insulated 2-layer glass on the windshield and side windows.
Tech Tidbit: Where do we start? The RLX is packed with clever technology, even down to wheels that have a special noise-reducing resonator attached to the inside of the rim. There are active engine mounts for when the engine runs in a fuel-saving 3-cylinder mode. The doors have aluminum skins with steel inner panels, made using a new process that curls the 2 metals together at the edge for an impenetrable seam. Forward collision warning and lane-departure warning are standard; all-speed adaptive cruise control and active lane-keeping assist are optional. The RLX even has a capless fuel filler.
The biggest innovation on the RLX, though, is what Acura calls Precision All Wheel Steer (PAWS). Unlike other systems that move the rear wheels to help cornering, PAWS moves each rear wheel independently, up to 2 degrees. For enhanced stability the system makes the rear wheels toe-in under heavy braking, and at high speeds the rear wheels move in concert with the front for better stability. At low speeds, the rear wheels move opposite of the front to reduce the turning radius.
Driving Character: This is the front-wheel-drive car that doesn't feel like 1, thanks to the extra agility provided by PAWS. Steering is accurate, if lacking in feedback in the way we've come to expect from electric-power-assisted systems such as this. The engine is strong, with an extra surge of power above 5000 rpm on the way to the 6800-rpm redline. But the RLX doesn't surprise you with it's quickness the way a high-horsepower V-8 or turbocharged 6 can make your eyes get big when you floor the accelerator. It's more of a smooth cruiser, with a quiet, comfortable ride and leather appointments nicer than most country clubs. And if your club happens to be near a twisty road, the RLX can handle well enough to scare the monocles off your 1-percenter friends. On our test drive, a portion of which occurred at Sonoma Raceway in Northern California, Acura provided a BMW 535i and Mercedes-Benz E350 for comparison on a small autocross. We wouldn't say the RLX beat the Germans, but it certainly belongs in the same company, which is an admirable feat.
Our test car was a fully-loaded Advance package, complete with an amazing 14-speaker Krell audio system that sounds so good that it makes the low audio quality of Pandora radio nearly unlistenable. Advance trim also includes lane keeping and active cruise control. The lane keeping, which uses the electric power steering to nudge the wheel, is 1 of the best we've ever encountered. It keeps the car centered in the lane with subtle adjustments and can even follow some curves. If not for a warning after 10 seconds, we could take our hands off the wheel for minutes at a time. Active cruise works less admirably, with some jerky brake modulation at low speeds and a reluctance to accelerate hard. But both systems together make for almost-automated driving, from highway speeds down to a stop and back up to speed again.
Favorite Detail: The headlights work as well as they look, lighting up the road like a surgery room. The multi-touch screen has haptic feedback, which means it buzzes slightly when touched to mimic the feel of a real button. Best of all, this touchscreen responds quickly, so when it switches to a keyboard for navigation inputs, the experience is 1 of convenience instead of frustration.
Driver's Grievance: For a high-tech flagship, the RLX is missing a few items on our wish list, like rear-seat climate control, auto high beams, and a larger digital display in the instrument cluster with more information than the small screen currently nestled between the tachometer and speedometer.
The Bottom Line: Acura's pitch for the RLX is to the customer that is looking for a certain level of value for the money. And the RLX offers a good mix of features, space, and performance for the price. In Tech trim, for $55,345, Acura says the RLX is about $5,000 less than a comparable-equipped German sedan. But top-of-the-line Advance trim, at $61,345, is the only way to get lane keeping and active cruise.
This is a great car, but not so brilliant that anybody will rush to trade in a German sedan. And the RLX is unlikely to turn many heads. Aside from the distinctive headlights, the styling is more forgettable than understated. In terms of performance, refinement, and general luxury the RLX is Acura's best car yet, but you might not notice it driving down the road. The biggest problem with the RLX is anonymity.
Jimmy Durante was born of humble circumstances on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in the dark days of the 1890s, but went on to become one of the most well-respected and highest grossing stars of the Jazz era. Yet however great was his regard, when he was eventually enshrined in pop music by Cole Porter with “You’re the Top,” Durante was memorialized solely for his signature sniffer. To quote: You’re a rose/You’re Inferno’s Dante/You’re the nose/On the great Durante.
Similarly, though it began as the offspring of workaday Japanese automaker Honda in the dark days of the 1980s, Acura went on to become one of the most well respected and best-selling car brands of the post-Malaise era, producing immortal and beloved hits like the Integra, the 1st generation Legend, and the original TSX. Yet when reviewers write about the brand today, they’re always certain to lead with a reference to the straked and argent beak Acura designers stuck on their models in the late aughts. To quote: You’re an axe/You’re Charles Barkley’s razor/You’re a shield/That could block Spock’s phaser.
This snooty reaction isn’t limited to the snoot. Neither is it solely the fault of the AutoCAD wielders in Tokyo and Torrance, Calif. Somewhere along the way, just as Durante lost his radio mojo to TV, Acura lost its keel to complacency, crossover dependency, the rear-wheel drive revival and an institutional sight-lowering that Honda once fought with innovations like CVCC instead of caving to catalytic converters, but has grown to accept in this century.
Which brings us to the brand’s new flagship, which, despite Acura’s marketing tagline for it — "Luxury Defined by You" — is not called the UL, but rather RLX. As in, Frankie say.
Sit down in its cushy captain’s chair, start up the actively noise-cancelled engine, roll up the insulating laminated windows, and begin coasting along on resonator-equipped frequency-reducing wheels, and you’ll see what we mean. As if there were any doubts about the car’s intent, at the launch, an Acura executive described it as providing the kind of “relaxed driving situation” wherein one could pilot it with one hand lightly touching the wheel, making it an ideal competitor for that 1978 Lincoln you were cross-shopping.
The new RLX is actually slightly sportier than that, with an iVTEC V-6 that's smaller but more potent than the powerplant it replaces. The downsized 3.5 liter unit’s 10 hp bump to 310 hp is accomplished through Acura’s 1st use of direct injection, and when combined with a 170-lb steelectomy, should translate to slightly better acceleration than the old RL. Fuel economy rises as it must, from 17/24 mpg in the RL to 20/31 mpg. So to does the acronym count, with the requisite collision, lane departure, lane keeping, adaptive cruise, and low-speed following systems, all of which work appropriately well if you turn them on, which we mostly didn’t because, well, we’re generally in favor of being the ones to drive the cars when we’re driving them.
The most relevant acronym here though is PAWS, which stands not for Prow All Wreathed in Silver (sorry), but Performance All Wheel Steering, a trick system that uses a pair of electronic actuators to provide unique toe-in or toe-out angles to each rear wheel. If this sounds like something Honda might have invented in the '80s, it is, kind of. But it’s much more sophisticated and computerized and magical than the 4-wheel-steering setup on the 3rd-generation Prelude. In a wet slaloming comparison with a Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series, we found PAWS to be seamless yet evident, providing the RLX with a more balanced feel than 1 would expect of a cushy, nose-heavy front driver.
Speaking of heavy noses, the Acura still suffers from the aforementioned familial endowment, though its prominence has been dissipated by the distracting presence of its new Signature Jewel Eye headlights. These definitely look …distinctive, though the unique toe-in and toe-out angles applied to each of the lamp’s 5 sets of LED nodules give them the appearance of a pair of stacked engagement rings lumpily crafted by Jared after a few trips to the champagne fountain.
Our own engagement with the RLX over a variety of roadkill-littered Northern California roads was sadly similar: gemlike, yet misaligned. The cabin is finely crafted, with clean lines and smart materials, and hosts a surprisingly roomy rear bench — the result of a 2-inch wheelbase stretch back there. But the space feels '90s austere, lacking the flourishes of color and handcrafted richness one now expects in the category. The dual LCD screens—the lower 1 controlling ventilation and media, the upper dedicated to the nav and multifarious AcuraLink features that this car’s aging buyers will never use — nicely split functions you’d want to access simultaneously, but are no more user-friendly or less distracting than they’d be on one screen. (Whom do we have to bribe to get some knurled knobs up in here?) And the 6-speed automatic transmission couples well with the engine, but lacks the bandwith, sharpness, and efficiency of the 7- and 8-speeds in its competitors.
Overall, we kept thinking: this is a very nice car. But at $60,450 for the fully equipped models we were driving, we had to ask, is it twice as nice as Honda’s lovely $30,000 Accord V-6, or once as nice as a similarly kitted-out Audi A6? The answer was always no.
Perhaps our minds will be changed by the addition of 60 hp and two more drive wheels when the range-topping Super Handling All Wheel Drive version arrives later this year. We hope so. With the enticing NSX 2.0 Concept it just displayed at Detroit, Acura has shown that it can sniff out its moxie, so it’s not impossible to imagine the brand blowing past its current limitations. It worked for the Schnozolla. As no less than Frank Sinatra sang in his 1955 revision to Burton Lane’s “How About You?” I’m mad about good books/Can’t get my fill/And James Durante’s looks/Give me a thrill. Thrill us, Acura. Please.
The Acura RL was dealt a difficult hand in life. Although positioned as Acura's flagship vehicle, the RL was more of a “tweener,” straddling the line between mid-size and full-size luxury.
Making things more difficult for the RL was competition from within Acura's own lineup. It may have been positioned as the brand's flagship sedan, but the RL was actually the same size and less powerful than the cheaper TL.
And sales figures clearly reflect the RL was getting lost in the mix – just 1,096 units found new homes in 2012.
But Acura is starting fresh for the 2014 model year with the RL-replacing RLX. Although still not quite laser-focused on a single segment – Acura says the sedan has the interior space to compete with vehicles like the Audi A8 – Honda's luxury brand is now aiming the RLX in the general direction of the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
Acura typically isn't shy about pushing the styling envelope, but you'd never know that by looking at the RLX. Rather than emulating some of the more daring design cues from the ZDX crossover or NSX concept, Acura took a decidedly safe approach when penning the new RLX.
Although the RLX's styling won't catch the world on fire, we'd still classify it as a handsome sedan. The RLX's nose wears arguably the most attractive version of Acura's 'shield' grille design, with that wedge shaping carrying over nicely to the car's lower bumper.
The RLX arrives with new-look LED headlights that are technically better than HID units, but stylistically much worse. SEMA called. They want their headlights back.
Down the sides of the RLX you'll notice what appear to be character lines, but there are more to those creases than just looks. The curved portion of the line in the front fender and door actually help to divert wind from the RLX's A-pillar, resulting in a reduction of in-cabin wind noise.
The rear of the RLX is somewhat derivative – we personally see a little last-gen Toyota Avalon in there – but there are enough lines and bulges to keep the design interesting.
Step inside the RLX, though, and you'll be pleasantly surprised. The RLX boasts an upscale interior design with some of the nicest materials we've seen, regardless of vehicle class. All plastics are top-notch and the RLX's leather wouldn't feel out of place in an Italian exotic.
Although not everyone will be a fan of the RLX's protruding center stack, we generally like the added dimension it brings to the cabin. And, if nothing else, it puts controls within an easy reach of the driver.
Those controls are easier to operate, too, as Acura has (thankfully) replaced the RL's keyboard-like center stack with a touch screen and few physical buttons. We're also fans of the RLX's dual-screen setup, which separates radio and HVAC displays from the car's navigation system.
Unfortunately, Acura's navigation system remains 1 for the more finicky on the market. The controls for the system aren't as intuitive as they should be, but at least Acura ditched the RL's 1990s-era screen with a unit that could pass for high-definition.
We found the RLX's front buckets to be plenty comfy during our day-long journey, and the rear seats proved to be spacious enough for passengers well above the 6-foot mark. That should come as no surprise as the RLX boasts best in-class rear-seat leg and shoulder room.
P-AWS helps the cause
Although a hybrid version of the RLX with all-wheel drive will launch later this year, the only model currently on sale is the front-wheel drive version with Acura's Precision All-Wheel Steel, or P-AWS for short.
But let's start with the basics. The RLX is powered by Acura's 1st-ever direct-injected engine, which takes the form of a 3.5-liter V6. Although slightly smaller than the RL's outgoing 3.7-liter V6, the all-new 3.5-liter generates 10 more ponies, good for a total output of 310 horsepower. The new V6 is also more efficient, returning 20 mpg in the city and 31 mpg on the highway, netting a combined rating of 24 mpg.
Power is sent the RLX's front wheels via a heavily revised 6-speed automatic transmission. The new gearbox features more aggressive gear ratios (afforded by the more efficient D-I engine) resulting in better acceleration.
On the open road the RLX never left us wanting for power, but there are a speedier options in the segment (the BMW 535i comes to mind).
However, the RLX's party piece isn't its new engine but rather its trick all-wheel steering system. The P-AWS system – which can individually change the toe-in and toe-out of each rear wheel – functions largely under the radar during typical driving, but really comes to life when you start throwing the RLX into the corners.
We were able to test the system on a closed track and came away quite impressed. Although the RLX still exhibits some understeer at the limit, the P-AWS system does an extremely good job of emulating rear-wheel drive by rotating the back of the car, particularly in tight corners. If you need the sure-footedness of front-wheel drive but want the driving dynamics of rear-wheel drive, the RLX could be the car for you.
But we doubt many RLX owners will be tracking their car, and Acura has planned accordingly. The RLX's suspension has been fitted with a sort of Jekyll and Hyde damper system, providing both sporty handling and a smooth, luxurious ride. That comfortable ride is amplified by the RLX's whisper-quiet cabin, made possible by touches like noise-reducing wheels and active engine mounts that help keep engine vibrations at bay.
And, just in case that quiet interior puts you to sleep, the RLX is equipped with a host of new safety systems. The RLX comes standard with a knee airbag system, Forward Collision Warning and Lane Departure Warning. Uplevel models can be fitted with Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow and Acura's Lane Keeping Assist System, which can help steer the car to keep it in the proper lane.
Thankfully, all of the RLX's electronic nannies can be switched off.
Leftlane's bottom line
The RLX is a very good car that might be let down by its badge. Acura simply doesn't have the cachet of brands like BMW and Mercedes, and that could hurt the RLX's sales, no matter how comfortable, quite and competent it might be.
But if you're willing to forgo the status associated with the blue-and-white roundel or the 3-pointed star, the RLX is a pleasant surprise just waiting to be discovered.
If you haven’t realized it, the future is here. In 2012, Nevada legalized self-driven cars, with Florida and California soon following suit. This is just 1 indication of the automotive sea change we are in the midst of. Although the adoption of vehicles like Google’s driverless Prii is still some way off, new cars like the 2014 Acura RLX now come laden with such technological features that they can practically drive themselves. Realizing decades-old dreams, these vehicles are completely transforming the driving experience.
Acura’s goal for its latest flagship, the 2014 RLX, is the synergy of man and machine, and this elegant and luxurious vehicle is rewriting the balance of that equation. Driver aids like Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) allow the car to brake and accelerate with the flow of traffic and even steer itself -- within limits.
Acura’s Lane Keeping Assist is a system that uses a windshield-mounted camera to monitor lane markings. When it detects you straying from center, it applies counteracting steering torque to maintain proper lane position. What does this mean? Essentially, you can cruise along with your hands off the wheel, and the RLX will keep itself true as long as there are markings to guide it. Start drifting off course, and you’ll feel an invisible hand gently shift the wheel as you’re returned to center. Let the car enter a corner without guidance, and it’ll sidle itself right along. Luckily, the system only functions between 45 and 90 mph.
Why is that a good thing? Start traveling under 40 mph, and you enter the world of suburban streets, parking lots and intersections. Places where no car should be allowed to steer itself. There are just too many accident-inducing variables in such locations. Features like LKAS and ACC do certainly make things safer by acting as safeguards against our waning attentions. The risk, however, comes when these safeguards become so prevalent that we no longer devote the attention to driving we once did.
For a man my father’s age, the RLX’s Adaptive Cruise Control is a dream come true. Gone are the days of your leg cramping up shifting through endless gridlock. Push a wheel-mounted button, and the RLX will follow the car in front of you at a set distance, starting and stopping appropriately with the flow of traffic. The system’s so good you could practically catch some shut-eye while on your morning commute. The only thing is that the RLX can’t see stop signs, and, once again, that’s a good thing. If the RLX could negotiate traffic signals and maintain proper road position at low speeds, it’d be automated driving realized.
Starting at $48,450, the RLX sits alongside the 5 Series and E-Class in terms of pricing but offers the interior spacing of their bigger brothers. Though it's not available till March, Acura flew us out in early February so that we could take the RLX for a pre-release spin.
Its V6 gives it a satisfying amount of power, and its Amplitude Reactive Dampers provide a serenely smooth ride even over varied road surfaces. Road noise has no luck penetrating the RLX’s insulated interior, and Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system gives the RLX an unnatural agility for such a spacious saloon.
Continuously monitoring the car’s steering input, engine and road speed, throttle position, brake pressure, lateral acceleration and more, P-AWS independently directs the rear wheels for maximum efficiency. During high-speed maneuvering, they’ll turn in phase with the front wheels for increased agility, and during low-speed turns, they’ll turn in opposition to the front wheels to provide a tighter turning radius. During braking, P-AWS will even have both rear wheels toe in for increased stability and braking force.
The rotational movement (yaw) introduced by P-AWS while cornering aggressively allows the RLX to slice through corners disproportionately well. The sensation it provides, however, is 1 that will leave serious driving enthusiasts asking questions. When in the midst of a curve, P-AWS shifts the RLX’s stance in a semblance of oversteer right at that moment you expect its considerable front-wheel-driven weight to blunder into understeer. This momentary shift, this slight loosening and sideways shuffle, gets the full-sized sedan through corners more effectively than I ever expected, but it simultaneously removes the tactile faith you need to take things to the limit. This isn’t a bad thing, as the RLX is certainly no sports saloon -- it’s a luxury cruiser meant to get you from point A to B with minimal fuss and maximal comfort. Something it does admirably.
Are we ready for automated driving? Some of us certainly are, specifically those old enough to remember when cars had carburetors. After driving for decades, you build up a set of intrinsic skills that allow you to drive safely with minimal thought. You just do it, and, as such, experienced drivers can appreciate having computerized assistants there to back up their instincts.
They know they’re not going to crash into oncoming traffic, but it’s nice just to have a machine take care of it for you. This is not, however, something we would want our kids to experience. New drivers must be made excruciatingly aware of the dangers of driving. A moment’s inattention can spell disaster, and learning to drive in a vehicle that can stop, start and steer itself is a recipe for kids hitting the roads without the proper skills.
The definition of driving is morphing. Technology has disrupted the balance of man and machine, and the machines are taking the reins. If your car is stopping, starting and steering all on its own, you are no longer driving; you are a passenger. Maybe our kids will exist in a world where being driven is the norm and driving is a lost art. What is for sure is that if these driver aids continue to advance in ability and prevalence, young people's ability to manage and prevent emergency situations on their own will wither along with their enthusiasm for driving and car culture in general. Knowledge of how a modern car functions has been relegated to the mystifying world of 1s and 0s, rather than the bloodied-knuckle reality of nuts and bolts, a trend that’s replaced the logical magic of mechanics with digital wizardry.
Regardless of what its technology portends, the Acura RLX offers a taste of tomorrow today. Potential buyers be warned, though -- a sweeter package is in the works. Acura will make a Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive version available this fall. With an electronic motor attached to each rear wheel, the RLX Sport Hybrid will put out a combined 370 hp, with up to 70% of that able to be shoved through the rear wheels. Not only will the Sport Hybrid be more powerful, but it’ll also be more efficient, getting 30 mpg combined in comparison to the standard RLX’s 24.
Here’s a fresh and very large gallery of the all-new 2014 Acura RLX, a car we 1st saw in December last year. The RLX is Acura’s answer to popular mid-size luxury stalwarts like the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6 and Lexus GS, although the company is also hoping to encroach into the class above.
New to the RL’s replacement is an all-new engine from the Earth Dreams Technology series, a lighter body structure, and new tech such as Acura Precision All-Wheel Steer, Jewel Eye LED headlamps and the AcuraLink cloud-connected ICE system.
The RLX is also said to offer class-leading interior space, with three inches more rear legroom than competing models. Width, wheelbase, and front/rear track are all up on the RL.
The RLX’s new 3.5 litre V6 engine has 310 hp and 370 Nm, and Acura says over 90% of the latter is available from 2,000 to 6,000 rpm. The direct-injection i-VTEC SOHC unit can shut off cylinders when not needed and run on reduced displacement mode for fuel savings.
The engine, which is paired to a Sequential SportShift 6-speed auto with steering paddles, is mounted to a lightweight and rigid aluminum front subframe using a vibration-canceling Active Control Engine Mount (ACM) system.
The standard Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system continuously monitors and calculates the correct amount of independent rear-wheel steering (toe angle) necessary for driving conditions. As the industry’s 1st left/right independent rear-wheel toe angle control system, P-AWS uses an all-electric system that enhances driving dynamics.
Not the most original design perhaps, but the RLX is handsome nonetheless. Mega gallery of nearly 200 high-res pics after the jump.
We have never experienced an automobile that seemed to be more intelligent than we are: but live and learn. There we were, driving a 2014 Acura RLX, up and down the hills above Napa Valley, experiencing this brand of technology whose goals are to make the driving experience more synergistic and equipoised between human and machine.
The ideal of human/machine synergy/balance is demonstrated in many ways, but 1 that Acura likes to highlight is the P-AWS, an acronym for precision all wheel steering. In this Acura, it is handled electronically, which means the wheels function independently. When we brake, the wheels move inward, keeping the car more stable. Then, there is the Adaptive Handling Assist system, which rotates the car into corners.
But wait there’re more – where Acura technology has the ability to be more aware of driving nuances than its driver. The Sedan we drove had the Lane Keeping Assist System, which helped the Acura keeps it in the lane, its camera-based intelligence actually steering the car away from a road line, when we went too far to the right or too far to the left. The Adaptive Cruise Control allowed the Acura to keep up with the cars ahead, slowing when they slowed, stopping when they stopped.
And of course, with the GPS virtual voice, speaking to us about where we were going, up 1 hill and down the other, the technical experience was unique, as we could take our hands off the wheel for a while, but why would we? The driving experience was exceptional, and no doubt because the engine was so smooth. The 3.5-liter V-6 has direct injection (DI) and cylinder cutoff, moving between 6 and 3 cylinders to save fuel when the demand is modest. Finally, we drove, sat on the passenger side and sat in the backseat – all were exceptionally comfortable. The backseat especially where many times tall people have the most trouble, was quite comfortable and spacious.
Acura’s flagship 2014 RLX starts at $49,345, including an $895 destination charge, when the luxury automaker’s largest sedan goes on sale March 15. The almost $50,000 entry fee includes numerous standard features like a 310-horsepower V-6 with direct injection, and “jewel-eye” LED headlights. These headlights, that we used driving on a very dark night in Napa, allowed us to see not only far ahead, but also clearly side to side, in this case into the wooded areas in the hills above Napa.
The idea of intuitive technology was never far from us, as we could understand the technology found in this solid, well-running automobile could be 1 of the evolutionary benchmarks moving toward the driverless technology of the future. We wanted to know more, so we interviewed John Watts, Senior Digital Manager of Acura/Honda, and a gentleman who has been on the inside track of the advent, challenges and future of this type of automobile technology.
Pursuitist: How do you see the upsides and challenges of ACURA’s intuitive technology?
John: I see many upsides of the intuitive technology, the 1st being just that, that is intuitive! We set out to design and develop a luxury sedan packed with cutting edge technology that enhance the driving experience. At Acura, we do not apply technology simply for the sake of saying we have it, we very carefully select them based on their ability to address the needs of the driver. For instance, our Lane Keep Assist system can take some of the angst out of daily driving by alert the driver that the RLX is out of lane and helps to return a vehicle to a location between the lines. The adaptive cruise control with low speed is another anxiety reducing technology that helps the driver maintain a prescribed distance between the car in front of him/her and will bring the car to a stop if the car in front stops. A situation that is typically encountered in urban driving.
1 of the biggest challenges as I see it is getting prospective customers, particularly those who have been exposed to the very complicated systems found on European luxury competitors, to understand just how intuitive our technology is and how seamlessly it operates.
Pursuitist: The idea of a car having a mind of its own is a great idea. Do you see this being the wave of the future? What positive and more challenging issues can you see with this?
John: Many drivers, luxury car owners in particular, are still car and driving enthusiasts. Acura’s approach to technology is designed to enhance, not eliminate, the driving experience.
Pursuitist: Personally, I see this kind of potentially driverless technology challenges being generational ones. I think boomers may have to make greater adjustment to these things than gen x and y-ers. Do you see this happening?
John: I think that all ages will be receptive to adopting most technology. The fact of the matter is that drivers of all ages adapting to new vehicle technologies all the time. Many things about the vehicles have evolved over time, things you can see and touch like lighting technology and the operation of the audio system, navigation systems etc., as well as power train that you can’t see.
You’re right though, that there are always people who are more eager to utilize new technology. That’s why Acura’s intuitive approach to technology is meant to easily integrate technology into all driver experiences-not just those of any one demographic profile.
Pursuitist: How do you see Acura changing the face of driving? many see it as a task, but with this type of technology it can also be a very pleasant task…not one that tires you out but one that maintains the drivers health and consistency of awareness. How do you see the future of driving?
John: The future of driving will be different to the extent that more technologies are integrated into the drive experience than we ever before thought possible. Acura will continue to innovate and advance these developments.
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