The Acura RL has been one of the worst-selling cars in America over the past couple of years.
Seriously, they're so rare that if you see one in the wild, get your camera out.
Acura is hoping to change that with the introduction of its flagship RLX sedan, a luxury four-door car that looks to compete with the likes of not only the BMW 5-Series, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but also higher-end luxury cars like the BMW 7-Series and Mercedes-Benz S-Class.
It's a tall order. BMW, Audi, Lexus and Mercedes all benefit from strong brand cache and a stable of successful products, whereas Acura has kind of floated in purgatory over the past few years with solid products, but nothing that has really resonated with consumers or critics (save the NSX -- get that thing on the road already!)
Acura's strategy with the RLX is interesting: Offer a compelling and competent vehicle at a lower price than the competition. That strategy is a bit of a head-scratcher because the RLX isn't cheap -- the sticker price is $48,450 - $60,450. Regardless, the folks at Acura are sure that luxury car shoppers are looking for this value, despite the fact that a consumer who can pay $60,000 for a car is likely able to pay $70,000 or $80,000 for something like a Bimmer or Benz.
So is the RLX a good "value" buy in a segment where buyers expect no compromise? Will the RLX put Acura back on the map? Click through to see what I liked -- and didn't -- about the 2014 Acura RLX.
MSRP: $48,450 - $60,450
Invoice Price: NA
As Tested (with options): $61,345
Engine: 3.5L V6
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Performance: 310 hp, 272 lb-ft of torque
Fuel Economy: 20 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway
Seating: 5 people
Cargo: 15.1 cubic feet
There's no question that the RLX is an improvement over the yawn-inducing design of the outgoing RL, but this still isn't an evocative vehicle. Sure the glittering LED headlights add some aggressiveness and the more angular body is unquestionably sportier, but there's not much here that is going to turn the heads of passersby.
Of course, that's not necessarily a bad thing. There's something to be said about understated luxury, and not every car buyer wants to stand out in a crowd. There's some function to the RLX's form, too. The new headlights do offer noticeable improved down the road illumination and the new swoops and angles improve the sedan's aerodynamics, translating to an improvement in fuel efficiency. And other more subtle tweaks to the body allow for a reduction in road and wind noise, creating a quieter cabin.
For the RLX, the strengths of the exterior are more of function than form. All in all, it's predictable, functional and nice. It's Acura.
Like the exterior, the new interior isn't mind blowing or overly sexy, but it's nice, comfortable, quiet and spacious. I spent several hours inside the RLX, in both the driver and passenger seats, and was subject to minimal driver fatigue. Again, this part of the car is a big improvement over the outgoing RL.
But there's just not much to write home about here, so I won't bore you with product specs like the RLX's tri-zone climate control, padded center armrest and electric release glove box -- all features called out by Acura in its press materials -- by even attempting to make it sound interesting.
Just know that the interior of the new RLX is the salad of luxury car interiors. It's filling, fresh and full of everything you need, but it's not that juicy prime cut of meat that, deep down, you know you really want and can get with luxury cars like the Audi A6.
Passenger And Cargo Space
Passenger space is quite good, especially when it comes to rear legroom. The RLX has 38.8 inches of space back there, beating out smaller numbers from its competitors.
Cargo space is rated at 15.1 cubic feet, which is towards the top of the segment. Drivers aren't going to have problems fitting luggage, groceries or tackling their weekend warrior activities, assuming you're not into javelin throwing.
OK, here's where things get pretty cool with the RLX. Employing a 3.5L V6 engine, the RLX puts out 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque. Power is adequate here, though stomping on the gas pedal isn't exactly an adrenaline-fueled thrill.
Where the RLX really stands out is in its handling dynamics. With a new Precision All-Wheel Steer system (P-AWS, which is not to be confused with "Paws" the adorable Detroit Tigers mascot) the RLX was able to eat up some seriously undulating and curvy roads with minimal effort on the part of the driver. As the name implies, the system employs all four wheels of the car to steer the vehicle. Without getting too technical, here's how it works:
Depending on the type of steering that you're doing, the rear wheels will work differently. For example, while cornering, the inside wheel will toe in and the outside wheel will toe out, which reduces the amount of steering input needed by the driver. Kind of like a beginner skiier who puts their skis in a wedge to stop and slow down. During lane-changes, wheels will turn in the direction of travel to provide direct, stable response, and during straight line braking, wheels will toe in, helping the car come to a stop.
Driving Dynamics, Cont.
The system works remarkably well. Through mountains, valleys and forests on the snakelike back roads of Northern California, the RLX could be pushed to the limit again and again and never wavered in its steering ability. I came away very impressed.
Adding to my delight with the system, Acura also set up a small autocross course for reviewers to tackle, in order to showcase just how good the system is in real-world conditions. The course included several sharp maneuvers and lane changes, which mimicked everyday events that the average driver incurs. The RLX dominated the course, even in wet conditions, inspiring a lot of confidence in the fact that the P-AWS system is not only fun to drive, but it's actually an important safety feature.
I'd go so far as to compare the handling dynamics to those of BMW, which has a legendary reputation for sporty driving cars. Acura allowed us to drive the autocross course in a BMW 5-Series and Mercedes E-Class and the takeaway was that the RLX and 5-Series are at the top of this class. Pretty impressive for a front-wheel drive vehicle.
Tech And Infotainment
The RLX employs the newest generation of the AcuraLink cloud-based connected car system, which allows the driver to use a number of apps like Pandora and Aha using a smartphone or embedded two-way communication. It also also includes real-time traffic for freeways and surface streets, vehicle messaging, map services, vehicle remote, diagnostics tools and concierge services.
The system is pretty good. It's clean, intuitive and surprisingly simple, which one would not expect at first glance. You see, the RLX uses two different, large (8-inch and 7-inch) infotainment screens, one on top of the other. That seems like it should be confusing, right? It's not. It makes perfect sense in action. With the top screen used for information like navigation directions and the bottom one used for driver input, it makes for a sophisticated and easy way to control the car's functions while driving.
Overall, I really like the system and I think most RLX buyers will as well.
Acura improved fuel economy to 20 mpg City, 31 mpg Highway, which is much better than the outgoing RL's 17 mpg City, 24 mpg Highway. Significant weight reduction, a smaller engine and improvements in aerodynamics have made this possible, even though the RLX is a slightly bigger car.
Here's how the RLX compares to its competition:
- BMW 5 Series: 20 mpg City, 30 mpg Hwy
- Mercedes-Benz E-Class: 20 mpg City, 30 mpg Hwy
- Lexus GS: 19 mpg City, 28 mpg Hwy
- Audi A6: 20 mpg City, 30 mpg Hwy
This is a good car, but the fact is there's still something missing here. The RLX is simply a very nice Honda. It lacks the car's equivalent of a soul -- that X factor that comes out in design, engineering and the aura of a luxury car that makes you say "I want that" without really knowing why.
Still, for the price, it's not a terrible option compared with the competition. If you're in the market for a luxury car, you'd be remiss not to give this a shot. The RLX handles great, has a nice, well appointed interior, has a refined, understated look to it, employs some great tech and infotainment and gets the best fuel economy in the class.
Acura will release a different version of the RLX -- SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel drive) -- very soon and I'm chomping at the bit to give that a shot. The SH-AWD system is legendary and could really take this car to the next level.