Acura RLX — A new level of luxury

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura's flagship RL sedan has been in need of a complete redesign for several years, its last complete makeover coming in 2005. In the last couple of years it has been relegated to an afterthought, noted by its meager sales of just 379-units in 2012.

Acura finally and belatedly came to the rescue early this year with the introduction of the 2014 RLX, a modern, near-full-size luxury sedan that comes loaded with the latest in safety and entertainment technology, a competent direct-injection V-6 engine, and a supremely quiet and comfortable cabin loaded with rich leather and wood trim.

For all the good stuff, and this car has an abundance, we think Acura has missed an opportunity with its new flagship sedan to stand out in the crowded luxury segment.

While the RLX carries a conservatively handsome appearance, Acura designers failed to do away with the worst styling statement in the brand's history — the cowcatcher grille. But there it is, thankfully a bit toned down, but still a distraction from the overall luxury statement.

While we had no complaints with the handling and stability of the RLX (it's one of the last front-wheel drive luxury sedans on the planet) it is asked to go head-to-head with such juggernauts as the BMW, Audi, Mercedes, Lexus, Infiniti, and Jaguar — all with either all-wheel or rear-wheel drive and all with as good or better driving dynamics. Clearly, the RLX is swimming upstream in a highly competitive segment. This concern could have been effectively muted by offering an all-wheel drive variant. (A hybrid version that will include all-wheel drive will be offered later this year, but at a much steeper price point than the standard gas engine model)

The new Acura has some cutting-edge features including an all-wheel steering system — called Precision All-Wheel Steering or P-AWS — designed to aid in handling and cornering. Acura engineers no doubt reasoned that the new sophisticated electronic rear steering program that can turn the back wheels slightly in or out makes the difference. We could not detect the feature actually working in normal and even spirited driving, but we admit the car asserted itself adequately on our usual winding test roads. The RLX proved quite nimble and the steering is well weighted and accurate.

Truthfully, in our extensive time behind the wheel of the RLX it lived up to its luxury billing enhanced by the steady and quiet performance of the direct-injected 3.5-liter V-6 making 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque mated to a six-speed automatic. For those who want something extra, there's a sport mode that when engaged increases throttle response and firms up the steering when spirited driving is desired. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters give the driver added control. Zero-to-to 60 clocked in at a respectable 6.3 seconds. Gas mileage is exemplary, measured at 20 city and 31 highway using premium gas.

Although the RLX is not a large car in terms of length (196.1 inches) or wheelbase (112.2 inches), passenger space is outstanding. Legroom is abundant both front and rear, and headroom is better than in many competing sedans. We found that the front seats nicely accommodated our aging and spreading bodies. Trunk space is adequate at 15.3 cubic feet, but the rear seatbacks do not fold forward for additional cargo space.

Road and wind noise are effectively muted at all speeds. And the car rides with luxury-like smoothness.

The RLX shines with a host of safety and infotainment technologies. We had the opportunity to experience the full range of equipment in our top-line test car with the Advance Package. Some of the features included adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation with automatic braking, a lane-keeping assist system, a blind spot warning system, front and rear parking sensors, and an excellent-sounding top-line 14-speaker Krell audio system. And how about this for advanced technology – the climate control system uses the navigation's GPS to adjust cabin temperature according to the angle of the sun.

We were delighted with Acura's all-speed adaptive cruise control, one of the best we've encountered, and the easy-to-use navigation system. But we quickly got annoyed by the beeping lane-keeping feature (did we drive more erratically than usual?), which is easily disabled by a press of a button.

The center stack features two video screens, the top one for the standard backup camera display and navigation screen and the lower for climate and audio controls.

The RLX comes in five trim levels starting at $49,345 including destination charge — base, RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, RLX with Krell Audio package and RLX with Advance package. There are no stand-alone options. The Advance package brings all of the available features for $61,345, which was the price of our test car.

Base price: $49,345; as driven, $61,345
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 310 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 272 foot-pounds @ 4,500 rpm
Drive: front wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 196.1 inches
Curb weight: 3,997 pounds
Turning circle: 40.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.7 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 18.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 31 highway, 20 city
0-60: 6.3 seconds (Edmunds)
Also consider: BMW 5-Series, Cadillac CTS, Lexus GS 350

The Good
• Outstanding in-car technology
• Spacious, quiet cabin
• Fuel-efficient V-6

The Bad
• Front drive in rear-drive segment

The Ugly
• Big blade front end remains