Acura RLX Sport Hybrid — The height of luxury sophistication

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Like an old horse, Acura's flagship RL sedan was getting extremely long in the tooth when a new sedan — renamed the RLX — was introduced in 2014. The RLX is a modern, near-full-sized luxury passenger car that comes loaded with the latest in safety and entertainment technology, a competent direct-injection V6 engine, and a supremely quiet and comfortable cabin loaded with rich leather and wood trim.

While we had no complaints with the handling and stability of the RLX we wrote last year that the RLX is swimming upstream in a highly competitive segment. It is one of the last front-wheel drive luxury sedans and it's asked to go head-to-head with 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. And we noted that this concern could be effectively muted by offering an all-wheel drive variant with increased horsepower and torque.

Acura has attacked the problem and gone one better with the 2016 RLX Sport Hybrid, a unique combination of electric motors combined with the standard 310 horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 with i-VTEC and cylinder deactivation. While the V-6 horsepower remains  identical, performance is anything but identical because total horsepower soars to 377 when the gas engine is combined with the three electric-motor sport hybrid systems — a 47-horsepower motor generator powers the front wheels and two electric motors making 36 horsepower each push the rear wheels.

Add to that an all-new seven-speed dual-clutch transmission with paddle shifters and Acura's Super Handling-All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and you have an intriguing combination of performance and handling that stands up quite well against the competition. Road and wind noise are effectively muted at all speeds. And the car rides with luxury-like smoothness.

Performance has been measured by one auto publication at 5.3 seconds from 0-to-60 and 13.9 seconds in the quarter mile. We found the hybrid version of the RLX to be exhilaratingly fast and we liked the fact that driving like a bat out of hell was not entirely politically incorrect with gas mileage measured at 28 mpg city, 32 highway and 30 combined.

The RLX shines with a host of safety and infotainment technologies we experienced including the Advance Package featuring adaptive cruise control (one of the best we’ve encountered), 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.

In addition, the RLX Sport Hybrid applies some all-new and interesting Acura technologies including: A Head-Up Display that projects key information at a glance on the lower portion of the windshield directly in front of the driver. Display modes include SH-AWD system operation, tachometer, an easy-to-use turn-by-turn navigation system, compass, ACC/LKAS along with vehicle speed.

Also included is a new fully electronic push-button gear selector, eliminating the conventional shift-lever, that allows the driver to select the drive mode. Additionally, the system will automatically engage the Electronic Parking Brake when the driver selects park and unbuckles his/her seatbelt.

Something else new is Reactive Force Pedal. It uses an electric mechanism that dynamically varies pedal force to assist the driver in applying the optimum amount of engine power in any driving condition. For example, when climbing a snowy hill, the Reactive Force Pedal will increase pedal force to discourage the driver from applying too much engine torque that may lead to unwanted tire slip.

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. That works well for us because we did not have to "disable" the navigation to access the controls we probably use most often.

If there is a downside to the RLX Sport Hybrid is its rather conservative styling. It's inoffensive, but it doesn't stand out in a crowd of in-your-face Mercedes products, or head-turning BMW vehicles. But looks aside we can say without reservation that we would gladly live with "bland and conservative" to have the chance to drive the RLX Sport Hybrid every day.

As expected, the Sport Hybrid is at the top of the RLX price list starting at $60,870 including destination charge and the Technology Package. Our test car with the Advance Package carried a bottom line price of $66,870. The standard RLX with navigation begins at $51,870.

Base price: $60,870; as driven, $66,870
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6, 3 electric motors
Horsepower: 377 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 341 foot-pounds @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 7-speed automated manual
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
Length: 196.1 inches
Curb weight: 4,312 pounds
Turning circle: 40.5 feet
Luggage capacity: 11.6 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 15.1 gallons (premium recommended)
EPA rating: 32 highway, 28 city, 30 combined
0-60: 5.3 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Lexus ES 300h, Audi A6, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid

The Good
• Spacious cabin
• Solid performance
• Fuel efficient powertrain
• Abundant standard features

The Bad
• Awkward climate controls

The Ugly
• Below average trunk space