The flagship in Acura’s line-up is all-new for the 2014 model year. It’s been a bit of a tough go for this model in the past. Though it has been a very good car, I think it has had a tough time competing with the other offerings for a variety of reasons. I spent a week with the new RLX, and had high hopes for it.
Pricing: 2014 Acura RLX
Base price (Elite trim): $62,190
A/C tax: $100
Price as tested: $64,285
Under the Hood
The RLX has a modern direct injection 3.5-litre V-6. It cranks out 310 horsepower at 6500 RPM and a solid 271 lb.ft of torque at 5800 RPM.
Acura decided to stick with a low-by-current-luxury-car-standards 6-speed automatic and unfortunately for the RLX, it’s a front-wheel drive. I’ll talk about that in The Drive section – it’s actually fine the way it is, but I think that just the stigma of having a front-wheel drive sedan in the $60,000+ luxury class will put some people off.
Fuel economy is quite good – it’s rated at 10.5 L/100 km (22 mpg) in the city and a stellar 6.4 L/100 km (37 mpg) on the highway. My average during the week was 11.6 L/100 km (20 mpg) – quite good, in my opinion, as it was achieved during mostly slow city commuting and with no attempts made to save fuel. The engine recommends (but does not require) premium fuel in its 70 litre tank. The RLX weighs in at 4006 pounds.
Acuras haven’t really been making happy waves on the styling front for most people in the last few years. They can’t seem to please anyone. Either the TL is completely overstyled and catches flak for being too weird, making for a quick refresh to tone it down, or the new RDX is too lame for people, and they wanted more from the “little” crossover. I kind of feel bad for Acura some days. Well, I don’t think things are improving. The RLX is just… well… there’s not much going on here. Overall, it’s a very simple, plain and in my opinion uninspired design.
The front end benefits from Acura’s jewel-eye lights – almost everyone who had a closer look liked them, and the car got a lot of looks from this angle – and a nice grille incorporating Acura’s current corporate “beak” look. I think the front end is the best angle from which to take this car in.
The rear end has good-looking tail lights that have an LED strip running through them – nothing ground-breaking, but I quite like them. But Chris A., one of my regular readers, pointed out that they reminded him of a Chrysler 200, and he’s right. I couldn’t get that visual out of my head after that. The trunk lid makes a break for the pavement, heading straight down – and that part of the profile actually reminds me a bit of the Chris Bangle BMW 5-series trunk styling.
The sides are gently sculpted, but there are really no exciting angles, nothing to get the heart going here. Even the wheel wells are filled with very nice 19-inch rims wearing big 245/40-sized boots – but being very nice and polite isn’t going to win over many people.
It’s a nice car to look at. It’s big, its lines flow smoothly front to back (except where the trunk lid become vertical) and there’s nothing that will offend anyone. But in this price range, I think Acura’s GOTTA start pissing some people off, so that they can excite others. The plain-jane styling in a vehicle that cracks $60,000 will be enough to turn many back without ever giving this car a shot.
Inside the RLX’s extraordinarily spacious cabin, you’ll find very nice, high-quality materials. The simply but beautifully sculpted dash is crafted from soft plastics. There are stitched surfaces, woodgrain and a generally upscale feeling atmosphere to make you feel looked after and coddled. Headroom is very good.
The power-adjustable (heated and cooled) leather seats were very comfortable for me, and would be killer for road trips. Though they rock as you head for the highway, I also found them surprisingly well bolstered for slightly sportier driving. There’s a 2-position memory for the driver. The large power-adjustable, heated steering wheel has buttons for media, phone, handsfree, the driver information screen, cruise control and the trip meters. But ergonomically, it’s well done and isn’t as busy as it sounds. Behind it and to the right is the brushed-metal-look red push-button ignition.
The instruments are two mini-gauges, two main gauges and a sharp, easy-to-read driver information screen between them. It handles the normal stuff – fuel range and economy, driving time, average speed, the compass with navigation directions, oil life and the like. The center stack is comprised of Honda/Acura’s new dual screen system. The upper is the information screen, showing you what you need to know at a quick glance. The lower one is an 8″ touchscreen with haptic feedback, and is where you get your work done. Together they manage your media, navigation, phone and vehicle settings. Though it takes a little getting used to, I found the user interface to be mostly effective and attractive while remaining simple and easy to read and understand.
The audio sources are plentiful – AM, FM, satellite, auxiliary, USB, Bluetooth streaming and a hard drive – but the real story is the 14-speaker Krell audio system. It’s not the absolute best I’ve ever heard, but it really is incredible. Audiophiles will find it slightly bright and almost over-detailed, but for the average listener, its ability to reproduce any kind of music is astounding. I really liked it.
On the lower edge of the big touchscreen is the read-out of what your dual-zone automatic climate control system is doing – the controls for it are just under the screen and very well done. The hard buttons are few and simple – a refreshing change for Acura dashes. Underneath that is the rotary joystick button to control the screen, surrounded by a few hard buttons to access the major screen-based system functions. The center console houses the gear selector and dual cupholders under a hinged lid. Look up and you’ll find an average-sized tilt slide sunroof.
To say the RLX is chock-full of driver assistance technology is almost an understatement. With a lane keeping assist system, collision mitigation braking system, visual and audible heads-up collision warning system, blind spot monitoring, parking sensors front and rear as well as a backup camera with multiple angles and adaptive cruise control to keep you safe and on the right spot on the road, you’ll be snug and cozy in a cocoon of advanced technology. I must add that much of this tech is defeatable, and even when it was on, none of it felt intrusive – and that’s a great thing. I thought it was an excellent integration of technology without getting overbearing and noticeable every few seconds.
The vast rear seating area has three seats with three seatbelts and three headrests. I say vast because it is. The almost limo-like proportions result in great headroom, and there was truly a gargantuan amount of legroom for my 5’10” frame.
All three seats are actually comfortable, and all three have enough space for an adult. Of course, the two outboard seats are more spacious and they’re both heated.
It’s a very nice place to spend some time, and I wouldn’t mind getting chauffeured around town in a space like this. Adjustable air vents, a middle seatback that folds down to become an armrest with two cupholders, two seatback map pockets, manual window shades on both sides and a powered rear window sunshade? By the way, that rear window shade can also be opened and closed from the front of the car. It’s all enough to make you feel like a bit of a celebrity back there.
Our three kids were very happy with the space back there and there are two sets of LATCH anchors for kids’ seats if you need them.
There are a few places to put stuff – tiny door bins, a weird tiny carpeted thing under a lid on the console and a decent-sized glove compartment. The large armrest has three ways to get into the space below – you can slide the lid back to access the storage tray, or you can pop a button on either side, allowing the driver or the passenger to open it towards themselves. Very cool.
The sedan’s trunk is large at 417 litres. The trunk arms are beautifully shrouded, and there’s a lockable pass-through between the rear seats if you need to transport long, skinny items.
Let’s talk about the good stuff first. I really liked that there was absolutely no lag, no hesitation off the line. The RLX has plenty of power, and even happily squeals the front tires if you want to be that uncouth with it. Whenever you need the power, it’s there. From a dead stop, at city speeds or at highway speeds. Part of this success is the transmission that Acura paired it with. Would it benefit from one or two extra gears? Probably. But overall, it’s such a great transmission that I didn’t mind the six speed ratios. The shifts are imperceptible, yet the box doesn’t mind hanging on to a gear longer at seriously high RPMs if it senses your driving style requires it in an aggressive situation. And it was almost always right. Its programming is excellent. Also, the Sport button is one of the best I’ve ever experienced when it comes to subtly but effectively changing a car’s character while still remaining within that car’s character. The RLX’s changes the throttle response and makes everything feel more sharply tuned, but it remains the same car – which I appreciate. It doesn’t suddenly feel as though you’re driving something different. Gears can be changed manually with paddle shifters – they’re not crisp, but they’re quick enough.
When you’re on smoother surfaces, the RLX has what I’d call a sporty ride. Frankly, it’s almost surprising how sporty it feels. But you’l understand why once you hit surfaces that are far from smooth – and we’ve got plenty of them in Edmonton.
The car’s ride is not good. Once you hit any kind of road irregularities (even minor ones!), it borders on harsh and the hits intrude into the cabin. You can feel and hear them and in my opinion, it’s just way too firm for this kind of car. I actually have to tell you that sometimes, over surfaces that aren’t even that challenging, the RLX gets uncomfortable. And that is a cardinal sin for a car in this class.
The handling is quite good – the car feels very secure around corners. There is quite a bit of body roll, but it is very competent around curves, even at high speeds. I always felt it was well-planted, and turn-in is surprisingly responsive for a car like this – I give some of the credit to the P-AWS all-wheel steering system.
I don’t normally comment on headlight performance but those jewel-eye headlights don’t just look good – they are very bright and have a wide dispersion pattern at night. Brakes were good – powerful enough, but easy to drive in a relaxed manner. Visibility out of the car is quite good as well.
I have to admit, I really wanted to like the RLX. OK, I really did like the RLX. There is much to love here. The interior is crafted with care and the car feels as though it was carved out of an ingot of awesomeness. Materials, comfort, luxury, technology and space are all highly competitive. The engine and transmission pairing is stellar and highly effective, letting the car perform as a luxury liner on the highway, or as a bit of a hot-rod off the line.
But two glaring issues continue to rear their ugly heads – every single time you look at or drive it. First of all, the exterior styling. Styling is a very personal thing, but it’s not going to cut it for many buyers out there – again, it’s not a nasty-looking car. It’s just not much of anything. It’s too plain, and “kind of nice” is just not enough for some folks who are ready to shell out $60,000 plus on their rides. Secondly, and perhaps even more significantly, the ride. I actually can’t believe that someone approved the RLX’s suspension tuning the way it is. After what must be thousands of hours of testing and refinement, this is definitely not the best that Acura can do. And you’d hope they wouldn’t rush their flagship, of all models, to the market. So who do we blame for this?
I give the Acura RLX a 6.5 out of 10. If the suspension was sorted out, it would be a 7.5 out of 10.
WAF (Wife Acceptance Factor) was very high in almost every department. She loved driving it, she loved the interior and how much space the kids had in the back. She said it just feels like a luxury car through and through. Until she experienced the ride. After one drive, she said the ride was enough to put her off of the car.
I can’t see a lot of people disagreeing with her. And that’s too bad. I really wanted to like the RLX more than I did. Here’s hoping Acura sorts out the suspension – and soon. And then they send in the styling guys to make some nips and tucks. I’ve got my fingers crossed for you, RLX. You broke my heart but there’s still hope, because you do so much so well.
Disclosure: Vehicle was provided by Acura Canada.
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