Sometimes, when we’re doing nothing but driving high-horsepower sports sedans, snarling muscle cars, or epic exotics, all we really want to do is get behind the wheel of a big, comfortable, cushy sedan. It’s the equivalent of a cool down walk after a long run, allowing us to free our mind and think about something other than throttle modulation, shift speed, engine noise, and “Oh my God, is that cop coming after me?!”
Fortunately, the new Acura RLX was just the breath of fresh air we needed after a string of lust-worthy metal. That’s not to say the RLX isn’t desirable, but that when parked next to a Chrysler 300 SRT8 or a BMW M5, our RLX Advance kind of blends in.
It’s a clean design, but is also extremely conservative. Acura toned down its beak-nosed design language between the 2013 RL and 2014 RLX, but while the fascia features a look that could be described as “better,” we’d hesitate to call it “different.” In fact, it looks like Acura’s designers may be suffering from the same bout of laziness that’s afflicted Porsche for the past 50 years.
While the shapes are largely the same, it’s the contents of those shapes that distinguish the RLX from the RL. And yes, we’re talking in particular about the “jewel eye” headlights. Say what you will about their appearance, but these eight LEDs could teach Audi a thing or six about exterior lighting.
The low beam’s light enveloped a far-reaching and wide stretch of road. Unlike a lot of new luxury cars, the RLX doesn’t feature or need an active front lighting system, as the headlights are so bright and powerful, and are so wide in their dispersion that adding a motor to turn them just wouldn’t serve any real purpose.
The RLX’s interfaces did a good job of keeping us as comfortable as possible without removing us from the driving experience. After a long day of driving that saw us transition from a BMW M5, into a 2014 Lexus IS350 F-Sport, and finally into a Volvo C30 over the course of nine hours, climbing into the RLX for our final drive home was a dream come true.
The seats were wide and pleasant, and had a plushness that reminded us of big American luxury sedans of yesteryear. Unlike those comfortable boats, though, taking a turn in the RLX didn’t completely unseat us or leave us hanging onto the steering wheel for dear life. These seats were supportive, with subdued bolsters that did their job without getting in the way or pinching the sides of wider staffers.
The cabin on the upmarket Advance model came very well equipped. Following the example set by the Honda Accord, the RLX sported a pair of displays on its center console, with a secondary set of analog controls below it. The large, top screen’s primary responsibility is to display maps and other non-interactive information. The lower screen is a touch display with haptic feedback, and is the driver’s primary means of interaction with the infotainment systems. It’s responsive and accurate, although the menus for the various systems have a rather steep learning curve.
The big toy in the RLX’s cabin is its wonderful Krell surround-sound system. The 14-speaker system was quite possibly one of the finest we’ve ever tested, delivering crisp, deep, rich sound regardless of the music being played. We transitioned from Skrillex to John Williams’ Jurassic Park overture, and found the sound impressive with both genres. Really, you need to hear this system.
Now, as you may have heard, the RLX will be sharing a hybrid powertrain with a rather highly anticipated, Ohio-builtsupercar. This is not that RLX, though. Instead, we’ve got a robust, 3.5-liter V-6 that can deliver 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque. Power is transmitted to the front wheels through a six-speed automatic transmission. Wait, you’re still hung up on that front-wheel-drive part, right? Don’t be.
The RLX offers something called Precision All-Wheel Steer, initialized to P-AWS, as a standard item on all RLXs. As you may have guessed, P-AWS allows the RLX’s rear wheels to turn in response to the driving conditions. The all-electric system can adjust the rear-wheel’s steering angel independent of what the front wheels are doing. The result is extremely fast and smooth turn in, giving the RLX a sharpness that betrays its front-drive architecture, while also improving overall stability.
The RLX’s 3.5-liter V-6 felt like the right engine for a luxury sedan like this, as it delivered its power in smooth, relaxed doses. The throttle was easy to modulate, with quite linear power delivery. More importantly, it sounded very refined, with a subtle sportiness to the engine note only evident when we really dug into the rev range.
The six-speed automatic was a good fit as well, providing quick, smooth upshifts and downshifts. When we dove deep into the skinny pedal, the 6AT served up a relaxed downshift that, while not jostling cabin occupants, didn’t leave us feeling flat-footed when power was called for. The manual mode was kind of an afterthought, with a tiny pair of wheel-mounted paddles. It works fine, but felt kind of silly on a car like this.
In what can only be described as a breath of fresh air, the RLX’s powertrain only featured one level of adjustment rather than multiple settings for the suspension, engine, and transmission (ahem, BMW). “Sport” mode sharpened the throttle response and held gears slightly longer, but that’s about the extent of it.
The steering, ride, and handling were unsurprisingly isolated. Feedback through the wheel was quite limited anywhere but on center, and the effort the electric rack expected us to exert was laughably low.
The handling, with the exception of the quick turn-in, was quite soft. Imperfections were managed well, although undulating surfaces left the RLX feeling floaty. In general, the ride and handling feel were rather detached. There wasn’t a lot of feedback through the suspension, which didn’t come as much of a shock.
The 2014 Acura RLX pricing scheme is a simple one that follows established Honda tradition—there are no options, just trim packages. The base model starts at $48,450, while the Navigation model ups the price to $50,950 and adds navigation (duh) and AcuraLink. The Technology Package runs $54,450, and adds a 14-speaker ELS stereo, upgraded Milano leather seats, 19-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, and blind-spot monitoring. The Krell Audio Pack RLX costs $56,950, and adds the wonderful 14-speaker Krell stereo, along with a power rear sunshade. Our tester, the RLX Advance costs $60,450 and adds adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and a collision mitigation braking system. The rear seats also get a heating function.
The great thing about the RLX is that so much of the good stuff comes standard. The amazing “jewel eye” LEDs and Performance All-Wheel Steering are both no-cost items which immediately elevate even the base model RLX to something we’d consider. While we enjoyed the loaded RLX, we’d have no qualms about picking up one of the mid-range models, thanks in large part to some of the standard equipment.
Our time with the RLX was quite revealing. It’s not, as we’ve established, a very sporty or fun-to-drive car. While we’d bemoan this fact, the reality is that there’s this tendency in the market to deliver far more performance than most buyers need, often at the sacrifice of comfort and refinement. The RLX is the inverse of this philosophy, prioritizing its occupants rather than just its driver. Every once in a while, we like that change.