Sedate sedan

Acura’s new RLX luxury sedan is comfortable and capable, but remains more conservative in nature than its European rivals

By Jim Gorzelany CTW Features

A cura’s largest sedan — now named the RLX — has been redesigned for 2014 with high hopes the brand can finally compete with the likes of Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz for upscale buyers in what is the heart of the luxury-car segment.

Though to the untrained eye the car may not seem to be that far removed from the stodgy RL it replaces, it’s wrapped in fresh — albeit still unadventurous — styling. It also rides on a two-inch longer wheelbase, which helps contribute to a more spacious interior that affords a welcome two and a half additional inches of rear legroom.

While many of its rivals feature energetic turbocharged four- and six-cylinder engines at one end of their respective lines and barnburning V8 and V10 engines at the other, the front-drive RLX continues with a naturally aspirated (nonturbo) direct-fuel-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates a sufficient, though not necessarily exhilarating, 310 horsepower. On the plus side, it includes fuel-saving variable cylinder management (that shuts down half the cylinders when not needed) to help give it decent fuel economy at an estimated 20/31-mpg city/highway. A sixspeed automatic transmission works well enough, though this comes at a time when smoother and more efficient seven- and eight-speed gearboxes are becoming common among luxury models.

A standard Performance All- Wheel Steering system adjusts the angle of the rear wheels slightly (in opposition to the front tires) to quicken the car’s handling performance. Honda offered a lowertech system in the since-discontinued Prelude sports coupe a few years back. It indeed works as advertised, with the frontdrive RLX feeling lively and lightfooted through the turns with minimal steering effort, though it hardly felt particularly aggressive in that regard, especially as compared to competing BMW and Mercedes-Benz sedans that embrace the traditional rear-drive setup.

Still, the RLX delivers a pleasingly smooth ride that isolates its occupants from all but the deepest divots, while retaining its composure over extended stretches of broken pavement. The RLX’s interior is tastefully designed, attractively trimmed and is sufficiently roomy for four adults, with a fifth able to squeeze into the rear seat as necessary. Gauges are large and legible and most controls are reasonably simple to operate. This includes the dual-screen center-console touchscreen array that’s used primarily for the car’s AcuraLink infotainment system; unfortunately the bottom display tends to wash out nearly to the point of being illegible in moderate to bright sunlight.

Our tester came with the optional Advance Package which, at an eye-popping $12,000, includes a long list of top-shelf add-ons, including a navigation system (also available as a standalone option for $2,500), heated/ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, Bluetooth mobile phone interface and a killer sound system from the noted audiophile company Krell. Unfortunately this package is the only avenue in which a buyer can obtain some of the latest accident avoidance features, including adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning and a front collision mitigation system that automatically applies the brakes if a crash is imminent and the driver isn’t reacting quickly enough.

While the Acura RLX is certainly an enjoyable and amenable mid-luxury sedan, it’s still a step behind its closest-in-price European competitors, specifically the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes Benz E-Class, and is far overshadowed by those makers’ flagship sedans. Starting at $48,450 (not including an $895 destination charge) and cracking the $60,000 with the optional Advance Package it’s commanding premium prices when it should probably be the segment leader in that regard.

Thrill seekers with a technological bent (and deeper pockets) might instead want to opt for the just released gas/electric hybrid powered all-wheel-drive RLX in which the V6 combines with no fewer than three electric motors to produce the equivalent of 370 horsepower with improved around-town fuel economy.

© CTW Features