There’s an interesting phenomenon in auto-dom.
A manufacturer will gain a certain reputation, and when it ups its game, it seems it takes a while for the buying public to find out about it. Which can be good for buyers (snag a deal0 , but a rough ride for carmakers.
Acura is a perfect example of this. What do you think of the brand? Nice stuff. Not too exciting, but solid, well made. Right?
Acura has quietly been polishing its vehicles into some really exciting numbers, and it seems like the word hasn’t gotten out. We recently tested the TLX A-Spec SH-AWD, and found it an excellent sport sedan, with plenty of performance and eye candy to make it a desirable competitor to European machinery.
But how about the RLX?
The RLX evolved out of the RL, which was supposed to be the brand’s luxury flagship. It never got the attention of the Lexus LS (some blamed the lack of a V8), and it was more of a quiet luxury performer that seemed uninterested in the limelight.
Which in part makes the 2018 RLX such a revelation. Like the TLX, the once pleasant is now jaw dropping handsome. A redesign for this year reflects the brands new Precision Crafted Performance design direction. Notable changes include Acura’s diamond pentagon grille, a more sculpted hood, new wheels, bold new LED taillights and dual exhaust finishers. Our Majestic Black Pearl looked tight, lean and muscular. Wallflower no more.
RLX for Rolex.
This is one beautifully put-together interior. For 2018, there are upgraded materials and touch points, and as soon as you get in, you feel surrounded by impressive quality. From the stitched leather instrument panel to the completely-redesigned front seats (super supportive) the RLX easily competes with Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Our tester enjoyed the new Espresso interior option (one of four interior colors available) which added another layer of creamy richness.
Like the TLX we tested recently, it seems Acura has also simplified the switchgear and controls – which used to be too many to count. Most is handled mostly by two display screens, with a few redundant switches and a handy center control knob for the info-tainment system.
We also liked the setup that allows you to create shortcuts on the touchscreen for features you use most often.
It’s not all amorous feelings – we still haven’t fallen in love with the Electronic Gear Selector, a pushbutton affair on the center console that looks sleek, but feels fiddly to use. We’ll take a shift lever, please.
Acura simplified the RLX line-up for 2018, basically you have the front-drive model with standard Technology Package, or the Sport Hybrid like our tester, which includes the Advance Package. Among the goodies the Advance gives you is a 14-speaker Krell Audio System, Surround View Camera, parking sensors, ventilated and heated front seats, heated steering wheel and heated rear seats. Cushy.
It’s also a remarkably spacious interior, and boasts class-leading rear legroom, an important boast in a vehicle that will be sure to be transporting well-to-do adults around.
RLX for ReaL X-citement.
We’re all for sweet looks and a sumptuous interior, but if you’re going to go after the Euro-sedans, you need performance to back it up. And here, the RLX really delivers. The name Sport Hybrid is a giveaway that something special is here. A total of 377 combined horsepower sounds good, but how it gets there is fascinating. Acura’s familiar 310 hp, 3.5-liter V6 powers the front wheels, while a 47 hp electric motor inside the 7-speed dual clutch automatic transmission adds instant power. Then, two 36 hp electric motors are attached to the rear wheels, adding or even braking the rear wheels independently – creating torque vectoring to help the RLX turn in and accelerate out of corners.
A system shared in part with the NSX supercar, this makes the RLX come off the line with excellent power, and awesome smoothness. Press on and the 7-speed is all sweet and easy, but put it in Sport Mode, push it hard ,and it responds fiercely with a hunger to perform.
More than a straight-line wonder, the SH-AWD system makes this large sedan feel smaller than it is, and it turns in sharply, hangs on for dear life, and punches out of the turns with relish. While this may sound like a recipe for a hard-edged ride, Acura actually tuned the ’18 suspension for more compliance, so it’s a ball to drive hard, yet supple and comfy.
It’s one of those cars where you arrive earlier than planned without trying to do so. It’s just so capable and quick, it gets the job done in a hurry. And so unflustered, your passengers won’t know how much fun you’re having. This is the hallmark of fine European sedans, and the Acura nails it.
RLX for Real Loan anXiety?
Here the RLX steps away from the Europeans and gives you the great value that has come to mark Acura and parent company Honda all these years.
You get the great new looks, 310 hp, a new 10-speed (yes 10!) automatic and loads of features, including Acura Watch Driver technologies, featuring all-new Traffic Jam Assist, as well as Collision Mitigation Braking System with Head-Up Warning Road Departure Mitigation, Adaptive Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow and Lane Keeping Assist System. No options offered.
A Sport Hybrid like our tester rings in at $61,900, and along with the Sport Hybrid All Wheel Drive system, more power, you also get goodies like the Krell Audio System, Around View Monitor, and loads of little luxury touches that make life easier. The sole option on our tester was the Magnetic Black Pearl – a super reasonable $400. All totaled with destination, $63,265.
To match the performance, we’d have to opt for A Mercedes E400 4Matic, starting at $59,895, but matching the RLX’s standard goodies quickly got us to $73,835. Yikes. An Audi A6 3.0 TSFI PRESTIGE starts at $61,400, and comparably equipped, an A6 would come in at $65,950. But you won’t get that cool Super Hybrid Technology.
The 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid is now a worthy competitor to the Europeans, and has come into to its own, as a distinctive vehicle, with great looks, luxury and performance.
Lag time won’t last long.
Word will get out quickly, we’d go grab one now.
Ben Lewis grew up in Chicago, and after spending his formative years driving sideways in the winter – often intentionally – moved to sunny Southern California. He now enjoys sunny weather year-round — whether it is autocross driving, aerobatics, and learning to surf.