2014 Acura RLX Elite All-wheel Steer

2014 Acura RLX

2014 Acura RLX

Bottom Line:  Acura’s new flagship sedan is luxurious, packed with advanced safety technologies, and arguably is the most responsive handling luxury sedan at its price point.  Honda loyalists moving upscale will be thrilled, but competition from the Mercedes-Benz E350 4Matic, Lexus GS350 AWD, and Audi A6 3.0T is ferocious.

“I like this car”, Ingrid says the first time she slips into the passenger seat.

“It’s OK”, I reply.

“It’s a great looking car.”

“It’s plain.”

“It has a comfortable interior.”

“Sure, it’s comfortable.  I think you like it more than I do.”

And so, our first drive in the 2014 Acura RLX turned into a “He said, She said” debate.  Ingrid LOVES the new RLX, and that’s unusual.  She seldom comments positively on any car.  She’s not a ‘car person’, and cars are just a part of life, and nothing worth talking about.  Truth be told, Ingrid’s view of cars is likely more representative of the buying public than my admittedly ‘enthusiast’ views.

Rear three-quarter view has a hint of BMW 5-series in its style

Rear three-quarter view has a hint of BMW 5-series in its style

The original, large 'shield' grille was controversial and has been reduced in size

The original, large ‘shield’ grille was controversial and has been reduced in size

Where’s Acura been lately?

That’s a good question.  Acura has been in the doldrums.  While Lexus has nailed the market for reliable luxury and Infiniti has carved out a reputation for building Asian BMWs, Acura has struggled with forging a unique identity.  The new RLX replaces the aged RL (of which only 29 units were sold in Canada in 2012 according to online auto sales tracker Good Car Bad Car.)

What does the RLX offer?

RLX's cabin is attractive, with high quality fit and finish

RLX’s cabin is attractive, with high quality fit and finish

The Acura RLX brims with technology.  Fuel saving technology:  Variable cylinder management – the V6 engine can run on three or six cylinders, depending on load.  Safety technology:  the RLX sounds alerts and actively ‘brakes’ without driver intervention using its forward collision mitigation and adaptive cruise control systems.  There’s also lane departure and blind spot warning.  Engine and low frequency cabin noise is electronically mitigated with Active Sound Cancellation and Automatic Noise Cancellation; there are microphones in the cabin that ‘listen’ for selected sound frequencies and opposing frequencies are sent through the audio system to ‘cancel’ the unwanted sounds.

And there are plenty of creature comforts:  heated steering wheel, heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rearview camera, parking sensors, and14-speaker Krell audio system, to name a few.  Second row seats offer limousine-like leg room with 2-1/2-in. more space than the E-class Mercedes.

Front seats are ventilated and heated (Elite package).  Ingrid loved them

Front seats are ventilated and heated (Elite package). Ingrid loved them

Rear seats are roomy, offering 2-1/2 in. more legroom than the E-class Mercedes;  Rear seats are heated on the Elite model

Rear seats are roomy, offering 2-1/2 in. more legroom than the E-class Mercedes; Rear seats are heated on the Elite model

How does the RLX drive?

            Very nicely, indeed.  Attack a sharp corner and steering turn-in is nothing short of amazing.  Aided by Acura’s Precision All-wheel Steer, the rear wheels can adjust toe angles independently of each other.  By adjusting the rear tire angles, cornering is sharpened, and it aids in low speed, tight maneuvering as well.  The four-wheel steering system flat works, but it makes the car feel ‘different.’ In fast cornering, the RLX feels like it’s being ‘pushed’ around the corner from behind.

Driving over rough roads, the RLX’s cabin is quiet, just what you’d expect from a premium sedan.  And while the Acura delivers a reasonably plush ride, the suspension is tuned more towards the sporty side of handling spectrum.  In fact, the flagship RLX feels very reminiscent of the excellent Acura 3.2 TL, which, when first launched was among the best handling cars in its class.  The downside of the RLX’s suspension is it feels too much like a TL and it’s missing that luxurious, beautifully damped chassis (while retaining that road feel) that Audis and Mercedes sedans excel at.

Quirks

Our one week test drive revealed a couple of quirks.  First, when starting the RLX in the morning, it seemed to ‘crank’ a few more times than I expected, before firing.  Second, the audio system inexplicably died for about twenty minutes – no XM satellite, FM or AM reception was possible, then just as inexplicably, the sound system resumed operation.

So, who’s the 2014 Acura RLX aimed at?

The main buyers who will be keen on the new Acura RLX will be current Acura owners and loyal Honda customers looking to move up to the premium sedan segment.  Our test unit was a 2014 RLX (“Elite” with precision all-wheel-steering), Acura’s top-of-the-range flagship car, with an MSRP of $61,190.  That’s a very competitive segment, and the main competitors are very attractive alternatives – Audi A6 3.0T ($60,900); Lexus GS350 AWD ($54,900); and Mercedes-Benz E300 4Matic ($58,800.)

My issue with the new RLX is it feels ordinary.  At this elevated price point, I want it to feel special. It handles very, very well, but NVH is not up to my expectations.  And to my eyes, the exterior styling lacks visual punch.  Acura will have to work hard to win new buyers who are cross-shopping other premium brands.

 

Specs

2014 Acura RLX Elite with Precision All-wheel Steer
MSRP/Price as-tested $62,190/$62,190
Engine 3.5-litre 24-valve SOHC V6
Power 310 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm; 272 lb.-ft. of torque @ 4,200 rpm
Transmission 6-speed automatic with Sport mode
Tires/Wheels P245/45R18
Fuel Economy Rating (L/100km) 10.5 city/6.4 highway (premium unleaded)

 

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