The Acura RLX is the brand's new top-of-the-line sedan, replacing the discontinued RL and conceived to give Honda's luxury division increased traction in the heart of the luxury segment. It's a segment that continues to be dominated by a Germanic trio, Audi A6, BMW 5 series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, all of them either rear- or all-wheel drive, all strong performers, all heavily endowed with panache and prestige.
So what does the RLX bring to the table to enhance Acura's credibility in this high stakes game? The new car is certainly not without virtues. New sheetmetal, new engine, new (to this model) chassis technology, improved fuel economy, new interior, and a wealth of electronics some devoted to infotainment, others to safety features.
Basics: at 196.1 inches of overall length, the Acura RLX is just 0.3 inch longer than the RL, but its 112.2-inch wheelbase represents a stretch of 2.0 inches. That, plus a 2.0-inch expansion in width, gave the design team plenty of raw material for improving interior volume, particularly in the rear seat area, a weak point with the RL.
The engine is also new, an aluminum 3.5-liter SOHC V6 with four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing, and direct fuel injection. Its output, 310 horsepower, 272 pound-feet of torque, is all but identical to the 3.7-liter V6 that propelled the RL (300 horsepower, 271 pound-feet), but the key development objective for the 3.5 was fuel economy, and in this the new engine represents a big improvement: 20/31 mpg City/Highway, according to the EPA, versus 16/22 for the RL. Some of this gain is attributable to the adoption of direct fuel injection, more of it to cylinder deactivation, which shuts down half the engine in steady highway cruising.
The new V6 is allied with a 6-speed automatic transmission, sending power to the front wheels. While the car's overall gearing is oriented toward optimizing fuel economy, the RLX will get out of the starting blocks and across an intersection with reasonable haste. Beyond that, forward progress becomes a little more deliberate, respectable, but not extraordinary.
While the RLX propulsion inventory is thus far routine, the RL-X does bring one mechanical distinction to the table, one that gave the Acura product people an opportunity to exercise their penchant for peculiar acronyms. They call it PAW-S, for Precision All-Wheel Steering. Basically, the rear wheels contribute to steering, counter-steering at low speed to enhance maneuverability, turning with the fronts at high speeds for increased stability. Honda has tried this before, with disappointing sales results. This time around the take rate will be better, since the feature is standard equipment, rather than an option.
Styling has rarely been a strong suit at either Honda or Acura, and the RLX is consistent with corporate design caution. Aside from a phalanx of LED headlights, lending a bit of sci-fi mystique to the front end, the new sedan is unlikely to attract more than a casual glance as it glides along in traffic. The grille, with its slightly beaky center element, is recognizable as Acura emblematic, but beyond that and the LEDs the design is bland and breaks no new ground. The same could perhaps be said of the German troika that dominates the class, but if the Teutons are familiar from one generation to the next, that familiarity includes a big helping of prestige.
Acura RLX ($48,450) is offered in one model augmented by four option packages. RLX comes standard with leather trim and automatic climate control.