by Karl Furlong
It's now half a decade since the Acura RLX large luxury sedan arrived on the market. In automotive terms, that's a long time, but it's especially long for a competitor that has failed to capture the imagination of shoppers in this segment despite a significant refresh in 2018. Holding the RLX back is an uninspiring driving experience, an infotainment system that is miles behind the class best, and strong competition that includes the likes of the German trio (Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class) as well as the Lexus GS. There's also cheaper in-house pressure from the accomplished Honda Accord. So, while the RLX in its current form is unlikely to see a change in fortunes on the sales chart, it isn't entirely without its merits. There's a smooth 310-horsepower V6 engine, comfortable seating, and loads of safety and convenience features. If you must have the largest Acura sedan you can get, then this will do the job, but you'll probably change your mind if you take a drive in one of the competitors mentioned above.
With no revisions for the 2020 model year, the RLX continues unchanged so if you are hoping to save some cash, a second-hand 2019 or 2018 model would be worth considering.
As with other aspects of the RLX, there's nothing wrong with the exterior design, but there's nothing soul-stirring about it either. The 2018 refresh did much to modernize the large sedan and the latest grille design works well. Standard features include 19-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, attractive Jewel Eye LED headlights, and power-folding side mirrors. A nice luxury car touch is an acoustic windshield with acoustic front/rear side glass - this explains why the RLX is so muted on the move and will impress buyers in this segment.
The RLX is a sizable sedan - bigger than a BMW 5 Series, but smaller than the 7 Series. The Acura measures 198.1 inches in length, 74.4 inches in width, 57.7 inches in height, and rides on a 112.2-inch wheelbase. Unladen ground clearance is 4.5 inches. Curb weight works out to 3,977 pounds, which is similar to a BMW 540i (also equipped with a six-cylinder engine but with rear-wheel-drive).
You can select between seven distinct shades when ordering your Acura RLX. The five standard colors are Platinum White Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic, Fathom Blue Pearl and Gilded Pewter Metallic. For $400 each, you can specify one of two premium shades: Brilliant Red Metallic or Majestic Black Pearl. Considering the conservative nature of the RLX's basic shape, we'd go with one of the more striking shades like the Fathom Blue Pearl or the Brilliant Metallic Red to give the Acura a bit more visual punch.
There's good performance on offer from the only available engine (a hybrid model is available as well but this is reviewed separately). The RLX's 3.5-liter V6 engine does without turbocharging but still has acceptable outputs of 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. Paired with a quick-shifting ten-speed automatic transmission, the combination is enough to see off the 0-60 mph dash in six seconds on its way to a 155 mph top speed. Sending power to the front wheels only, the RLX can't match the rear-wheel-drive thrills or the ultimate all-wheel-drive traction offered by several competitors. And, although the V6 engine is solid, there's simply more choice in rivals' model lines so the Acura's appeal remains limited.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine has been employed in several other Acura models and for good reason: it provides decent power, sounds good, and is reasonably efficient. The i-VTEC (intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) unit has peak outputs of 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque. Earlier RLXs used a six-speed automatic transmission, but this model gets a ten-speed auto that is not only 22 pounds lighter, but with a 68 percent broader ratio range. It works well, shifting through its many ratios smoothly and quickly, while high-speed cruising is a relaxed affair. The big Acura gets off the mark with enough vigor and the transmission's ability to execute four-gear direct downshifts (from tenth to sixth, for example) improves overtaking flexibility. While the naturally-aspirated engine has typically linear power delivery, you do occasionally miss the instant mid-range grunt you'd get with a turbocharged unit.
Although doing without the hybrid model's all-wheel-drive system, the non-hybrid RLX is fitted with the brand's Precision All-Wheel-Steer (P-AWS) system. By offering independent toe angle control of the rear wheels, Acura claims that the system enhances stability, responsiveness, and agility.
The system does work to some extent as the large RLX feels pretty maneuverable for its size. The steering also has good feel and is light enough to make parking easy, but it feels stable and predictable at higher speeds, too. This isn't a sporty car in the same vein as a BMW 5 Series, but neither is the RLX an absolute dullard, either. Ride quality is more of a concern as a car in this segment should be smooth and composed at all times, but the RLX doesn't suppress mid-corner bumps as well as it should. On smoother surfaces and driven at more modest speeds, there's less to complain about. In the Acura's favor are high levels of refinement and comfy seats, but neither of these positives can completely make up for a package that could do with a little more polish.
Providing decent economy figures, the V6-powered RLX's EPA estimates work out to 20/29/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. The gas tank size is 18.5 gallons and when topped up with premium unleaded, should see the RLX managing a combined cruising range of around 425 miles. For more efficiency, the hybrid RLX will achieve an extra five miles-per-gallon in mixed driving conditions.
The Acura's cabin ticks many of the boxes you'd expect from a midsize luxury sedan. There's generally good space utilization, generous lashings of wood trim, soft leather seats, impressive sound insulation, and plenty of technology on board. What it doesn't do is provide much sense of occasion - the design isn't especially exciting and hasn't aged all that well. The dual-screen infotainment system is another misstep and lacks the user-friendliness of more modern setups, while the electronic gear selector also isn't as natural to operate as a traditional shifter. At least it doesn't feel basic thanks to a host of standard features like power seats, ambient cabin lighting, keyless access, and a 14-speaker sound system.
Five occupants can be seated in comfort within the RLX's large cabin. There's more than enough leg and headroom in front and plenty of seat/steering wheel adjustment to find a driving position that works. Rear legroom is also a highlight, although a hump in the middle of the floor impacts foot space for the middle rear passenger. The headroom at the back is also on the average side and occupants taller than six-feet may expect more head clearance in a big sedan. With wide-opening doors, ingress and egress aren't an issue.
The RLX's seats go a long way to lifting the interior's sensation of luxury, and are trimmed in Milano premium leather with contrast stitching and piping. Color choices are Ebony, Espresso, and Seacoast - the latter is a light gray shade that makes for a much airier feel, but will be less practical to keep clean. Trim color changes with the seat color you choose, but every selection features high-gloss wood and metal touches. There is also a leather-wrapped steering wheel and, while everything feels upscale, the materials can't fully compensate for a cabin design that underwhelms.
This isn't the most practical midsize sedan for carrying lots of cargo. Not only is the 14.9 cubic feet of trunk space less than in many rivals, but the rear seats don't fold flat to increase overall cargo capacity. The only real extra is a locking pass-through but this is only useful for longer, narrower items. You can load two large suitcases and three soft bags into the trunk, but that's about it - a wide opening does at least make loading cargo a little easier.
In-cabin storage space includes a center console bin with a removable tray that can be opened from both sides, while there are map pockets on the front seats for those at the back. That said, other executive sedans do offer more small-item storage than the RLX does.
With the Technology Package fitted as standard, the RLX gets a high level of features without you needing to spend extra. The comprehensive climate control system is a tri-zone unit with humidity control and air filtration, while both the driver and front passenger get to enjoy 12-way power front seats with heating and four-way power lumbar support. Other standard items include push-button ignition, an electronic tilt and telescoping steering column, an automatic-dimming rearview mirror, auto-dimming side mirrors, and a power moonroof. The AcuraWatch safety suite bundles together features like traffic-jam assist, a head-up warning, blind-spot monitoring, and a rear cross-traffic monitoring. Driver convenience is also taken up a notch thanks to standard rain-sensing wipers and auto-on/off headlights.
One of the first signs that any car has begun to age is often in its infotainment system setup, and here the Acura falls well short of expectations. The dual-screen infotainment system is made up of an eight-inch screen higher up, and a seven-inch touchscreen lower down, but instinctively figuring out which screen does what doesn't come easily. It's also not the most responsive system, the graphics aren't especially slick, and both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay integration are missing. Other than this glaring omission, the system is feature-rich with the likes of AcuraLink, text message/email capability, Bluetooth connectivity, Song By Voice, Aha and Pandora compatibility, HD radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, a USB audio interface with iPod integration, MP3/auxiliary input jack, and a maintenance minder system all being included. Acura's navigation system with 3D view is also part of the package and you get traffic rerouting as well. Sound is catered for by a 14-speaker Acura/ELS Studio premium audio system.
There are very few reported issues affecting the RLX, and with the engine and mechanicals both being known quantities, this Acura should provide years of reliable motoring. There was, however, a single recall for the 2019 RLX for a potential issue where the timing belt teeth could separate, leading to an engine stall.
If anything goes wrong, the RLX is covered by the manufacturer's four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty, a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, and outer-body rust-through for five years with unlimited miles.
While the NHTSA doesn't yet have an official rating for the 2020 Acura RLX, the identical 2019 model achieved a full five stars for overall safety. The IIHS also posted excellent crashworthiness results for the RLX, with highest ratings of Good given for all major crash tests. These results, along with Acura's many safety features, bode well for buyer peace of mind.
Rather than give you one or two advanced driver aids and have the rest only available as expensive options - as is all too common among some other premium brands - Acura has equipped the RLX with nearly all of its available safety features. The advanced airbag system includes front, front side, and side curtain airbags, plus a driver's knee airbag. The RLX also gets LED daytime running lights, a tire pressure monitoring system, vehicle stability assist with traction control and motion adaptive steering, and ABS with EBD.
Under the AcuraWatch suite of driver-assistance technologies, you'll find traffic-jam assist, forward collision warning, collision mitigation braking, a head-up warning, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, road departure mitigation, blind-spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, a multi-view rear camera with dynamic guidelines, and rear cross-traffic monitoring. Where safety is concerned, the Acura's specification leaves many competitors trailing.
What really makes a good car? If it's a reasonably attractive four-door sedan that is quiet, comfortable, fast enough, and safe for the whole family, then yes, the RLX ticks all the right boxes and Acura's bosses can pat themselves on the back for a job well done. Unfortunately, any new car must be judged by the standards of its competitors and here the Acura RLX rapidly begins slipping into obscurity. Whether your priority is comfort or dynamism, the RLX is neither as fun nor as polished as rivals from BMW and Mercedes-Benz. While the safety specification is good, the on-board tech falls far short of these rivals as well as cheaper competitors like the Genesis G80. Finally, the RLX is saddled with just one trim/powertrain option that diminishes its wide-ranging appeal, and the below-average trunk capacity knocks more points off its overall score. The Acura RLX may be a passable large luxury sedan, but alongside the competition, it has little to recommend it.
Acura hasn't increased the price of the RLX for the 2020 model year, but you're still stuck with just a single trim in the form of the RLX with Technology Package. It carries an MSRP of $54,900 - this price excludes taxes, licensing, and a destination and handling charge of $995.
There's just one RLX model to choose from and it's the P-AWS with the Technology Package. It's fitted with a 3.5-liter V6 engine delivering 310 hp and 272 lb-ft, mated to a ten-speed automatic transmission. Front-wheel-drive is standard.
Outside, the RLX gets 19-inch alloy wheels, a power moonroof, Jewel Eye LED headlights, power-folding side mirrors, and acoustic glass. The luxurious interior is trimmed in attractive Milano premium leather and both front seats have 12-way power adjustment and heating. Other amenities encompass tri-zone climate control, an electronic tile/telescoping steering column, push-button ignition, a keyless access system, a dual-screen infotainment system with navigation, and a 14-speaker Acura/ELS audio system.
The RLX gets top marks for a comprehensive safety specification thanks to AcuraWatch - driver aids amount to collision mitigation braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane departure warning, lane keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow. A full suite of airbags and a multi-view rear camera with dynamic guidelines are also fitted.
3.5-liter V6 Gas
Acura's unique range of packages take the place of what is commonly known as trims, building on top of each other to customize your purchase. However, unlike most of the brand's other models, the non-hybrid RLX doesn't have access to any other packages besides the standard Technology package. You can only choose from a limited range of standalone options including LED fog lights ($750), a decklid spoiler ($410), two premium exterior colors, and 19-inch dark chrome-look alloy wheels for $2,700.
With only one model available and a scarcity of options, it won't take long to order your Acura RLX. The only option we'd consider are the LED fog lights for safety and aesthetic purposes, otherwise, the lack of choice here is a disappointment.
If you've already decided that you want an Acura sedan, but aren't sure which one, then it's worth considering the smaller TLX. It's seven inches shorter than the RLX so there's a bit less passenger space and the trunk is smaller, but the TLX's rear seats can fold flat, making it a much better option for carrying extra cargo. The base TLX has a 2.4-liter four-pot with 206 horsepower, but you can also get it with both a V6 and the Technology package, saving you almost $15k over the equivalent RLX. Both have comfortable interiors, even if the lower-spec TLX uses leatherette instead of the real deal. However, only the TLX gets Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both of which are missing on the RLX. Along with the TLX's more attractive proportions, its better value proposition, and its more engaging driving experience, we'd happily go for the smaller of Acura's sedans.
The problem for many Acura products at the moment is that for a lot less money, you can get a more accomplished Honda. Yes, that may mean ditching a premium, luxury-car badge for something more mainstream, but does that really matter? If it doesn't, the Honda Accord is a superb midsize sedan that trounces its pricier, bigger cousin in several crucial aspects. For one, the Accord is not only far more enjoyable to drive, but it rides better than the RLX, too. Although there's no V6 engine option, the range-topping Accord is nearly $20k cheaper than the RLX yet has a meaty 252 horsepower from its 2.0-liter turbo engine, ventilated seats, adaptive dampers, and a head-up display. The Accord also has a larger trunk and a much better infotainment system. About the only area that the RLX wins in, is refinement: it's the quieter car here as the Accord suffers from a bit too much road noise. Other than that, it's hard to argue with the Accord's overall appeal.