by Adam Lynton
The RLX is Acura's largest sedan doing battle with the established German trio as well as fellow Japanese rivals from Infiniti and Lexus. Not only is the competition tough, but life is tough for the traditional three-box sedan in a market that adores trucks and SUVs. The current RLX was first introduced in 2014, which, in an automotive world that has more in common with dog years than human years, is a long time ago. It shows in the RLX's rather anonymous styling, inside and out, and dated technology characterized by the likes of a two-screen infotainment system that lacks Apple CarPlay and Android Auto integration. Thankfully, the Hybrid's powertrain is the highlight of the RLX: three electric motors and a 3.5-liter V6 gas engine combine for a total system output of 377 horsepower, ensuring swift progress for the large sedan. A comfortable cabin and loads of standard safety features are other highlights of the RLX Hybrid package, but they fail to lift the aging sedan out of the bottom half of its segment.
Acura hasn't bothered to make any changes to the dated RLX for the 2020 model year - the range last received a significant design refresh in 2018, which brought with it a more modern grille and headlight design.
With no changes for 2020, the RLX looks as it did before. While inoffensive, there's little about the RLX's design to get too excited about, although the 2018 update did bring with it a much more modern Acura diamond-pentagon grille. Standard exterior features include Jewel Eye LED headlights, LED fog lights, a power moonroof, power-folding side mirrors, LED-illuminated door handles and 19-inch machine-finished alloy wheels.
The RLX is particularly long, out-stretching both the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class at a length of 198.1 inches. Height is 57.7 inches, width is 74.4 inches, and the wheelbase measures 112.2 inches. Curb weight is 4,380 pounds - a full 403 lbs heavier than the non-hybrid model (reviewed separately).
The combination of the 3.5-liter V6 and three electric motors provides the all-wheel-drive RLX with swift performance. 0-60 mph is dispatched in comfortably under six seconds thanks to a combined system output of 377 horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque. On its own, the VTEC V6 produces 310 hp. A single front-mounted electric motor and two more electric motors at the back ensure that the RLX gets going from a standstill quickly and without hesitation. The seven-speed dual-clutch transmission is a good match for the hybrid system, shifting gears smoothly. Off the mark, under moderate throttle applications, the RLX will launch in second gear - first gear only comes into play when more power is applied. The V6 makes a pleasing but refined growl when pushed. Overall, whether in town or on the highway, the clever and unobtrusive powertrain is one of the RLX Hybrid's highlights.
As standard, the RLX Hybrid is equipped with all-wheel-drive, while torque vectoring is enforced by the dual rear electric motors. Together with a reasonably quick steering ratio and the instant torque output from the Hybrid powertrain, the RLX seems to have the credentials to provide a spirited driving experience. This is, unfortunately, not the case. With the V6 mounted ahead of the front axle, the RLX's weight distribution isn't ideal. Understeer makes its presence felt at higher speeds, the electric power steering system feels rather lifeless, and body roll is more pronounced than it is in many rivals. It all feels distinctly more luxury than sport, but the RLX's ride isn't great either. Thanks to good sound deadening, the Acura is refined and pleasant on smooth surfaces, but the suspension is too easily undone by mid-corner bumps and gives one the sensation of being underdamped. Ultimately, the RLX Hybrid's strong powertrain asks questions that the chassis is unable to answer.
The RLX Hybrid's major fuel efficiency gains are to be found in city driving, where it manages an extra eight miles-per-gallon over its non-hybrid counterpart. EPA-rated figures are 28/29/28 mpg city/highway/combined. The recommended gas type is premium unleaded 91 octane, and when its 15.1-gallon tank is full, a combined cruising range of around 423 miles should be achievable.
The RLX seats five passengers in what is generally a spacious and comfortable cabin. In front, there's plenty of legroom and headroom for most, while the rear offers above-average legroom (more than in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class) but the headroom is tighter for adults over six-feet tall. A large hump in the middle of the floor affects legroom for the rear middle-seat passenger, but other than this, the RLX is a decent choice for transporting five. Ingress and egress aren't a chore thanks to wide-opening doors. The attractively finished leather seats are comfortable and supportive, while the driver also enjoys good visibility.
The RLX Hybrid's cargo capacity is disappointing for such a large luxury sedan. Pop the trunk lid and you'll find just 12 cubic feet of space available - this is significantly smaller than the average large sedan as well as the regular RLX which offers 14.9 cubic feet. The battery pack is part of the problem and reduces the trunk's depth, so larger suitcases will have to lie flat in order to fit. Worse still, the rear seats can't fold down to increase cargo capacity.
Small-item storage is more impressive, with a versatile center console that can open from either side. This console also has a sliding tray that is perfect for storing your smartphone. There are well-sized cupholders both front and rear, and door pockets on the front seatbacks provide more storage space for those sitting at the back.
The RLX Hybrid ships with the Advance Package as standard, and that means a lengthy equipment list. Standard features include heated and ventilated front seats, heated rear outboard seats, a surround-view camera system, a heated steering wheel, a head-up display, a power rear sunshade, and auto-dimming rearview mirrors with a power-folding function. Like the non-hybrid RLX, the Hybrid also gets tri-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, power front seats, an electronic tilt/telescoping steering column, push-button start, and a keyless access system. Overall, it's a generous standard of kit and unlike the Germans, you don't feel like you need to delve into an expensive options list to get the features you want.
For 2020, the RLX Hybrid soldiers on with an outdated dual-screen setup for infotainment that is some way off the more modern systems found in competitors. Lower down on the dashboard is a seven-inch touchscreen, and above it, another eight-inch screen paired with a rotary controller. The idea is to group different functions between the two screens, but it's more confusing than a single screen is and neither the graphics nor the screens' resolution can compete with the best. Standard features encompass Pandora compatibility, HD radio, SiriusXM satellite radio, Bluetooth streaming audio, MP3 compatibility, an auxiliary input jack, and song by voice. Both Android Auto and Apple CarPlay are unavailable - a glaring omission considering that these smartphone integrations are available in far cheaper cars. Navigation is standard and can also be controlled via voice. The sound system is a decent Krell unit with 14 speakers.
It's too early to assess the 2020 RLX's dependability, but considering that there have been minimal changes since 2018, we can look back a year or two to get an idea of what to expect. In 2019, the NHTSA issued one recall for timing belt teeth that may separate which could cause an engine stall. There were no recalls for the 2018 RLX Hybrid.
Should anything go wrong, the RLX Hybrid is covered by the marque'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. There's also 15-year/150,000-mile coverage for hybrid emissions and a limited warranty for the hybrid battery pack that varies by state, so it's best to confirm this with your local dealer.
Acura has thrown all of its safety technologies at the RLX Hybrid. A full suite of airbags (including a driver's knee airbag) is matched by a multi-view rear camera with dynamic guidelines, auto-on/off headlights, automatic brake hold, hill start assist, LED daytime running lights and traction control. Driver aids fall under the AcuraWatch suite and encompass adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane-keeping assist, lane departure warning, traffic jam assist, road departure mitigation, and a collision mitigation braking system with a head-up warning.
With all of these safety features, it's little surprise that the IIHS gave the 2020 RLX (the non-hybrid version was tested) a spread of Good ratings for all major crash tests. The headlights were, however, rated as Average. The RLX Hybrid also received full five-star ratings for the side crash and rollover tests, according to the NHTSA.
Despite a significant refresh way back in 2018, the Acura RLX Hybrid can't overcome several foundational flaws that have, unfortunately, made it one of the forgotten options in this segment. Despite the impressive hybrid powertrain, the RLX's dynamics leave much to be desired - the ride is flawed and it doesn't corner with much confidence. For a large sedan, the undersized trunk is a problem and makes the Acura an impractical choice for a family's luggage when undertaking longer trips. Then there's the outdated and fussy infotainment system that is a constant frustration, too. We do like the comfortable cabin, the many standard features, and the RLX's high safety specification, however. Despite Acura representing the luxury arm of Honda, we'd happily pick the cheaper Accord over this: it's much more enjoyable to drive, has a more modern infotainment system, and cargo space is superior. The time has come for Acura to wave goodbye to the aging RLX.
The Acura RLX Sport Hybrid with Advance Package carries an MSRP of $61,900, the same price as the 2019 model. The price excludes tax, licensing, registration, and a destination charge of $995. Considering that the 2020 model is unchanged, you may want to consider an almost-new 2019 or 2018 model at a considerable cost-saving.
|Sport Hybrid with Advance Package||
3.5-liter V6 Hybrid
If you've decided on an Acura RLX Hybrid, you won't have to spend too much time deciding on what model to get - there's only one, and with most features fitted as standard, you won't have to sift through a long options list either. There are very few options to choose from, but a decklid spoiler ($410) and illuminated door sill trim ($749) are available and add a dash of sporty appeal to the otherwise demure RLX.
The TLX is the RLX's little brother and, at around seven inches shorter looks a bit sportier than the RLX. It's much more affordable, too: the range-topping TLX V6 is equipped with the Advance Package and comes in at almost $20,000 less than the RLX Hybrid. Of course, without the boost provided by the electric motors, the TLX isn't quite as powerful, but it still packs 290 horsepower and has all-wheel-drive. The TLX is the more engaging car to drive, has a bigger trunk despite being smaller, and its infotainment system - while also featuring the dual-screen setup - includes Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, at least. The RLX Hybrid's most significant advantage is fuel efficiency, as its combined figure of 28 mpg outclasses the non-hybrid TLX V6's 23 mpg. If this matters to you, consider the RLX Hybrid, otherwise, the TLX feels like a less dated package and comes in at a much cheaper price.
Another Japanese rival is the Lexus IS - like the Acura TLX, this is a smaller and less expensive alternative to the Acura RLX. The IS 350 uses a non-hybrid V6 engine with 311 horsepower and available all-wheel-drive to hit 60 mph in around 5.7 seconds, not far off the pace of the hybridized RLX. The IS is a more sportily styled luxury car, although both sedans are ultimately more comfort-oriented. They both share similar flaws, too: each has a below-average trunk capacity, with the IS offering a paltry 10.8 cubic feet of space. Lexus' own infotainment system is also needlessly fussy and both of the Japanese competitors lag behind the Germans in this area. The IS is a smoother drive than the RLX and offers similarly good refinement. If you want to save around $20,000 and can live with the Lexus' small trunk, it's a decent alternative.