by Roger Biermann
First introduced in 2013, Acura's largest premium luxury sedan, the RLX, has received a significant refresh to boost its appeal in an extremely competitive segment. At an MSRP of $54,900, one of the RLX's major draw cards remains its value proposition, offering a host of standard comfort and safety features that rivals charge extra for. The RLX also gets Acura's respected 310-horsepower V6 engine and offers occupants a spacious, well-trimmed interior, albeit one with a rather dated design. With more aggressive styling, the RLX aims to fend off class-leading competitors like the BMW 5 Series and Audi A6, both of which offer buyers far more choice with their broader ranges.
Acura's newly updated design direction makes its way onto the RLX for the 2018 model year, and the result is a more cohesive and desirable appearance than before. The diamond pentagon grille, new LED taillights, and an enhanced selection of colors give the exterior more appeal. The interior gets redesigned seats in Milano leather and a new Espresso color option. In regards to safety, the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assistive features now includes Traffic Jam Assist, a system which reduces driver stress when negotiating traffic congestion.
The new family look works well on the RLX, with the model looking a lot more distinctive than the conservative pre-facelift model. The front-end is dominated by the signature diamond pentagon grille, while chrome detailing lower down adds to the effect. LED daytime running lights and Jewel-Eye LED headlights are standard, along with new 19-inch alloy wheels. While the wheelbase remains the same, the refreshed RLX is 1.7 inches longer than before.
The RLX is longer and wider than key competitors like the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Measuring 197.8-inches long, 74.4-inches wide, and 57.7 inches in height, the RLX casts a fairly large shadow. The wheelbase, at 112.2 inches, is, however, quite a bit shorter than most rivals (4.9 inches shorter than the 5 Series). Curb weight has increased marginally to 3,977 lbs - this is eight pounds heavier than before. However, the stretched dimensions certainly do benefit the RLX's rear legroom, which is excellent.
A revised color palette includes four metallic and three pearl hues. Six newly available colors are Brilliant Red Metallic, Majestic Black Pearl, Fathom Blue Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, Modern Steel Metallic, and Crystal White Pearl. The sole color option that has been carried over is Gilded Pewter Metallic. Majestic Black Pearl and Brilliant Red Metallic are $400 options.
The RLX P-AWS (Precision All-Wheel Steer) is only available with a single powertrain option: a 3.5-liter V6 and a ten-speed automatic transmission. Although front-wheel-drive, the P-AWS system provides additional maneuverability by being able to steer the rear wheels.
The proven V6 engine produces 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque and allows the RLX to complete the 0-60 mph run in six seconds and reach a top speed of 155 mph. These figures are respectable, although rivals such as the BMW 5 Series offer superior performance (albeit at a significant price premium) with more engine options, as well as the choice of RWD or AWD. In isolation, the RLX V6 is nevertheless a well-rounded performer with sufficient grunt in a variety of situations.
The RLX P-AWS makes use of a 3.5-liter naturally-aspirated V6 engine. The unit produces 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque and features the i-VTEC (intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control) system. Variable Cylinder Management benefits fuel efficiency, with the three rear cylinders able to be deactivated. A new ten-speed automatic transmission has been paired with the V6 and is said to improve both acceleration and passing times. It's also 22 pounds lighter than the six-speed transmission used previously.
In practice, both upshifts and downshifts are perceptibly faster, while the tall top gear adds to the relaxed cruising capabilities of the RLX. The V6 delivers a solid spread of power throughout the rev range and gets the large sedan off the mark quickly. The transmission can also execute downshifts of four gears at once (for example, from seventh to third), which helps to improve overtaking acceleration and reduces unwanted hunting. The V6 also makes a wonderful sound when fully extended and in this particular aspect, is more pleasing to use than rivals with smaller, turbocharged engines.
Acura's Precision All-Wheel Steer system is fitted as standard to the RLX and allows for independent toe angle control of both rear wheels. The advantages of the system are improved reactions when executing sudden changes in direction, enhanced agility, and greater stability.
The RLX does well to acquit itself dynamically and although it is a large sedan, it certainly doesn't feel ponderous through bends. There is a good sense of what the front wheels are doing and the steering is both light and precise in town or highway driving. That said, the RLX's abilities to entertain and grip at the limit aren't as exceptional as AWD and RWD rivals from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and BMW. At low to medium speeds, handling is composed enough.
Ride comfort is a bit of a hit and miss affair. On smooth roads and in a straight line, the RLX feels planted and refined. However, changes of direction and the occasional mid-corner bump can unsettle the suspension and the quality of the ride. Braking feel also leaves something to be desired and the pedal doesn't allow for accurate modulation.
Gas mileage is good for what is a large-capacity V6 engine. The RLX has EPA-rated estimates of 20/29/23 mpg on the city/highway-combined cycles, which compares favorably with competitors in the segment. A Lincoln Continental with a similarly sized V6 manages an inferior 20 mpg. With a gas tank size of 18.5 gallons, the RLX will achieve a combined driving range of 425 miles. The recommended gas type is premium unleaded 91 octane.
With its upgraded Milano leather seats, the RLX's cabin feels more luxurious than before. The plastics, switchgear, and wood-effect inlays (although not genuine) are generally tastefully presented and opting for one of the brighter trim options does make for an airy feel. The basic design is however rather ordinary, lacking the wow factor you'd find in a Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Unique Acura quirks such as the dual-screen infotainment system and the electronic gear selector look advanced, but they aren't as easy to use as they should be. By contrast, the instrumentation is a model of clarity and simplicity. Space isn't a problem in the front or at the back, with only average rear headroom knocking a few points off the RLX's practicality score.
Those generous dimensions come into play when you get into the RLX's interior, which seats five passengers comfortably. Space up front is generous and the heated and powered front seats add significantly to comfort levels for the driver and front passenger. The driver also has the benefit of an electronic tilt and telescopic steering column. Rear legroom is especially accommodating and trumps both the 5 Series and E-Class in this respect. The sloping roofline does, however, mean that rear headroom can feel restricted for people over six-feet tall. The doors open wide enough to make getting into and out of the RLX easy. All in all, the RLX provides ample space for a family of four and the occasional fifth passenger.
The single-model RLX is fitted as standard with sports seats trimmed in perforated Milano premium leather. The upper black dashboard is finished in soft-touch plastic, while lower down there is a band of stitched leather which looks and feels great. The door panels and armrests also get soft-touch leather, ensuring that all major touch points are suitably high quality. Glossy wood inlays are used but a more modern matte wood option would have been appreciated as well.
Four interior colors are available: Ebony, Graystone, Seacoast, and Espresso. The latter is a new addition for 2018. The headliner color also changes depending on which of these colors is selected: Ebony and Espresso have a black headliner, Graystone has a gray headliner, and the lighter Seacoast has an ivory headliner.
The large RLX surprisingly doesn't offer the level of cargo space and practicality you'd expect. Trunk space is 14.9 cubic feet, which lags behind the Lexus GS and the BMW 5 Series (the 5 Series has a usefully larger 18.7 cu. ft. of trunk space). Further limiting utility is the lack of folding rear seats, with many rivals offering this either as standard or as an option. There is a small, locking pass-through for objects which are longer and narrower. Two large suitcases and three soft bags will fit in the trunk and loading is at least made easy as the trunk opening is appreciably broad.
Interior storage is a mixed bag, with rear passengers getting little more than map pockets on the front seats to store small (and thin) items. Storage is better in front, with a versatile and large center console bin being able to flip open in either direction.
While lesser Acura models have a base model that can then be upgraded with one or more packages, the RLX comes as standard with the Technology Package and its many amenities. Features include a power moonroof, heated leather seats in front, 12-way power adjustable driver and front passenger seats with four-way lumbar adjustment, tri-zone climate control, push-button ignition, ambient cabin lighting, and a keyless access system. Driver visibility is enhanced with a multi-view rear camera, a blind spot monitoring system, and auto-on/off headlights. Many audio, phone, and driver aid functions can be adjusted using the convenient steering wheel-mounted controls: these include the multi-information display, adaptive cruise control, and navigation system.
The main point of contention in the RLX's interior is the dual-screen infotainment system. Grouping controls between an upper, eight-inch screen and a lower, seven-inch touch screen may provide more real estate for the interface, but the system fails to offer easy adjustability. The menu layouts and quality of the graphics - especially the navigation system's display - are poor for the class. There is also no integration for either Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, both functions you can find on far less expensive vehicles. Otherwise, the system is well-specified and includes HD radio, Aha and Pandora compatibility, HD radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, song by voice, and USB audio interface. The audio system is a 14-speaker ELS unit and delivers superb sound reproduction. Also standard is Acura's navigation system with a 3D view, real-time traffic updates, and traffic rerouting. While all of these features are appreciated, it's a pity that Acura didn't take the opportunity to upgrade the infotainment's interface as a whole, as it now falls well short of the class best.
The RLX is a reliable car with few reported issues since its launch. The 2014 model year stands out with the most reported problems, many relating to suspension rattles. Low overall sales volumes must also be taken into account, as this makes it more challenging to pick up any reliability woes. J.D Power has given the RLX an average predicted reliability rating, while the NHTSA has issued no recalls for the 2018 RLX. Should anything go wrong, the RLX is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile powertrain warranty, both of which compare favorably with the competition.
Superior safety standards are a hallmark of the Acura brand and the RLX does not disappoint. The NHTSA has awarded the RLX with a full five-star safety rating, while the 2018 RLX received a Top Safety Pick designation from the IIHS, one of the industry's most coveted safety classifications. This followed the IIHS's Superior rating for the RLX for front crash prevention.
The AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assistive technologies is standard on the RLX. The suite brings with it adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane keeping assist, traffic jam assist (new for 2018), road departure mitigation, and a collision mitigation braking system with a head-up warning. Enhancing driver visibility is a multi-view rear camera with dynamic guidelines, blind spot information system, and auto-on/off functionality for the headlights together with wiper integration. Airbags all-round include a driver's knee airbag, while the braking system is supplemented with automatic brake hold and hill start assist.
With its comprehensive mid-cycle facelift, the RLX is a smarter, safer, and more refined mid-size luxury sedan than before. Showroom appeal is enhanced thanks to that bolder face and more luxuriously trimmed interior, and the AcuraWatch suite of safety features and driver assistive aids is top of the class at this price point. It's a pity, then, that the RLX lags behind in a few crucial aspects that really matter in this class. The infotainment system frustrates and the plain interior design fails to excite. The trunk capacity is some way off the class best and is emphasized by rear seats that don't fold down to increase cargo space. The ride and handling balance is merely average, and while the V6 is a solid performer, competitors simply offer far more powertrain options. The RLX is a good car in a segment filled with great cars.
Just a single RLX model is available: the P-AWS V6 with the standard Technology Package. MSRP for this model is $54,900 excluding taxes, licensing, and a destination/handling charge of $995. Monthly payments work out to around $915.
Only one RLX model is available, and it's the RLX Precision All-Wheel Steer with the Technology Package.
The RLX V6 makes use of front-wheel-drive and its 3.5-liter engine produces 310 hp. The only transmission option is a ten-speed automatic. The standard features list is extensive and includes Jewel Eye LED headlights, a power moonroof, Milano premium leather seats with 12-way power adjustment in front, 19-inch alloy wheels, tri-zone climate control, a 14 speaker ELS audio system, and Acura's navigation system with 3D view.
3.5-liter V6 Gas
With the RLX, Acura has left very little room for buyer choice and this extends to the limited options available for buyers hoping to customize their car. No all-inclusive packages are available, just a handful of standalone options. The most interesting of these are LED fog lights ($750), a color-matched decklid spoiler ($410), and stainless steel illuminated door sill trim with white LED lights ($749).
If you want an RLX, you'll have to settle for the V6-engined, front-wheel-drive P-AWS with the Technology Package. More equipment is available with the Advance Package, but this unique model is only available with the hybrid powertrain, seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, and Acura's all-wheel-drive system, reviewed separately.
With a base MSRP of $33,000, the TLX can be had for over $20,000 less than the RLX. The TLX is seven inches shorter than its bigger brother but manages to offer a cabin that still feels spacious and airy. The TLX range also offers far more choice, with the base 2.4L four-cylinder stretching all the way to a V6 in luxurious Advance or sporty A-Spec specifications - these models also offer the option of all-wheel drive, not available on the standard RLX. While the RLX does have a few extra features (standard Milano leather, a wider range of seat adjustment, and tri-zone climate control), the TLX does many of the same things for a significantly lower outlay.
For shoppers trying to decide between the RLX and an even more lavish level of luxury, the bigger Lexus LS could be a worthy option. Starting at an MSRP of $75,000, it's over $20,000 more than the RLX with Technology Package. However, there's far more power available from the LS 500 with its twin-turbo V6 and it also offers RWD and AWD. While the RLX's interior and exterior design have been criticized for being too plain, no such complaints can be leveled at the dramatic Lexus. It looks aggressive from the outside and the interior is crafted from exemplary materials that feel several notches above the RLX's cabin. On the highway, this is a whisper-quiet sedan to travel in and to drive, and it also offers more space than the RLX. If you can make the stretch, the LS offers a notably more premium driving experience.
The Infiniti Q70 is one of the closest price-competitive rivals to the RLX. Its major advantage over the RLX is choice: buyers can opt for the 3.7-liter Luxe model at $50,300 or the powerful 5.6-liter V8, while both RWD and AWD are available. The Q70 produces more power than the RLX in V6 form, while the V8 Q70 is in a different performance league altogether. Cabin space is similar for each, with the RLX having superior rear legroom and the Q70 offering more headroom for taller occupants. The RLX is the more fuel-efficient sedan, while both have a good rather than great ride/handling balance. The Q70's interior is impressively constructed from high-quality materials but as with the RLX, its infotainment system is dated and fussy to use and both of these cars lack integration for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. There's little to separate these two Japanese rivals, but the Q70's broader model range gives it the edge.