Comfortable, smooth, and efficient | I’ve begun to appreciate things like creature comforts and the importance of excellent seats.
The Acura RLX gets mixed emotions from our entire editorial staff. I think we all agree on the fundamental characteristics that make an Acura an Acura, and we’re huge fans of these attributes. Last fall, we attended a First Drive event in Collingwood, where I briefly drove a nearly-identical car as the one in this review. I liked it quite a bit, but I couldn’t wait until my editor assigned me a full week with one to evaluate properly. As soon as I had the dates set in stone, I decided to plan a trip to our nation’s capital over a long weekend. Naturally, the 2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid was the perfect companion for this adventure.
At its launch in 2013, Acura’s flagship RLX was front-wheel-drive only. Yes, it featured the Precision All-Wheel-Steer (P-AWS) technology, but power was strictly sent to the front wheels. This is adequate enough for most climates, but most Canadians opting for a $60,000+ luxury sedan would prefer either rear or all-wheel-drive setups. Now though, it’s as if Acura hit a double whammy – the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system the brand is known for is coupled with a “sport hybrid” drivetrain that puts out a ton of horsepower and improves fuel economy from the regular model. Unfortunately, as our test took place in the middle of May, we had no real opportunity to play with the SH-AWD system, but it’s proven for many years now, so there are no real surprises there.
Let’s get the geeky and important bits out of the way first; under the hood of the RLX Sport Hybrid is the same 3.5L V6 with i-VTEC that powers the regular front-drive model. However, this one has a second electric motor connected to the setup, adding horsepower, torque, and significantly adding to the overall efficiency of the car. Horsepower output is 377, and torque maxes out at 341 lb-ft. There’s a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission in lieu of the conventional six-speed automatic. An interesting factoid is that the transmission has its own motor, which is good for an extra 35kw @ 3000rpm and 109 lb-ft of torque. All of this fancy technology works in complete synergy under the hood, and the result is one incredibly smooth sedan.
Upon hearing dual-clutch transmission, most minds instantly go to Audi’s S-tronic and BMW’s DCT, but it’s important to remember that the transmission in this Acura is geared towards (see what I did there?) efficiency and smoothness rather than quick-shifting performance. Don’t get me wrong; it shifts quickly, but the shifts are more along the lines of seamless than snappy. The gear shifter is a new design too; rather than a lever or stalk, it makes use of ergonomically angled buttons that you’re required to press to select gears. It takes a little bit of getting used to at first, but the concept is great. When driving long stints on the highway though, I often rest my right hand on the shifter, and found the absence of the traditional lever a bit annoying. I’m sure RLX buyers will eventually become accustomed to proper two-hands-on-the-wheel procedures, negating this slight qualm I had.
When zipping around town to finish off some last minute errands before taking off on my trip, I began to bond with the RLX. What truly surprised me is how easy it is to drive and how deceptive its size is. It behaves virtually identically to its smaller brethren, the TLX and ILX, and there’s no real indication from the driving dynamics that it’s a far larger car. Steering is typical Honda/Acura-levels of fantastic, and the car is among the most responsive of the midsized luxury sedans out there. Putting the throttle down a bit brings out what feels like a bit more than 377 horsepower, and the RLX powers along like a freight train. Power delivery is effortless and torque comes in quickly thanks to the help of the electric motor. This thing is properly fast, and it does nothing to hide it.
As I experienced on my nearly 1000km round trip, almost all highway, the RLX may be a decent around-town driver but it excels when sitting comfortably at highway speeds. The word “comfortable” doesn’t even begin to describe the dynamics of this car; it’s understated, lavish, and relaxing. It’s not quite Lexus LS460-levels of quiet, but it’s not far off. The RLX reminds you that you’re moving along quickly, but doesn’t isolate you completely from the driving experience. It’s a wonderful thing, this, and it’s almost as lively as a BMW 5-series, without being forceful.
My road trip partner commented on the remarkable seats, and how great they are at hugging your entire body without being too intrusive. Personally, I don’t mind the likes of aggressive seats such as the Recaros in the new Ford Mustang, but I can see how they’d get tiring on longer distances. The RLX’s seats are upholstered in Milano leather, and are heated and ventilated. There’s a Krell audio system that’s more than acceptable, even for a picky audiophile like myself. It’s capable of perfectly replicating anything from Beethoven symphonies to classic hip hop without requiring me to spend hours tweaking the sound.
When road-tripping a car that has a “hybrid” badge on the side, it’s important to diligently keep track of fuel economy – you know, for scientific reasons. I started the trip with a full tank of fuel, and decided to manually keep track of consumption and later compare with the built-in trip computer. I averaged a healthy 7.5L/100km on premium fuel throughout my trip, and surprisingly, the trip computer was dead-on with my own calculation. For a huge sedan bordering dangerously on the 400-horsepower mark, this number is pretty outstanding. As with any 3.5L-powered Acura, the RLX requires premium fuel.
In the past, I’ve made road trips using some pretty interesting vehicles. I’ve done a winter drive in a Fiat 500, a trip to Georgia in my 1996 Camaro (with a rear seat passenger!), and most recently, the Pacific Coast Highway in California in a Mazda MX-5 Miata. However, as I get older, I’ve begun to appreciate things like creature comforts and the importance of excellent seats. If anything, the ride quality and well-sorted suspensions in larger luxury cars ensure that you’re considerably less tired at the end of your journey. Plus, diesel or hybrid powertrains mean you save a few of your hard-earned dollars at the pump. For empty nesters, small families that don’t require a crossover or minivan, or even the young couple with sophisticated tastes, the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid really is an excellent choice for a long drive. Oh yeah, and Ottawa is pretty cool, too!
Road Trip: 2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Gallery