A complete redesign of an aging flagship model
Acura’s first design with the RLX scraps the SH-AWD staple from their lineup and re-introduces the Precision All-Wheel Steer that the Japanese automakers pushed during the ‘80s.
This 2014 Acura RLX Elite is an all-new offering by the Japanese automaker, replacing the old RL in their product offering. And old it was. When it was last updated back in 2005, the RL was a technological marvel. It featured technology such as functional voice control, handsfree Bluetooth and live traffic navigation that are an every day and seemingly every car occurrence these days.
It’s been 8 years since then, and the RL languished but Acura is back with a technological bang to update it and hopefully compete against such cars as the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class.
On the outside, the RLX is a stunning but understated car. It provides clean body lines that are also functional by reducing drag in an attempt to improve fuel mileage. The flow from the front to the backend seems to end abruptly and the taillights look a little off from the side profile. The front and rear ends from a straight on angle look fantastic. The front accented by the new Jewel lights, a series of independent LEDs that provide some of the best coverage I’ve seen from any vehicle. It also looks cool.
Powered by an all-new 310-horsepower direct-injected SOHC V6 engine, providing peak horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 272 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. The engine has an 11.5:1 compression ratio with a die-cast lightweight aluminum alloy block with cast-in-place iron cylinder liners and a steel crankshaft. The intake manifold is magnesium and utilizes a drive-by-wire throttle system. It’s an engine that doesn’t require any scheduled maintenance outside of fluids and regular filter changes for the first 160,000 kms.
Interesting to note, the new engine offering has Active Cylinder Shutoff, which can take the V6 down to 3-cylinders by using the i-VTEC system to close the intake and exhaust valves while power is cut off to those cylinders in the front bank.
Such a system has the RLX rated at 8.6L/100KM combined, a vast improvement over the RL’s notably worse rating. Over the course of the week with the car, I managed an excellent 8.8L/100km including a drive from Muskoka to Burlington, ON where I was able to get that number down to 6.9L/100km. The RLX is rated at a 6.4 on the highway; this test marks the first time I got that close to a manufacturer’s numbers.
Acura’s first design with the RLX scraps the SH-AWD staple from their lineup and re-introduces the Precision All-Wheel Steer that the Japanese automakers pushed during the ‘80s. The system on the RLX is quite a bit more advanced however. By actively monitoring the driving conditions, the RLX allows up to 4 degrees of toe angle adjustment of the rear wheels. But that’s one of the flaws of the system as well. It adjusts mid-turn because no matter how advanced a system is; it can’t anticipate what is bound to happen on the road. At a track event, I was more comfortable driving the new MDX around a short track with the SH-AWD than I was with the RLX. It’s just personal preference but I like a consistent handling vehicle rather than variable. It makes it easier to anticipate and adjust in my mind, rather than the car doing the work for me.
Expected later this year is the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All Wheel Drive system in the RLX but no details have been disclosed. I’m interested in seeing how the fuel economy stands up with such a system.
However, I can see the rationale of the P-AWS system. In parking lots and around the city, the RLX feels very nimble and easy to maneuver. It makes a very large vehicle feel very small, almost akin to driving a Civic. With an expected buying audience on the older bracket of the age scale, this is likely to be valued much more than handling a corner with consistency.
The rest of the technology is catered to that crowd. Lane departure assist, laser cruise control and brake hold are all here. Unlike other luxury cars, lane departure doesn’t simply beep at you but rather helps steer the car back into the lane if you’re slowly drifting. The system doesn’t like you removing your hands from the wheel and does require some kind of steering input.
The back seats of the RLX allow full sized adults to sit with their legs crossed and provide near extended wheelbase size leg room with attention given to the interior appointments. Everything inside the RLX is nice to touch and feel, something people naturally do when bored in the back during long drives.
In an attempt to simplify the centre console, Acura removed the sea of buttons and replaced them with a touch screen. It’s a nice touch but both screens work independent of each other and can lead to some confusion. I think using the bottom touch screen as an input controller and the top to display information would be much more effective. However, when putting an address into the GPS, the top screen switches to the wheel-input and the bottom to a full QWERTY keyboard. Why? Just keep it simple.
Overall, the RLX was a much-needed revamp for Acura to try to stay relevant in the minds of luxury buyers. A premium brand requires a premium car, even though sales expectations are modest for this model in particular. But just being competitive with Audi, BMW and Mercedes isn’t enough, they need to be one-upped and unfortunately the RLX just falls short of that. Acura doesn’t have the history and brand image of the big three Germans, but the new RLX Elite does fire a shot across the bow and might just make a few people take notice.
2014 Acura RLX Elite Gallery