It’s now been just over a year and a half since Acura launched their flagship RLX. Over this time, I’ve driven a few different RLXs, most of them being top-trim Elite models, and my feelings about it remain mixed. I liked it when I drove it at the initial launch, but I couldn’t shake my dislike for the front-wheel-drive setup in what’s intended to be a proper luxury sedan. I had a few other small issues with the RLX, but I decided to put all biases aside. After all, we were promised that this 2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid would address most, if not all of the concerns experienced with the standard car.
First and foremost, the RLX Sport Hybrid has been developed by engineers that are truly geniuses. The sheer amount of attention to detail to the powertrain and overall refinement is second to none. Relaxing under the hood of the big Acura is the familiar 3.5L V6, hooked up to an electric motor for even more horsepower and torque. Combined output is a ground-crushing 377 horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque; the most horsepower ever seen in a production Honda product sold in North America. The RLX pulls like a freight train and achieves highway speeds effortlessly; seriously marvellous for a hybrid.
It’s worth mentioning that this isn’t really a conventional hybrid geared towards efficiency and nothing else. About a decade ago, Honda introduced the original Accord Hybrid. With its V6 engine, it was essentially a car delivering V6-levels of power with the economy of a 4-cylinder. While the current Accord Hybrid is purely efficiency, this RLX is an evolution of that old car. It delivers 8-cylinder power numbers with fuel mileage similar to that of V6 sedans. Plus, unlike other hybrids, there’s no continuously variable transmission under the hood either; the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid shifts by means of a 7-speed dual-clutch transmission. Another conversation piece is that the transmission has its own motor, good for 35 kw @ 3000rpm and 109 lb-ft of torque.
For such a big car (just over 196″ in length, to be exact), the RLX is a surprisingly good handler. The regular RLX is front-wheel-drive with Acura’s new Precision All-Wheel-Steer (P-AWS) option. It handles okay, but I do like Acura’s Super-Handling-All-Wheel-Drive system (SH-AWD) very much. The previous-generation TL was a sharp-handling car for its size, and carved corners beautifully. The RLX Sport Hybrid is, thankfully, equipped with SH-AWD. I had it during the first massive snowstorm of 2015, and it handled nearly a foot of snow with complete ease. The steering is exceptionally good, and response is pretty quick for a large sedan.
At $69,990, the RLX Sport Hybrid is not cheap. That being said, it offers a feature set seen in the likes of the BMW 5-series, Lexus GS, and the Mercedes-Benz E-Class. The seats are perforated Milano Leather, heated and cooled. Despite the implementation of a full dual-screen system, I’m glad that the folks at Acura left a few good buttons there for important and frequently-used controls such as the heated seats. They’re amazingly comfortable and the headrests feel as soft as pillows. Front and rear legroom is impeccable, and the classic three-box sedan design means no sloped roofline and maximum headroom for rear-seat passengers. This is a properly comfortable full-size sedan.
Infotainment on the RLX Sport Hybrid isn’t too different from the current MDX and TLX. Acura has kept it fairly standard throughout their lineup. The upper screen, used for primary controls, is the old Honda/Acura system that’s in dire need of an update, but the lower one is a touchscreen, used for climate, phone, navigation input, and simple audio controls. It’s surprisingly responsive, even in cold weather, and works with thin gloves on. Climate controls are fairly user-friendly, and the heated steering wheel warms up quickly. I really like the soft leather Acura has used throughout the cabin of the RLX; this is one seriously luxurious car. One small nitpick I have is with the new push-button “shifter”. The buttons are intuitive and feel high quality, just like everything else in the car, but this is something that will take some getting used to.
We had this car for the two weeks of Christmas holidays. This means a couple members of our team were able to get some decent seat time and analyze everything about this car. Firstly, we observed that in solely highway driving in freezing weather, the RLX couldn’t do much better than 8L/100km. For just under 400 horsepower, this isn’t too bad. Combined mileage over a thousand mixed kilometres was a miserly 8.6L/100km, still very good for this much power. “Sport” mode truly wakes up the car and transforms it into another beast; it morphs from an incredibly serene highway cruiser to a responsive sports cruiser, one I wouldn’t hesitate to explore my favourite hilly roads with.
Hybrids have long since proven themselves to boast superior fuel mileage numbers to their conventional counterparts. However, one key challenge they face is the fact that their battery packs eat up valuable trunk space. My parents were among the first in Canada to buy a Camry Hybrid in 2007, and there were a few times that the car couldn’t be used for family road trips because of the lack of trunk space. The RLX Sport Hybrid boasts quite a bit more space than the smaller Camry, but there is still a noticeable difference in trunk capacity from the regular RLX (3 cubic feet less, to be exact). Senior writer Jeff Wilson argues that because of this (and other things), the Audi A6/A7 TDI or BMW 535d might be better choices as long-distance haulers, and I tend to agree. One other issue we experienced was that the Sport Hybrid’s powertrain tends to make some odd clunking noises on idle for the first 30 seconds or so after a cold start. This could, however, be specific to our particular test car being an early production model.
Like I said before, the regular RLX didn’t particularly impress me. As such, I wasn’t as excited to drive this car, because I assumed it would be slightly faster and slightly more efficient. The styling is elegant and the Jewel-Eye LED headlights are particularly sharp, but these are both factors consistent with the regular RLX. The Sport Hybrid is a beast; it’s a whole new animal and far superior to the regular car. Its predecessor, the RL, was a sharp car but never sold all that well because it was never really a viable alternative to the Germans. The RLX is definitely just that, and much more. This is a niche market car though, and therefore won’t exactly be a strong seller. That’s fine though, because I’m confident that it’s only a matter of a test drive; this is a car that sells itself.
2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Gallery
*Photography by Jeff Wilson*