Acura's flagship sedan, the RL, has been slowly fading from the luxury buyer's view. An aging design, coupled with too little power, too little personality and a growing fleet of luxury and near-luxury competitors, comprise the short list of reasons for the RL's demise. But Acura isn't about to go quietly into luxury car oblivion. Instead, they've launched an entirely new luxury sedan, dubbed the 2014 Acura RLX, which if you say it quickly sounds remarkably like "Rolex." To prove that its resurgence has teeth, Acura invited us to test the new RLX in the serene countryside that is Calistoga, Calif. Here, roads twist and wind like a giant asphalt GI tract, challenging even the most well-tuned suspension to remain planted. Even the previous RL would likely stumble when pushed hard -- a victim to a front-wheel-drive layout prone to understeer (a front-drive car's tendency to plow straight ahead when the wheels are turned).
A Cockpit Redefined
Climbing behind the RLX's wheel, the first thing we noticed was just how big this car really is. The RLX's feeling of heft and solidity is obvious from the outside, but it's what we found inside that really surprised us: room, and lots of it. I'm a lean guy, as was my co-pilot for the trip, but even my linear 6-feet-2-inches frame found plenty of space for my oversized head and gangly legs. Additional room is found at the sides, where scalloped door panels and a narrow center console create enormous lateral space, so much so that I continually found my left arm dropping into the existing chasm between myself and the door armrest. Similarly large proportions are assigned to the rear quarters, where two "me-sized" adults can comfortably sit. Speaking of comfort, the RLX's multi-adjustable front seats are some of the most supportive and comfortable we've experienced in a long while.
The interior itself is handsomely styled, with lots of leather padding on the doors, dash and seats, and the obligatory dark wood trim inlays. But there is a decided lack of color here, with only a stoic gray and deep black environment option from which to choose. The dash is well organized with two large LCD displays prominently figured, one for the radio/HVAC/phone controls, the other displaying a large color navigation screen. Everyone agreed that giving the navigation system its own screen simplified the user experience. However, having to toggle through three menu screens just to adjust the fan speed proves there is still a place in this world for proper rotary knobs. There are multiple redundant controls on the steering wheel for the audio, Bluetooth, adaptive cruise control and information screens -- all easy to use and understand. Unfortunately, creating a wheel big enough to accommodate said buttons completely blocks the line of site to the control stalks behind it. Clever features litter the RLX's cabin, including an ingenious double hinged console lid that can be opened either by the driver or passenger. On the technical side, AcuraLink cloud-based service has the ability to link smartphone apps to the audio system, receive and send text messages and even reroute when traffic or street closures are detected. The system also features two optional service packages that include mobile assist, search and vehicle date, as well as live help from your own personal 24-hour Concierge. Oh, and music lovers will delight at the available 14-speaker Krell audio system.
Taking On the Twisties
Although the 2014 Acura RLX's styling isn't a radical departure from previous Acura luxury sedans, its mechanical underpinnings are. First and foremost is the Precision All-Wheel Steering setup (PAWS for short), which features electronic actuators at the rear wheels to control toe in and out. This setup gives the RLX the handling abilities of an all-wheel-drive car without the added fuel-sapping weight of additional hardware. We can attest to the system's abilities, and they are nothing short of incredible for a front-drive car. Powering the RLX is a direct injection 3.5-liter V6 engine producing 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. While we applaud this engine's impressive output, it still lags the low-end punch delivered by a V8 (something many of the RLX's rivals offer), and its fuel economy figures of 20 miles per gallon city and 31 mpg highway don't exactly hit the high water mark. Power is routed through a very capable 6-speed automatic with a Sport mode setting that also recalibrates the electric power steering assist and PAWS system. Later in the year, Acura will introduce an all-wheel-drive hybrid model, but more on that to come.
In all, the RLX surprised us with its competent handling, comfortable ride and quiet and spacious interior. It's a very easy car to live with, which in the end is what most luxury buyers are looking for. Read more in my full review, which is coming soon.
The 2014 RLX is expected to go on sale mid March with a starting price of about $48,000 and pushing north of $60,000 when fully equipped.