Can Acura keep up with BMW and Lexus?
The Acura RLX probably isn’t the first, second, or third car that comes to mind when you think of midsize luxury sedans. How do you boost the relevancy of a sedan with few buyers in a segment with slow sales? You give it a bolder look and drop the price.
If this was the strategy, it might just be working. After slipping in the sales charts every year since its debut in 2013, the RLX is now on the upswing. First-quarter sales this year jumped 58 percent from 2017. Acura sold 463 copies of its midsize sedan, still well below the 10,000+ sales BMW garnered for its 5 Series.
A 2018 refresh brings a polarizing new design. I noticed it draws attention, but it’s overwhelming to the eyes if you look at it too long. Like other new vehicles in Acura’s stable, it has a diamond pentagon grille with an enormous badge in the middle. New headlights, a redesigned hood, restyled LED taillights, a gloss black rear diffuser, and exposed dual exhaust finishers are just some of the other updates to the exterior. To simplify the lineup, Acura is offering only two trim levels, one for each powertrain option: the all-gas RLX and the RLX Sport Hybrid. The hybrid model made up 13 percent of total RLX sales before the refresh, but Acura says that figure is up to more than 40 percent now.
We recently tested the Sport Hybrid, which uses a 3.5-liter V-6 paired to three electric motors for a total system output of 377 hp and 341 lb-ft of torque. The powertrain carries over from the 2017 model year, backed by a familiar seven-speed dual-clutch transmission. In Motor Trend tests, the sedan hit 60 mph in 4.9 seconds.
“I really like the power delivery on this thing,” associate road test editor Erick Ayapana said. “It’s smooth and linear, and it feels quicker than its acceleration numbers suggest.”
The Acura’s time matched a 335-hp 2017 BMW 540i we previously tested. In the figure eight, the RLX Sport Hybrid fell short of the BMW’s time of 25.7 seconds at an average of 0.73 g, clocking 26.9 seconds at an average of 0.67 g.
Perhaps a more direct competitor is the Lexus GS 450h, given it’s a fellow hybrid. Making 338 hp, the Lex took 6.0 seconds to reach 60 mph, yet it managed a superior figure-eight time of 26.3 seconds at an average of 0.70 g.
“I did feel the AWD doing a nice job of shuffling the power around on the skidpad where normally I’d be adjusting my line with the steering wheel,” road test editor Chris Walton noted of the RLX during testing. “There’s not a lot of grip from the tires, however.”
On the road, the RLX doesn’t feel floppy like many other large sedans. Instead, you’re able to steer the car precisely to where you want it to go. It benefits from Acura’s torque-vectoring Super Handling-All Wheel Drive, which doles out power as needed between the front and rear wheels as well as the individual back wheels. That said, this 4,341-pound (1,969 kg) sedan feels pretty heavy at low speeds, and steering requires a bit more muscle than usual.
Unlike many hybrids, this RLX benefits from sharp, not deflated, brakes, although they are perhaps a bit oversensitive. Our test team also praised the RLX for its reasonable body control under hard braking.
The RLX Sport Hybrid boasts better EPA fuel economy figures than the most efficient BMW 540i (21/30/24 mpg city/highway/combined), but it doesn’t perform as well as the Lexus GS 450h (29/34/31 mpg). The Acura’s 28/29/28 mpg rating from the EPA matches pretty closely with our Real MPG tests, which came in at 26.4/29.3/27.8 mpg.
The cabin remains relatively insulated from wind and road noise while cruising on the highway, although it’s not the quietest luxury sedan we’ve encountered. Plush materials encompass you once you’re inside, but all that fine leather is surrounded by old technology. One week with Acura’s infotainment system will have you eyeing the system on the Honda Accord. The two-screen setup is cumbersome and eats up free space on the center stack. Old graphics on the top navigation screen reduces its appeal, and the bottom screen is slow to respond to touch. Also, you won’t find Apple CarPlay or Android Auto on this sedan.
Despite its Acura badge, but don’t be fooled—this sedan is priced up there with competitors from BMW and Lexus. At $63,265 USD, our tester was admittedly fully loaded with standard 12-way power front seats, a power moonroof, a head-up display, heated front and rear seats, ventilated front seats, a 14-speaker Krell audio system, a surround-view camera, a heated steering wheel, and navigation. Many of these features are offered on the standard Advance package. Standard safety features include adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, collision mitigation braking, lane keeping assist, and a new traffic jam assist feature that helps drivers keep centered in their lane and at a set distance from the vehicle in front. The only extra feature on our tester was a premium $400 USD red paint job. For the new model year, Acura lowered the price on the Sport Hybrid by $4,050 USD compared to the outgoing model with the Advance package. The automaker previously offered a less expensive, lower-contented RLX Sport Hybrid with the Technology package, but it had a take rate of just 1 percent.
The RLX is Acura’s lowest-selling model shy of the NSX supercar. Acura sells way more MDX and RDX crossovers, but the RLX holds its own as a spacious flagship and unlikely cruise missile with solid cornering abilities. That said, the refresh fails to address the model’s aging technology and “large barge” feeling.
|2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD|
|PRICE AS TESTED||$63,265|
|VEHICLE LAYOUT||Front-engine, AWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan|
|ENGINE||3.5L/310-hp/273-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve V-6 plus 47-hp/109-lb-ft front elec motor; 377 hp/341 lb-ft comb|
|CURB WEIGHT (F/R DIST)||4,341 lb (57/43%)|
|LENGTH x WIDTH x HEIGHT||198.1 x 74.4 x 57.7 in|
|0-60 MPH||4.9 sec|
|QUARTER MILE||13.6 sec @ 101.4 mph|
|BRAKING, 60-0 MPH||120 ft|
|LATERAL ACCELERATION||0.85 g (avg)|
|MT FIGURE EIGHT||26.9 sec @ 0.67 g (avg)|
|REAL MPG, CITY/HWY/COMB||26.4/29.3/27.8 mpg|
|EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON||28/29/28 mpg|
|ENERGY CONS, CITY/HWY||120/116 kW-hrs/100 miles|
|CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB||0.68 lb/mile|