Large sedans are not my favorite thing in this world to drive; add the fact that Acura’s RLX Sport Hybrid sedan is – obviously – a hybrid and I’m instantly looking at both dull and mostly boring. I don’t really have anything against large sedans, as they serve a very real market and are comfortable for day-to-day driving. But if it was up to me, happiness is a small sports car and large SUV. If spending the money myself on a large, boring sedan I’d just rather have a large, boring SUV. Or at least that’s my rationale going into this review of the RLX.
If you haven’t heard of the RLX, well, you’re probably not alone. This isn’t a car that Acura sells a lot of, but it is their flagship sedan, replacing the RL back in 2013. Our review car is dubbed the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, which becomes more important later on, as it’s basically the top of the line of the top of the line.
Exterior – Looking around the outside the RLX has all the right lines and details to make it known this is an Acura, but it also closely resembles the proportions of a Lexus LS, although competing more directly with the smaller GS. The hood is long and the body lines carry that long hood in straight lines back to the trunk, making the visuals of this car both very big and very long. Up front you get the now-recognizable Acura beak and some stunning “Jewel Eye” LED headlights. It’s a very appealing design and definitely gives an a(c)ura of luxury and class.
Interior – And when speaking of luxury and class, know the interior is right on par with the exterior, and also full of enough technology to make any techy excited. The Acura brand is targeted at a more tech-minded, younger audience looking to move into a more luxurious vehicle. While you may not be able to tell from the exterior styling – sans the jeweled headlights – the interior conveys that message very well. It all starts with the way you turn on and off the vehicle and put it into gear. You get a push button start standard on all trims and the gear shifter is fully electronic, making you push or pull buttons like you’re preparing for a rocket launch.
The gauges are pretty standard, but you do get a large LCD display between the standard gauges, allowing you to scroll through different menus and information about the vehicle. You also get a heads-up display which can be configured to show things like your current speed or how the RLX is putting power to the ground and utilizing the hybrid system. You get a plethora of steering wheel controls that allow you to configure the LCD or interface with the infotainment system, or set features like the lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control.
Moving over to the center dash you get a two-tiered screen setup with a display screen – up top and pushed back – to display information like the navigation system and hybrid driving monitor. Down below that is a multi-use touchscreen that can be used for tuning the radio, setting the climate, entering navigation information and much more. While I like the idea of this two-tiered setup it can be a bit confusing; personally I think the user interface looks outdated and cheap for such a tech-minded vehicle.
Powertrain – You can buy a RLX with a 3.5-liter V6 engine that delivers 310-horsepower and matched with a 6-speed automatic transmission. That’s all well and good, but our review vehicle is the Sport Hybrid model – note there is not a non-sport hybrid option – which uses the same 3.5-liter V6 engine but is also matched to one electric motor in the front and two electric motors at each rear wheel, giving it Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system or SH-AWD. This setup nets you 377-combined horsepower and 377-lb-ft of torque, and is pushed through a 7-speed dual clutch transmission.
The Drive – The hybrid system is what brings this car alive. Basically the same setup you get in the new NSX supercar, and it really works well in the RLX Sport Hybrid. The Sport Hybrid designation is important because you won’t see an eco button in the car, so while this may help with your economy it’s built to make the car go faster and handle better. The individual electric motors on the rear wheels can have power allocated to each individually, allowing the RLX to transfer power and push you through corners, maintaining grip like no other big sedan I’ve ever driven. Off-the-line acceleration also benefits from this system, as all the motors working together can put that 377-hp to the ground quickly and without fuss. You’re not going to be lighting the tires on fire, but you’ll be propelled forward really quickly. I’ve seen 0-60 times of around 5-seconds flat; for a big sedan this is pretty impressive.
Everything that I don’t enjoy about driving a big sedan is thrown out the window with the RLX Sport Hybrid. Not only is it a good looking and comfortable vehicle, it’s also incredibly quick and light on its feet. You’re able to feel and carve corners decently, and you’ll be surprised every time you mash your foot to the floor.
Competition – When looking at other luxury cars this size you’re comparing brands like the BMW 5-Series, Audi A6, or the Lexus GS. Base MSRP for the RLX with Technology package is $54,450, and you can move up to the Advanced package for $60,450. To get the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD with Technology package is $59,950 and the vehicle we drove was the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD with Advance package, which bases out at $65,950. With destination and handling ($920) our total vehicle price would be $66,870. The base price is on par with the competition, but as soon as you begin equipping something like the BMW 5-Series comparably you’ll be looking at an extra $4k. Both the Lexus and BMW offer hybrid versions, but they’re more traditional hybrid setups unlike the one offered by this Acura.
Overall, I really like the Lexus GS and have always loved BMW and Audi, so pulling anyone away from these brands and convincing them that the Acura is a better deal – without sacrificing luxury – is a hard sell. I think that the Sport Hybrid system could be a game changer in this segment and the more people getting behind the wheel of the Acura the better. If you’re thinking about buying in this market be sure to at least give the RLX a test drive and see what you think. It has definitely changed my mind on the desirability of driving a large luxury sedan, although for my $67K I’d probably still go with a bigger SUV, even if looking at BMW or Lexus.