What's New for 2014
The 2014 Acura RLX is an all-new luxury sedan that takes its place at the top of the Acura lineup. A front-wheel-drive version will be available initially, followed by a more powerful and fuel-efficient all-wheel-drive hybrid model late in the 2013 calendar year.
Acura has struggled to find its identity in recent years, and nowhere has that been more apparent than at the top of the lineup. The 2014 Acura RLX is the brand's new flagship and the successor to the discontinued RL, a midsize luxury sedan that found few customers in spite of its solid credentials. Although not radically different in design or personality, the RLX is a more spacious car and it's packed with all the latest technology. Plus, there's an AWD hybrid version coming in late 2013 that promises 370 horsepower and 30 mpg (combined) under one roof.
For now, the RLX is available only with front-wheel drive and a 3.5-liter V6 engine rated at 310 hp. Although you'll likely be content with the car's acceleration in traffic, you might be put off by the big Acura's often busy ride: An Edmunds pre-production test vehicle with the available 19-inch wheels and tires had difficulty filtering out bumps and ruts, both large and small. On the upside, the RLX has precise steering and feels sure-footed around turns, though based on our early drives, the AWD RLX Hybrid will be the more satisfying pick for anyone wanting an authentic sport sedan experience.
By far, the best reason to consider the 2014 Acura RLX is its tech-laden interior. New driver aids include all-speed adaptive cruise control that provides set-it-and-forget-it capability in heavy traffic, along with a collision mitigation system, a blind spot warning system and a lane departure system that's able to both warn you and nudge you back into your lane via steering input.
There are now two grades of Acura's typically excellent ELS audio system, plus an elite 14-speaker system designed by Krell, a company that specializes in high-end home audio. Getting started with the navigation system couldn't be more straightforward, and on top of that, Acura is offering three cloud-based smartphone apps that provide additional music content, improved rerouting capability for the nav system and emergency services. If a user-friendly audio-navigation interface is really important to you, the RLX deserves a look, particularly if you plan to make extensive use of your phone in the car.
In other respects, though, the RLX fades into the midsize luxury sedan pack. It's an unremarkable car to drive, and apart from its arresting LED headlights, the styling is utterly forgettable. Even the high-tech interior is lacking in elegance, as the navigation screen is the same size and resolution as the one you'll find in a Honda Accord. Buyers have plenty of choices in this price range, of course: The Audi A6, BMW 5 Series and Lexus GS 350 are more entertaining to drive, while the Mercedes-Benz E350 is more luxurious. Meanwhile, big sedans like the Cadillac XTS and Hyundai Genesis offer many of the same tech features while undercutting the RLX on price. Indeed, this is a tough crowd and the front-drive Acura RLX is largely outmatched. The AWD hybrid version can't get here soon enough.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Acura RLX is a midsize luxury sedan available in five trim levels: base, RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, RLX with Krell Audio package, and RLX with Advance package. There are no à la carte options.
The base RLX starts you off with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, eight-way power front seats (with four-way power lumbar), heating and memory functions for the front seats, leatherette (vinyl) upholstery and tri-zone automatic climate control. Also standard are a rearview camera, Bluetooth, SMS text-to-speech capability for MAP-enabled phones and a 10-speaker ELS sound system with a CD player, digital music storage, a USB/iPod interface, HD radio and satellite radio.
Moving up to the RLX with Navigation adds navigation capability for the 8-inch screen that's already at the top of the dash, plus access to the AcuraLink suite of smartphone apps. In addition, the climate control system uses the nav system's GPS to adjust cabin temperature according to the angle of the sun.
The Technology package equips the car with 19-inch wheels, rain-sensing wipers, power-retractable mirrors, a blind spot monitoring system, noise-reducing acoustic glass, leather upholstery, wood interior accents and a 14-speaker ELS sound system. Also, the keyless system now works on all four doors, rather than just the front doors and trunk. Upgrading to the RLX with Krell Audio provides the deluxe 14-speaker Krell sound system, plus full sunshade coverage for the backseat.
Finally, there's the RLX with Advance package, which adds adaptive cruise control, a collision mitigation system with automatic braking, a lane keeping assist system, front and rear parking sensors, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
Powertrains and Performance
Acura will offer two different powertrains on the 2014 Acura RLX.
Front-wheel-drive RLXs have a 310-hp 3.5-liter V6 paired with a six-speed automatic transmission that has both a sport mode and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters. In Edmunds testing, a 2014 RLX Advance went from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, which is average for a midsize luxury sedan. The EPA rates the RLX at 20 mpg city/31 mpg highway and 24 combined, which are above-average numbers for a six-cylinder luxury sedan.
Later in the year, Acura will add the RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD model, which will deliver a combined 370 hp from its gasoline and electric power sources. This RLX will use a seven-speed automated manual transmission, and Acura claims it will have EPA ratings of 30 mpg city/30 mpg highway and 30 mpg combined.
The 2014 RLX comes with antilock disc brakes, front-seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags and a driver knee airbag. A rearview camera is standard, but you have to move all the way up to the Advance package to get front and rear parking sensors. That package is also your ticket to collision mitigation and lane keeping assist. A blind spot monitoring system is included starting with the Technology package trim level.
In Edmunds testing, the 2014 RLX managed a 60-0-mph braking distance of 120 feet, an average number for this class.
Interior Design and Special Features
You'll immediately be struck by the sheer amount of space inside the Acura RLX. It feels noticeably roomier than the old RL or the TL. Legroom is plentiful in both the front and rear, but 6-footers will find the headroom tight in the backseat and clearance under the front chairs is low, so forget about sliding your feet under them. The front seats are broad and comfy, but we've found them lacking in support on longer drives. Trunk space is average for this class at 15.3 cubic feet (15.1 with Krell audio). The rear seats do not fold, but there's a ski pass-through.
Using the navigation system is simple and intuitive, as Acura allows you to look up destinations by the central control dial, a new 7-inch touchscreen interface (mounted below the 8-inch nav screen) or an enhanced voice recognition system. The touchscreen provides both haptic and audible feedback, and in our experience, this helps minimize the amount of time you spend looking away from the road. Although it's hard to fault the control layout in the RLX on a functional level, it looks cluttered and dated (especially the low-resolution navigation screen). We were impressed with the fit and finish on our RLX test car, but materials quality, although nice, is still a half-step behind the rich leather and wood treatments in rival sedans from Germany.
Most owners will be satisfied with the performance of the 2014 Acura RLX in normal driving. Its V6 doesn't feel as potent as the six-cylinders in the A6 and 5 Series, but this engine is quiet and smooth, with plenty of power for passing when you need it. The transmission provides quick, smooth shifts.
The RLX doesn't ride with the same composure as other sedans in this class. When fitted with the 19-inch wheels, it feels harsh when driving over rough patches at low speeds, while the ride on the highway can be bouncy. Only on truly smooth pavement does the RLX ride like a luxury sedan. Take it around a few turns, and the big Acura is steady but not particularly athletic. The steering is precise, though, and the car's standard rear-wheel steering system subtly and effectively steers the rear wheels ever so slightly to help the RLX get around tight corners.