Full 2014 Acura RLX Review
What's New for 2014
The 2014 Acura RLX is an all-new luxury sedan that replaces the RL at the top of the Acura lineup. The Sport Hybrid model introduces an impressive new hybrid powertrain concept that benefits fuel economy and handling.
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, the new Sport Hybrid version promises 370 horsepower and 30 mpg combined, with the added bonuses of all-wheel drive and sharper handling.
The RLX comes standard 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 feels sure-footed around turns thanks in part to its rear-wheel-steer system (P-AWS). The RLX Sport Hybrid is even sportier, as its AWD system can redirect power to individual wheels to enhance the car's stability and quickness. With either RLX, however, numb-feeling steering takes away some of the sporting cred.
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. The base model is 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 2014 Audi A6, 2014 BMW 5 Series and 2014 Lexus GS 350 are more entertaining to drive, while the new 2015 Hyundai Genesis offers many of the same tech features while undercutting the RLX on price.
The RLX Sport Hybrid is far more appealing. We like its strong fuel economy compared to other hybrid luxury sedans, along with its improved performance and handling. If you're thinking of getting an RLX, the Sport Hybrid would be our pick.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2014 Acura RLX is a midsize luxury sedan available in two models: base and Sport Hybrid. There are also a series of packages, which Acura technically refers to as trim levels. There are no stand-alone options.
The base RLX starts you off with 18-inch wheels, LED headlights, a sunroof, keyless ignition and entry, a power tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, heated eight-way power front seats (with four-way power lumbar), driver memory settings, leatherette (premium 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.
The Navigation package 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 RLX Sport Hybrid includes all of the above equipment, but also adds its unique gas-electric powertrain, special noise-reducing 19-inch wheels, a head-up display, an electronic gear selector and a special accelerator pedal that encourages economical driving.
The Technology package equips either RLX model with 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. The base version also gets 19-inch wheels.
The Advance package 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.
The Krell Audio package is exclusive to the base RLX and adds a deluxe 14-speaker Krell sound system and full sunshade coverage for the backseat.
Powertrains and Performance
The base Acura RLX comes standard with a 310-hp 3.5-liter V6 engine. Front-wheel drive and a six-speed automatic transmission with both a Sport mode and steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are standard. In Edmunds testing, a 2014 RLX with the Advance package went from zero to 60 mph in 6.3 seconds, which is average for a midsize luxury sedan. The EPA rates the RLX at 24 mpg combined (20 city/31 highway), which are above-average numbers for a six-cylinder luxury sedan.
The RLX Sport Hybrid comes with the same V6, but things get different from there with the addition of three electric motors. One is integrated within the Sport Hybrid's seven-speed automated manual transmission to assist the gasoline V6 in powering the front wheels, while the others power one rear wheel each. The result is a unique all-wheel-drive system and a total output of 377 hp. EPA-estimated fuel economy is an excellent 30 mpg combined (28/32).
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.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety has performed its battery of tests on the RLX, resulting in a top score of "Good" in all tests for moderate-overlap and small-overlap frontal-offset impact safety, side-impact safety, roof strength, and seatbelt and head restraint design for whiplash reduction.
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 versatility is limited due to rear seats that do not fold (there is a ski pass-through), but its 15.3 cubic feet of space (15.1 with Krell audio) is certainly average for the segment. It does go down to 12 cubic feet with the Sport Hybrid, but that's actually pretty good for a hybrid sedan.
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. Unfortunately, neither screen boasts the super-crisp graphics we've come to expect of this class, and some of the more basic functions (such as turning on the seat heaters) require multiple pushes of virtual touchscreen buttons, which can be distracting. A relative lack of radio presets is another disappointment.
The Sport Hybrid's cabin differs slightly. A standard head-up display (an Acura first) shows hybrid system power distribution along with the usual speed readout, while the traditional shifter has been replaced by an odd electronic selector. It has push buttons for Park, Neutral and Drive, but Reverse is engaged with a switch you pull up. It's ergonomically awkward and different for the sake of being different.
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 numb steering is at least 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.
Things get better with the Sport Hybrid, as its trick electric all-wheel-drive system can accelerate an outside rear wheel while braking the inside one to whip you around corners with tenacity. The added power provided by those rear electric motors also provides an exciting burst of acceleration that you don't get from the base RLX or other all-wheel-drive sedans. Unfortunately, though, nothing changes in terms of that numb steering and despite its commendable abilities, the Sport Hybrid still falls short in terms of the engagement one expects from a proper sport sedan.