2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid First Drive | Edmunds

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid First Drive

A Sharper Look and Ride, but Modern Touch Is Lacking

Acura sought to leapfrog the competition when it introduced the RLX Sport Hybrid sedan in 2014. While most other car companies were focused on squeezing maximum all-electric range out of their luxury hybrids, the RLX Hybrid used its electric motors to deliver improved performance along with added efficiency.

Unfortunately for Acura, neither critics nor the market was satisfied. The RLX sport didn't have the looks, performance or features buyers were looking for, especially at a price point similar to that of a well-equipped BMW 5-Series or Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan. The 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid has been given a significant update this year in hopes of revitalizing the floundering flagship. How significant? We got behind the wheel for an extended drive to find out.

Charting the Changes
For starters, the RLX's sheet metal is new from the base of the windshield forward. The hood features more dramatic topography, and the grille inherits Acura's latest styling language. That old "power plenum" beak has been rhinoplastied with extreme prejudice, which is for the best.

The headlights retain Acura's jewel-eye lenses but come in redesigned housings with integrated LED turn signals and daytime running lights. New side skirts draw the line of the new chin spoiler back along the car to a rear end that's been updated with all-LED taillights. Whether or not the plastic surgery has worked is up to the eye of the beholder, but it's undeniably more interesting-looking than before.

Inside, Acura updated the cabin design with new colors and improved materials, along with all-new seats. The seats are comfortable and refreshingly simple to adjust. They're not quite as accommodating as the optional thrones offered by some of the Germans, but they're supportive, all-day comfortable seats clad in high-quality leather. As an added bonus, both front seats in the RLX are heated and ventilated.

Spacious and Well-Trimmed Cabin
Almost everything you touch in the RLX's cabin feels premium, and even the plastics are nicely finished. However, the overall design doesn't have quite the punch of the latest E-Class or 5 Series, which both benefit from more recent ground-up redesigns.

The second row is spacious, with plenty of legroom and headroom in line with what we expect from the class. The rear seats are comfortable, and in the Sport Hybrid they're also heated. Retractable window shades all around make it feel that much more comfortable.

For 2018, the battery pack responsible for powering the electric motors has been upgraded so that it can pack the same amount of energy into a smaller space. This change doesn't make the RLX Sport Hybrid all that much more practical, however, since the trunk is still significantly smaller than those of gas-powered rivals. It also suffers from the fact that the rear seats don't fold down and a lack of a pass-through for long items.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

New Features That Work and One That Doesn't
For 2018, Acura has updated the RLX's driver aids, including a new Traffic Jam Assist mode that combines lane keeping assist with adaptive cruise control capable of bringing the car to a complete stop. It's not groundbreaking for the class, but it works well and is a marked improvement over older Acura setups.

Under the skin, a few tweaks have been made to the suspension and transmission programming. We noticed an improved ride quality that irons out most road imperfections with little cabin intrusion. Only the largest of potholes result in noticeable bounce. The cabin is well-insulated from traffic, road and wind noise, which makes for a very relaxing drive.

Unfortunately, the RLX's infotainment system has not been updated, and Acura's split-screen setup is well behind the curve for the class. It gives Lexus' Remote Touch system a run for its money in terms of complexity and lack of user-friendliness. It's also missing features we expect to see in $20,000 compact sedans, let alone top-shelf luxury cars.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Hybrid Remains the Same
The RLX Sport Hybrid still uses a 3.5-liter V6 and an electric motor to drive the front wheels. Each of the rear wheels is also driven by an independent electric motor. Altogether they generate up to 377 horsepower, which makes the RLX capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in 5 seconds flat, according to Acura. When it comes to mileage, the official EPA estimate is 28 mpg in combined driving.

The RLX Sport Hybrid can handle low speeds on electric power alone, but when it needs to use the V6 engine, the transition from electric to gas is a smooth one. The resulting surge of power is easy to modulate, and the engine noise is minimal. In fact, the only time you notice the engine running is when it kicks on to support the batteries when the car is stopped. In Sport mode, the V6 remains on at all times, so the electric motors only work to boost acceleration and give added control through turns.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

The Sport Side of the Equation
Considering how smoothly the RLX rides, its confident handling is a surprising plus. The ride doesn't feel as buttoned-down as in some competitors, and there's some noticeable body roll, but those characteristics belie the RLX Sport Hybrid's capabilities. Whether you're on the gas or not, the car uses the electric motors on the back wheels to help keep the car on its line through curves. The Sport Hybrid doesn't try to mimic the dynamics of a sports car, but it does let you enjoy yourself when the road gets twisty, and it does so with aplomb.

We didn't have a chance to drive a base RLX, which has front-wheel drive coupled with rear-wheel steering (referred to by Acura as P-AWS), but we do know that it receives many of the same cosmetic updates as the Sport Hybrid. It also goes without quite a few of the Sport Hybrid's luxuries, such as ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, the premium sound system and a surround-view camera. It does receive a significant mechanical upgrade in the form of a new 10-speed automatic transmission paired with its 310-horsepower V6.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Our Verdict
There is one last major change to the RLX Sport Hybrid for 2018 and that's the price. Unlike last year, the Sport Hybrid comes fully loaded, rolling the single options package from last year — which included features such as the ventilated seats and driver aids — into the standard trim. It also costs $4,000 less than a fully loaded 2017 model, coming in at $62,865. At this price, the RLX Sport Hybrid costs thousands less than similarly equipped rivals.

So has Acura done enough with this refresh to make the RLX Sport Hybrid competitive? It's certainly an entertaining, efficient and comfortable luxury car, but its interior design and infotainment technology feel out-of-date compared to its more modern rivals. It does have a pricing advantage, however, so it'll cost you around $3,000-$5,000 less than similarly equipped competitors. If that's more appealing to you than a modern technology interface, the RLX Sport Hybrid is worth a look.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

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