The 2018 Acura RLX is the flagship sedan from the luxury division of Honda. The RLX tends to fly beneath the radar compared to more popular rivals like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and Lexus GS, but look closer and you'll find a cutting-edge powertrain and a strong value proposition.
You'll Like The 2018 Acura RLX If...
If you prioritize high-tech engineering and value over driving a luxury sedan that everyone immediately recognizes and envies, the 2018 Acura RLX is worth considering. Of the two trims, we recommend the RLX Sport Hybrid, which has standard all-wheel drive, more power, added features and higher fuel efficiency.
You May Not Like The 2018 Acura RLX If...
Compared to rivals, the RLX offers far fewer trims, doesn't have CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone integration, and isn't as well known. And while Acura vehicles have a good record of reliability, the RLX's resale value is below average.
For 2018, the Acura RLX sedan gets updates to its exterior and interior, including a stylish new grille and redesigned seats. Standard V6 models gain a 10-speed automatic transmission, and Sport Hybrid variants get a new battery pack that yields more trunk space. Also new is Traffic Jam Assist, which helps keep the vehicle centered in lanes.
The Acura RLX has a spacious 5-passenger cabin, with generous room both front and rear. The 12-way-power front seats have been redesigned with more bolstering. We found them comfortable even after a full day of driving. Rear-seat legroom is generous at 38.8 inches. In the standard RLX, trunk cargo room is respectable at 14.9 cubic feet, though that trails the 18-plus of the Lexus GS and Mercedes E-Class. Even though it's been slightly expanded for 2018, the RLX Hybrid's cargo space is limited to 12 cubic feet due to its battery pack. Also, there is no pass-through in the hybrid variant. The infotainment system is centered around a twin-screen system, with an 8-inch screen on top that relays information such as navigation, and a 7-inch touch screen below for audio and climate features. Functions are relatively easy to use, but the system is starting to feel dated, and there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration -- both of which can be had in a Honda Fit economy car.
At the introduction of the 2018 RLX, Acura execs admit that the past styling of this flagship was too sedate, especially considering the performance positioning of the Sport Hybrid. It's a "wolf in sheep's clothing," they said. But with this mid-cycle refresh, Acura "lets more of the wolf show." The metal is all-new up front from the windshield's A-pillar, with the biggest visual distinction being the new diamond-pentagon grille. The rear fascia of this 4-door luxury sedan has also been freshened, with a new, horizontal taillight treatment that really pops. Size-wise, the 2018 RLX remains something of a tweener between mid- and full-size. At over 198 inches in length it is longer than rivals such as the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes E-Class, Lexus GS and Audi A6.
The RLX comes in two flavors, both of which have admirable power and comfort. But your needs and desires will determine whether you go with the standard, front-wheel-drive (FWD) V6 model or the RLX Sport Hybrid, which has all-wheel drive (AWD) standard and a sophisticated powertrain shared in part from the Acura NSX supercar. If you live where it snows or has inclement weather, you'll appreciate the excellent traction from Acura's "super handling all-wheel-drive" (SH-AWD) system. This is also the model to get if you have a performance bent. With a total of 377 horsepower from the V6 and three electric motors, the Sport Hybrid has a 67-horsepower advantage over the standard model. Beyond the extra power is how it's implemented. That electric assist means power is on tap over a broad range. And kudos to the AWD system, which provided great grip when driven hard on L.A.'s famed Mulholland Drive. As a pure sports sedan, we still give the nod to a BMW 5 Series, which has more steering feel and a more agile nature. Where the RLX shines is as a sophisticated sleeper with a quiet and comfortable ride, and a gasoline/electric powertrain that is among the most sophisticated in the business.
The 2018 Acura RLX sedan has a Manufacturer's Suggested Retail Price (MSRP) starting at $55,865 for the base model or $62,865 for the RLX Sport Hybrid. Acura has changed the pricing structure for 2018, and by making standard in the Sport Hybrid formerly optional features, has actually dropped the price by several thousand dollars. Rivals such as the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, Lexus GS, Audi GS and Volvo S90 actually start for less, but the caveat is that their base models use a 4-cylinder engine and don't have as long a list of standard features. Dollar for dollar, the RLX is a good value considering its features, and that's even more so for the technologically sophisticated Sport Hybrid. Before buying, be sure to check the KBB.com Fair Purchase Price to see what others in your area are paying for their new Acura. As for holding its value, the RLX's predicted resale value has traditionally fared worse than its rivals.
For 2018, Acura has further simplified the offerings in this low-volume seller. The standard RLX has a V6 engine and Acura's P-AWS system -- that stands for Precision All-Wheel Steer -- and a roster of amenities. They include leather interior, navigation with real-time traffic, tri-zone climate control, 12-way-power front seats with heating, moonroof, and 14-speaker audio system with Bluetooth, USB input and HD Radio. The AcuraWatch safety and driver-assist system bundles forward-collision warning with automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, blind-spot monitoring, lane-departure warning and lane-keep assist.
The way to get more amenities and features in a 2018 RLX is by stepping up to the Sport Hybrid model. In addition to more power and its sophisticated powertrain, it adds that fine Krell audio system (see Favorite Features), ventilated front seats, heated rear seats and heated steering wheel, surround-view camera, parking sensors, head-up display and an upgraded climate system with air-quality sensor. Other nice touches include a power rear sunshade, windshield de-icer and auto-dimming side mirrors. Options in the traditional sense are limited to premium exterior paint for a very reasonable $400 and dealer accessories.
PUTTING THE SPORT IN HYBRID
Hybrids aren't usually associated with power and performance, but the RLX Sport Hybrid bucks that notion. Melding a V6 engine with three electric motors -- including two in back that independently power each rear wheel -- this top-line RLX is an engineering marvel with skillful road manners and an innovative AWD system.
14-SPEAKER KRELL AUDIO SYSTEM
Here's another reason to opt for the RLX Sport Hybrid. Krell has long been a respected maker of some of the finest home audio hardware that money can buy, and the RLX Sport Hybrid is currently the only vehicle available with its car audio system.
Under the Hood
The standard RLX is front-wheel drive and is powered by a 3.5-liter V6. New this year is a 10-speed automatic transmission that replaces the previous 6-speed. It is perfectly acceptable and comfortable for a premium car, but not all that engaging to drive. Our preference is the all-wheel-drive RLX Sport Hybrid, which pairs the 3.5-liter V6 engine with three electric motors. One of the motors is housed in front, integrated into the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and turns with the crankshaft. The two others are in back, each powering a rear wheel. In addition to providing power, they can also apply negative torque vectoring through regenerative braking. All this happens behind the scenes, but the effect is smooth and can be engaging when pushed.
310 horsepower @ 6,500 rpm
272 lb-ft of torque @ 4,500 rpm
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 20/29 mpg
3.5-liter V6 + 3-motor hybrid (RLX Sport Hybrid)
377 horsepower (combined)
341 lb-ft of torque (combined)
EPA city/highway fuel economy: 28/29 mpg
The 2018 Acura RLX is the flagship sedan from the luxury division of Honda. The RLX tends to fly beneath the radar compared to more popular rivals like the BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, Audi A6 and Lexus GS, but look closer and you'll find a cutting-edge powertrain and a strong value proposition. The RLX luxury sedan is available in two forms: as a standard, V6-powered model, or the Sport Hybrid. In this case, "hybrid" and "sport" do go hand in hand, thanks to a sophisticated system that pairs a V6 with three electric motors and an impressive all-wheel-drive system. For 2018, the Acura RLX gains freshened styling, more standard features and a price drop in an effort to bring this outlier further into the circle of consideration.