The 2015 Acura RLX is an understated luxury full-sizer that puts emphasis on unique technical solutions instead of all-out style and flair.
The 2015 RLX is a polite, well-composed premium sedan, a contender in the ring with the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS—without being overtly stylish or brash. That's despite new safety gear, and a superb handling and all-wheel-drive package that make it a nimble performer.
The RLX is Acura's flagship sedan; but it's not the sort of car that screams for attention and recognition. It doesn't feel like a car for extroverts, even though its performance is impressive and satisfying. It's one of the more subtle luxury cars, with an understated design and an interior that's relatively free of gimmickry—and that altogether, we think, makes the RLX an intriguing outlier in the market.
The RLX is a polite, well-composed premium sedan, a contender in the ring with the Cadillac XTS and Lincoln MKS—but it's not taking any risks, nor is it shining enough to run any blue hairs from the VIP list. That's despite some clever looks that hide its front-drive running gear and handling tricks to make us think otherwise.
There isn't much to get jazzed about in the understated sedan either. The design borrows heavily from the BMW 5-Series and adds a softer Acura touch to the chrome on the front end—there's even a hint of muscle on its front fenders. The LED headlights and taillights aren't adventurous, much like the cabin is handsome. Put simply, the sedan is orchestrated, but not inspired. The interior materials are better than any Acura we've found: the leathers and grains are top notch, they could just use a hint of alchemy.
After all, "RLX" is temptingly close to "relax" and that's a sign of how the big Acura handles the road. The engine has been boosted by 10 horsepower, but that's not hugely impressive considering that the Lincoln MKS has 365 hp, and the Hyundai Genesis powers down the road with 429 hp. Acura's own estimates peg the RLX with the best gas mileage in the class, and we agree. There's plenty of steady acceleration, but it suddenly awakes at 3,000 rpm with some satisfying intake snarls that we would love to hear remixed in the upcoming NSX.
The base front-drive RLX skips adaptive suspension that has become common for the class and instead goes with a base setup of coils, links, and digressive dampers. The base suspension doesn't tell a lie: it wants to be mild—not wild—with only a hint of road feedback. The RLX's electric steering is unusual for that reason: it has rear-wheel steering, an effect that stabilizes the RLX on the highway, but sounds like the wrong application for a comfortable cruiser. That's exotic car stuff.
For those with a taste for stronger performance, the Sport Hybird SH-AWD model could be their calling. We've driven it, but Acura doesn't have it listed for sale yet due to an unnamed technical glitch. We didn't notice any hiccups, but Acura doesn't hesitate withholding something from sale until it's ready for prime time.
The Sport Hybrid system, whenever it does go on sale, is a pretty ingenious setup. A hybridized V-6 drives the front wheels, while an all-electric rear differential with two motors sends torque to the rear wheels, recreating digitally the all-wheel-drive wonder that Acura has for so long been able to create with its mechanical Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. The engineering smarts extend to the seven-speed dual-clutch transmission up front, which uses the rear electric motors to get things going from a stop, which avoids the tendency of dual-clutches to step off in a jerky, unluxurious way. The result of all this is refinement and superb handling, with all-electric torque vectoring at the rear to keep the car stable and aid turn-in. While performance is the priority over fuel efficiency with this hybrid system, it still boosts mileage—to 28 mpg city and 32 highway.
Acura's changes to the RLX might sway shoppers looking for more interior room. Although the RLX is roughly the same size as the outgoing RL sedan, its overhang has been shortened and the wheelbase has been stretched by 2 inches, which means more passenger space inside. The front seats are supportive and soft, trimmed in nice leather, but rear head room will be an issue for tall back seat riders and the truck space is only average.
The RLX has a safety-first mission. Acura's first application of active lane control is available, and all RLX sedans include forward collision and lane departure warning systems. The 2015 RLX features a standard complement of safety features and airbags, and it features a driver's front knee bag. Acura says they expect top five-star scores from federal testers, although results aren't yet available. The IIHS has named the sedan a Top Safety Pick+, with top ratings in every category. Adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist work together to become a useful follower in stop-and-go traffic. The system isn't as well calibrated as it is in other vehicles, though; its closest setting is still too far away for tight traffic, letting others cut in front which then sets it off into aggressive braking to keep the distance.
The non-hybrid RLX is offered in five trim levels for 2015: RLX, RLX with Navigation, RLX with Technology package, RLX with Krell Audio package, and RLX with Advance package. All are well-equipped with dual screens for infotainment functions, and top trims get the AcuraLink connectivity package that includes Aha streaming internet radio and an expanded suite of features based on smartphone integration. Acura's navigation system includes real-time traffic information, stolen vehicle tracking, emergency services notification, remote locking/unlocking, and concierge services.
Front-drive 2015 RLX models start from just under $50,000, while the top Advance crests the $60,000 mark. Pricing for the Sport Hybrid model hasn't yet been announced.