If the Acura RLX's weak sales figures are anything to go by, its subtlety is lost on most consumers.
With its understated design, the Acura RLX doesn't do a lot to stand out in the competitive mid-size luxury sedan field. Yet beneath its derivative looks lies an advanced chassis and a powertrain that inspired the company's NSX supercar.
We're not totally sold on the RLX's chops as a $50,000-plus luxury car, however, so we've awarded it a 6.5 out of 10 overall, knocking it mainly for its looks and an overall feel that's somewhat sub-luxury. (Read more about how we rate cars.)
The RLX marches into 2017 unchanged aside from the discontinuation of last year's base model, remaining available in front- and all-wheel drive variants with a choice of Technology and Advance trim levels.
Acura RLX styling and performance
It may look a lot like an overgrown Honda Accord, but the Acura RLX shares little with its parent company's high-volume model. The RLX's front fascia is clean, a result of last year's mild refresh that brought with it minor adjustments that nonetheless keep it light on sizzle compared to the more evocative Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Volvo S80, among others.
Inside, the story is much the same; if you like the Accord, you're going to like the RLX, even though they're essentially unrelated cars. There's a two-tier dashboard with twin LCD screens, which comes across as an oddball approach to solving the inherent complexity concerns raised by increasingly baffling infotainment systems.
Behind that anonymous facade sits the heart of a sports car, at least in the RLX Sport Hybrid. But let's back up for a moment; this is actually the tale of two RLXs. A front-wheel-drive variant delivers 310 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V-6. The Sport Hybrid adds to that powertrain a pair of electric motors good for an extra 47 hp. Those electric motors deliver power to the rear wheels, making the RLX Sport Hybrid among the more advanced all-wheel drive cars on the market.
Regardless of powertrain, the RLX lives up to a name that's only two vowels away from “relax" which is a clear predictor of how the front-driver tackles the road. There's ample but steady acceleration and an intake snarl reminiscent of (but way toned down compared to) the NSX. The front-wheel drive RLX's electric steering has actuators on the back wheels that work in concert to deliver rear-wheel steering in order to aid highway stability on the freeway.
The performance pick is the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) version of the RLX. The hybrid setup is smart, and helps the hybrid be not only fuel efficient but also relatively fun to drive. A hybridized 3.5-liter V-6 drives the front wheels while a smart differential and pair of electric motors handle duties in the back. It's a digital take on all-wheel drive, but also allows the system to act as a torque vectoring sedan with sharper turn-in and response. The engineering know-how goes further with the 7-speed dual-clutch automatic that lets the electric motors handle take-off duty, to avoid any jerkiness commonly associated with dual-clutch automatics. The setup prioritizes performance over fuel efficiency, but the latter doesn't suffer: the EPA rates the Sport Hybrid at 28 mpg city, 32 highway.
Acura RLX comfort, safety, and features
One major downside to the Sport Hybrid model's electric motors is that they rob the trunk of a considerable amount of room. On the other hand, its interior provides good space for front seat passengers and decent room for anyone under about 6 feet in the second row. Taller second row riders will find compromised head room.
The RLX's interior is well-outfitted but not exactly elaborate in its design or materials. Every rival feels more special inside than the deeply conservative Acura.
Acura makes active lane control available in the RLX, the first application for the brand. All RLX models have standard forward collision and lane departure warnings. In addition to the usual lineup of airbags, the RLX features a driver's side knee airbag for additional protection. The IIHS rated the RLX a Top Safety Pick, acing every test by the independent agency, except the newer headlight test. We've found that the adaptive cruise control can be useful, but it's not as well calibrated as other systems, especially in its follow functions. There's still too much space between the RLX and the car ahead of it, even in the closest setting, so when you're inevitably cut off by another driver the system responds viciously and quickly. Last year's update rebranded the active safety suite to AcuraWatch, and added an available surround-view camera system with rear cross-traffic monitoring that can spot vehicles while backing up.
Acura has pared the RLX's lineup down to just two trim levels available on either the front- or the all-wheel drive Sport Hybrid models. The Technology is well-equipped with LED headlamps, an ELS-branded audio system, AcuraWatch, and navigation. The Advance, meanwhile, adds a breathtaking Krell audio system, ventilated front seats, a heated steering wheel, a surround-view camera, and remote engine start, among other items, for $6,000.
Once you've picked your package, it's just a choice of colors. Rivals offer a far higher degree of customizability—even down to paint-to-sample colors just in case you've always imagined matching your car to your sweater.
The front-drive, non-hybrid RLX earns gas-mileage ratings of 20 mpg city, 30 highway, 23 combined. EPA ratings for the Sport Hybrid models jump to 29/30/29 mpg.