2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Introduction
With the new 2014 RLX, Acura is taking another shot at building a credible mid-luxury sedan. The company’s luck in this area hasn’t been good for nearly two decades, ever since the Legend name was shelved in favor of an alphanumeric designation that has changed from 3.5RL to RL and now to RLX.
The new RLX is sized and priced to battle a long list of similar vehicles including the Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Cadillac CTS and XTS, Chrysler 300, Hyundai Equus and Genesis, Infiniti Q70, Lexus ES and GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Lincoln MKS.
Does the new Acura RLX have what it takes to gain traction in the mid-luxury sedan class? We borrowed one for a week to find out.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: About Our Test Car
When buying a 2014 Acura RLX, you choose the standard model ($49,345 including the $895 destination charge) and then add stair-step option packages.
A Navigation Package ($2,500) includes a voice-activated navigation system, AcuraLink multi-media services and real-time traffic, and feature upgrades to the information display, radio, and Bluetooth systems. Yeah, I agree, it is remarkable that these items are optional rather than standard, especially when Acura is banking on its technological prowess to differentiate itself from other luxury automakers.
Most people will want the Technology Package ($6,000). It has the Navigation Package plus attractive 19-inch aluminum wheels, a premium 14-speaker audio system, a blind-spot information system, rain-sensing wipers, and power folding side mirrors. Acoustic side glass quiets the cabin, which is lined with premium Milano leather and fake wood trim on the center console and door panels.
For another $2,500, RLX buyers can replace the 14-speaker Acura/ELS premium audio system with a higher-end 14-speaker Krell premium audio system. For whatever reason, Acura also tosses in a power rear window sunshade and manual rear side window sunshades with the Krell Audio Package.
Finally, there is the Advance Package ($12,000), which is how my test vehicle was equipped. The Advance Package includes everything listed above plus a Collision Mitigation Braking System, a Lane Keeping Assist System, an Adaptive Cruise Control system with Low Speed Follow feature, and front and rear parking assist sensors. The Advance Package also contains ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rear footwell lighting, and auto-dimming side mirrors.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Styling and Design
The Acura RLX looks better in person than it does in pictures. Still, this is a conservatively styled car, rather anonymous except for the unmistakable face, standard LED headlight array, and the unusual drop line stamped into the front fenders just forward of the doors.
The rear end is fairly derivative of the new Honda Accord. At one point, I parked the RLX next to a new 2014 Accord Plug-in Hybrid, and the similarities in terms of the rear-quarter view were surprising. The Acura is clearly more upscale in appearance, but only because of details such as the 19-inch noise-reducing aluminum wheels, the thick chrome greenhouse trim, and the larger LED taillights that look too much like a BMW 7 Series and Chevy Cruze to represent original design.
Inside, the RLX’s dashboard looks like a mash-up of the previous-generation Accord and RL, rendered in higher quality materials. The dual-screen approach, one is a display while the other is a touchscreen, mirrors higher-end Accords, and while the design dramatically reduces button count, it also simplifies the interior to the point that a luxury buyer might wonder where all the bells and whistles might be.
More troubling is the RLX’s gauge cluster. A Dodge Dart can be equipped with a reconfigurable Thin Film Transistor LCD gauge display, yet the RLX Advance has traditional gauges ringed in piano black and chrome trim that is too obviously plastic.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Comfort and Quality
Acura says the RLX is a midsize sedan on the outside, and a full-size sedan on the inside. I’d say that’s accurate. There’s no shortage of space aboard an RLX.
The 12-way power adjustable front seats are comfortable, especially when wrapped in the soft and supple premium Milano leather, even if the bottom cushions are a little bit short. Manual or power thigh support extensions would make them perfect. Additionally, the armrests are soft and plush, and the power tilt/telescopic steering wheel is both pleasing to hold and ensures a proper driving position.
Acura says the RLX offers superior rear-seat legroom and shoulder room, and the car certainly is roomy in the back. Foot space is snug for people with gigantic feet like mine, but otherwise there are no comfort issues, especially because a triple-zone automatic climate control system is standard.
Rear window sunshades are available, and helpful for RLX buyers with children. Unfortunately, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats are reserved only for the most expensive RLX Advance models.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Features and Controls
I don’t know about you, but I’m a little confused by this Acura’s packaging. For example, heated rear seats are available in a Hyundai Elantra, yet to get them on the RLX, a new luxury sedan apparently designed to maximize rear seat comfort, buyers need to get the spendy Advance Package?
This is how I would have approached the RLX.
Swap navigation and AcuraLink for the LED headlights, Forward Collision Warning, and Lane Departure Warning systems as standard equipment. Those latter items ought to move to the Technology Package, which should also include the Blind Spot Information System, the Acura/ELS premium audio system, front and rear parking sensors, auto-dimming and power folding side mirrors, and rain-sensing wipers.
Next, a Premium Package should be offered with the bigger wheels, nicer leather, fake wood, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rear footwell lighting, and rear window sunshades. Finally, the Advance Package ought to contain the Krell Audio system, the Collision Mitigation Braking System, the Lane Keeping Assist System, and the Adaptive Cruise Control system with Low Speed Follow.
With that off my chest, I’ll say that the Acura RLX is reasonably easy to understand and operate. For some unknown reason, my test car’s touchscreen radio wouldn’t cycle through satellite radio genres in proper order, and the back button often sent me further forward. I also never got used to how pushing the volume knob into the dashboard doesn’t kill power to the stereo. Instead, a separate button does that. And Acura does not provide a corresponding tuning knob, which is a real drag given the problem I had cycling through satellite radio genres.
My test car’s AcuraLink subscription was not active, so I had no access to real-time traffic reporting, even with my iPhone paired to the Bluetooth system. Good thing I work from home in the L.A. suburbs, because in this town, real-time traffic reports are a necessity.
To access the RLX’s nearly 15 cubic-feet of trunk capacity, use the button on the key fob or the touch pad tucked under the license plate brow. If you want a power trunk closer, one operated using a button on the lid itself or one of those fancy new ones that simply require waving a foot under the back bumper, you’re out of luck. Instead, Acura offers a grab handle to assist in pulling it closed.
Don’t plan on carrying bulky items, either, because the rear seat doesn’t fold down. A small ski pass-through is the only concession to owners needing extra cargo room.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Matters of Safety
Acura includes a Forward Collision Warning and a Lane Departure Warning system as standard equipment for the RLX, while a Blind Spot Information System (BLIS) is a part of the Technology Package. Notably, the RLX does not employ the Lane Watch technology offered on the Honda Accord. Instead, the Acura gets a traditional BLIS with visual warnings near each side mirror accompanied by an audible chime. Choose the Advance Package to get Active Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow capability, a Collision Mitigation Braking system, and a Lane Keeping Assist system.
Now, all this technology is fine, if it works. In my experience, the camera powering the lane departure warning and lane keeping assist systems was sometimes too hot to operate, and I know this thanks to the helpful message shown on the small screen between the tachometer and speedometer and telling me so. During my week with the car, however, temperatures at my house didn’t go higher than 95 degrees. So what happens when an RLX owners lives in Palm Springs, Las Vegas, or Phoenix?
When the system was operational, it was often too quick to emit warnings, sometimes had trouble telling the difference between old lane markings and new lane markings, and frequently sounded a warning for no apparent reason at all. Shadows and words painted on the street appeared to confuse the system at times, the camera didn’t “see” a concrete curb lining a median on one of my local boulevards, and at least once it sounded the alarm as I entered a left turn lane without driving on the white paint.
As a result, driving with the RLX’s Lane Departure Warning system engaged is like cruising around town with a nagging spouse riding shotgun, one who is right only half of the time. Eventually, you tune out. But with the Acura, a divorce isn’t necessary. Just shut the system off using the button on the left side of the dashboard.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Driving Impressions
Right now, as this review is written, the only engine offered for the 2014 RLX is a new 310-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine paired with a 6-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. Acura plans to offer the RLX with a new Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive powertrain, a gas-electric model designed for maximum performance at no expense to fuel efficiency. More details about this option will be available closer to its arrival in showrooms.
Getting back to the new V-6, this engine makes 90 percent of its maximum 272 lb.-ft. of torque between 2,000 and 6,600 rpm. That makes the car feel quick and responsive from nearly any speed, especially when the transmission’s Sport driving mode is engaged and the driver is using the shifter paddles mounted to the steering wheel.
Variable Cylinder Management technology, which allows the RLX to operate on fewer cylinders when cruising on the highway in order to conserve gas, is standard. The EPA says the RLX, which requires premium unleaded, should get 20 mpg in the city, 31 mpg on the highway, and 24 mpg in combined driving. I got 21.5 mpg, but I fed the RLX a steady diet of city miles.
In any case, this new V-6 is powerful, fuel-efficient, and refined, and the 6-speed automatic transmission never gets a shift wrong. This is a quick car, helping to make the RLX more entertaining to drive. Additionally, the brakes are excellent, easy to modulate while providing excellent feel and response. Plus, they proved fade-free under hard use on a hot day.
As far as ride and handling are concerned, there’s no hiding the RLX’s front-wheel-drive powertrain configuration. The Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system sure helps the RLX get around a corner with enthusiasm, but cannot completely mask this Acura’s forward weight bias. Still, there’s plenty of grip from the 19-inch tires and the suspension is tuned to control body roll, squat, and dive.
The ride quality suffers, though. I can’t explain it any other way than to call it bouncy, especially over dips, road crowns in intersections, and over bridge expansion joints. Ever seen a low-rider cruising along the street, occupants bouncing with each pavement anomaly? Sometimes the RLX feels just like that looks.
2014 Acura RLX Quick Spin Car Review: Final Thoughts
I like the Acura RLX more than I thought I would. It’s like a big, comfy, quiet, and luxurious Honda Accord – except for the occasionally bouncy suspension.
As good as the RLX is, however, it isn’t about to unseat the aspirational BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class from atop mid-luxury sedan wish lists. People frequently buy a car of this caliber for no other reason than to broadcast wealth and success, and right now, the Acura brand doesn’t do that.
Additionally, the RLX lacks the dynamism of an Audi A6, Infiniti Q70, and Lexus GS. All three of these models display more personality in terms of design, and deliver a more engaging driving experience.
In my opinion, the conservative RLX goes head-to-head against models like the Cadillac XTS, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus ES, and Lincoln MKS. Among these models, the Acura is my overall favorite. Practically speaking, however, I also think I’d be perfectly happy with a loaded Honda Accord Touring or Chrysler 300, leaving me with a big chunk of leftover change in my pocket.
The new Acura RLX is a good car. Maybe the upcoming RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD variant will make it more convincing as a great car.
Acura supplied the 2014 RLX Advance for this review
2014 Acura RLX Advance photos by Christian Wardlaw