The 2016 Acura RLX is the flagship sedan for Honda’s luxury division, and that’s both a huge advantage for owners and a bit of a challenge for customers. The former, for example, enjoy a sophisticated premium sedan that comes standard with unique technologies, a richly appointed cabin, and a high-performance all-wheel steering system. However, regarding size and overall pricing, the RLX matches up better against rivals' midsize entries, instead of the full-size sedans that usually fill the flagship position for those other brands. The RLX can look more expensive on dealership lots as a result, since its starting price—backed by more features—is higher than that of similarly-sized competitors. But it’s that kind of difference, as well as those covered below, that will appeal to the right sort of shoppers.
2016 Acura RLX Road Test and Review
Let’s get this out of the way first: With an MSRP of $54,450 with its Advanced package, the 2016 Acura RLX is more expensive than the midsize sedans from Audi, BMW, Cadillac, Infiniti, Lexus or Mercedes-Benz. Yet the RLX also has a standard V6 engine with more output than in any of those cars, most of which start with 4-cylinder units. Acura further fits the RLX with its Precision All-Wheel Steer technology as standard, along with premium LED headlights and a leather-surfaced cabin with dual-stage front heating. Again, those other brands do serve up some noticeable luxury cues of their own, but they aren’t always standard—as they are in the flagship RLX. And it’s the same for navigation and proactive driver-assistance technologies, which are standard for the Acura and missing from the entry-level competition.
Power, Performance and Efficiency
As already mentioned in our 2016 Acura RLX review, the standard engine for most entries at this size class is a 4-cylinder turbo, while the RLX rocks a naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V6 engine with significantly more output—and relatively strong fuel economy grades. Thus, RLX drivers enjoy 310 horsepower; the base engine for the Lexus GS, for instance, is rated at 241 horsepower and 258 lb.-ft. of torque. Nor are the EPA differences all that wide. The more powerful RLX comes in at 20 MPG city/31 MPG highway/24 MPG combined, with the Lexus at 22/33/26.
Moreover, the Acura-only all-wheel steering enables impeccable handling, cornering, and braking, thanks to rear wheels that really do turn on their own.
Exterior Design and Lighting
The most striking features of the 2016 Acura RLX are no doubt its standard Jewel Eye LED headlights. Each unit relies on eight LEDs that are focused through 16 lenses for use as both low-beam illumination and daytime running lamps. LED turn-signal indicators are built in the heated exterior mirrors, too. Meanwhile, prominently sculpted front-wheel arches, which flow into body-side character lines, help detail the car’s flanks.
Now let’s talk size: The RLX is 196.1 inches in length, and that compares to rivals that range from the Lexus GS (192.1 inches) to the Infiniti Q70 (196 inches), with the Audi A6, Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5-Series all in between. Those brands’ flagships are more than 200 inches in length.
Interior Design and Capacities
Despite the footprint of the 2016 Acura RLX, and advantages in rear-seat legroom, folks will find less headroom than provided by rivals, and in both rows. On the other hand, they’ll also find a bounty of standard luxury cues, complete with heated, Milano-leather seating and a 12-way power-adjustable front row. The design of the cabin is impressive as well. Consider the way the sculpted dashboard flows into the door panels, instead of meeting at a harsh angle. The contrast-shaded woodgrain accents on the dash, doors and elsewhere also add a sense of refinement to a choice of three interior color themes. Even the RLX steering wheel has a carefully designed, precision-look appearance, and it’s enhanced by metal-look accents and a particularly trim lower-middle spoke.
Infotainment and Audio
The 2016 Acura RLX earns serious flagship credibility with its high-tech infotainment and audio systems. The standard setup combines next-generation AcuraLink technology with navigation, real-time traffic info, voice recognition, an 8-inch dual-level “On Demand Multi-Use Display” touchscreen, and an ELS Studio audio system that was designed in partnership with a Grammy-winning recording engineer. With 14 speakers and DTS Neural Surround capability, it delivers ear-catching sound whether it’s through a USB port, SiriusXM satellite radio or HD Radio, all of which are standard as well.
It’s also worth noting that the same GPS capability that supports the RLX nav system supports an advanced climate-control feature, too. The GPS monitors the sun’s position relative to the car, a solar sensor takes into account the intensity, and the tri-zone climate systems responds accordingly.
Except for the available powertrain discussed further on in our 2016 Acura RLX review, there are a number of nifty options that the brand bundles into the Advance Package, for an extra $6,000. Highlights here include heated and ventilated front seats, heated outboard positions in the back, a heated steering wheel, a surround-view camera system, and a major boost in audio performance.
It comes from Krell Industries, a favorite name for audiophiles, and includes six mid-bass drivers and an amplifier with the same proven bipolar power transistors used in the company’s home systems. Per Acura, the RLX amp supplies “substantially more power and headroom” than the amps in rival luxury cars, yet at the same time, it reduces distortion through the system’s 14 speakers by a third.
Safety Technology and Ratings
The range-topping status of the 2016 Acura RLX is obvious when it comes to occupant protection. After all, it’s the only car in its IIHS segment to earn a Top Safety Pick+ recognition in its standard trim. That, in turn, is because the RLX comes standard with adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, lane keeping assistance, road departure mitigation, a blind spot information system, and a multi-view rear camera. Also, in regards to those IIHS scores, the RLX’s forward crash-prevention technology rated higher than that for cars like the Audi A6 or Infiniti Q70, and neither the BMW 5-Series or the Lexus GS are Top Safety Picks. The Lexus can’t match the RLX with a 5-star overall safety score from NHTSA, either.
Other Cool Info
The key differentiator for the 2016 RLX, of course, is its available Sport Hybrid 3-Motor System. A $5,500 option for the RLX, that system mates the standard 3.5-liter V6 with a lithium-ion battery pack, one electric motor for each of the rear wheels, and another to help power the fronts. It all adds up to 377 horsepower, 341 lb.-ft. of torque, and EPA ratings of 28 MPG city/32 MPG highway/30 MPG combined. Additionally, the car leverages those rear electric motors for a high-tech Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system and advanced torque vectoring, to enable an incredible driving experience. The Sport Hybrid package also brings added content like a heads-up display for the cabin and the full portfolio of AcuraWatch driver-assistance measures.
Photo Credit: Acura
Acura’s flagship sedan launched to unfortunate timing in 2013, as that was right before customers began turning their attention toward crossovers, even in the luxury segments. Today, the 2016 Acura RLX has been nearly forgotten in the marketplace: Monthly sales have topped the 150-unit marks just once through the first seven months of this year. Which means it’s the perfect choice for owners who demand a refined luxury sedan with technology, exclusivity, and performance not offered elsewhere.