Of late, Acura has been a purveyor of hits and misses.
The MDX sport-ute has been a consistent best-seller, while the radical ZDX crossover is nowhere to be found. The compact RDX crossover does quite well, but Acura?s flagship sedan, the RL, had only 29 buyers in Canada last year.
Arriving in showrooms now is the RL?s replacement: the 2014 RLX ? a car that addresses the previous model?s shortcomings: a cramped cabin, tight back seat and uncompetitive pricing.
Acura is predicting a ten-fold increase in sales. Those swift with the mental calculator will note that?s still only 300 units.
In a move that seems counter to all-things-luxury-sedan, this car arrives as a front-wheel-drive only. Hmmm. Even the lonely RL had standard AWD.
Whatever Acura?s reasoning for this, it has at least bestowed the RLX with a clever rear-wheel steering system that gives the salespeople something to crow about when the inevitable ?why-no-all-wheel-drive?? questions start.
Arriving this fall will be a pricier and more powerful AWD hybrid RLX.
There are just three trim levels for the RLX: the $49,990 base, the $55,990 Tech and the $62,190 Elite.
We only tested the all-singing-and-dancing Elite model.
The first thing you notice are the unusual jewel-eye LED headlights, which are standard kit on all models. In fact, that might be the only thing you notice because the rest of the car is fairly nondescript.
Powering the front wheels through a six-speed auto is a new direct-injection SOHC 3.5 L i-VTEC V6, making 310 hp and 272 lb.-ft. at 4,500 r.p.m. Like all naturally aspirated Honda engines, it is strong and smooth and shows an appetite for revs. This muscular V6 can also generate a fair bit of torque steer.
As a fuel-saving measure, the engine will run on three cylinders under light loads. Acura claims best-in-class fuel economy: 10.5 L/100 km city and 6.4 highway.
It is also trumpeting top-class interior room. Indeed, once ensconced in the upscale digs, the overall impression is one of airy spaciousness.
Against the outgoing RL, the RLX gains 10 mm in height and 45 mm in width. The 50 mm stretch in the wheelbase pays dividends for back-seat passengers. The trunk is big (433 L) and features a huge opening. Airport limo drivers rejoice.
The cabin features quality materials and fine build quality. The leather is creamy, the wood rich and, as is expected in this class of car, Acura is offering a range of technology and luxury features.
Notorious for fashioning interiors with a riot of buttons, Acura abandons that practice with the RLX. It uses the same dual-screen system found in the Honda Accord ? the upper 8-inch LCD displays navigation, audio and phone functions while the lower 7-inch touchscreen acts as a control panel.
Yes, it reduces clutter, but it is ultimately compromised by the need to accurately poke your digit in the right spot ? tough to do when on the move. At least it has haptic feedback, which lets you know the message has been received.
Another top-of-class aspect of the RLX is shoulder room, thanks to its wide greenhouse.
By class, Acura is pointing to the Mercedes-Benz E Class, BMW 5 Series, Audi A6 and Lexus GS.
Would I put it up against these rear-drive or AWD sedans that trade in equal parts luxury and performance? Not really. I?m thinking more Cadillac XTS, Buick Lacrosse, Lincoln MKS, Lexus ES350 and Volvo S80.
The base model has 18-inch alloys, a proximity key with push-button start, a back-up camera, 10-speaker audio with XM, eight-way heated power driver?s seat, sunroof, forward-collision warning, lane-departure warning and headlamp washers.
Moving up to the Tech adds 19-inch wheels, premium Milano leather, navigation, blind-spot warning, rain-sensing wipers, heated steering wheel, power folding mirrors, 14-speaker audio, Acuralink (like GM?s OnStar) and a colour TFT display in the main gauge cluster that shows navigation route guidance, audio, phone and, if so equipped, adaptive cruise info.
The Elite layers on adaptive cruise with full-stop capability (look Ma, no feet in stop and go traffic), lane-keep assist (nudges car back in line), auto-dimming side mirrors, collision warning, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, rear sunshades, parking sensors and Krell audio.
Acura is calling its rear-wheel steering P-AWS (precision all-wheel-steer). It can adjust the individual toe angle of the rear wheels depending on the driving situation.
Under braking, the rear wheels toe in to aid in deceleration. While cornering or in tight parking situations, the rear wheels steer opposite to the front, boosting maneuverability. To improve stability while performing quick lane changes, the front and rear wheels turn in unison.
AHA (agile handling assist) is a torque-vectoring system that brakes the inside rear wheel during cornering.
The care does have a super tight turning circle, and the lane change/slalom exercises set up for us at Toronto Motorsports Park showed the car to be very responsive to quick steering inputs.
A Sport button changes the parameters of the P-AWS, steering feel and transmission mapping, making this big sedan feel more alert on the road.
What Acura hasn?t quite figured out is the suspension tuning. Despite the ?amplitude reactive dampers,? the ride is too busy and stiff for this class of car. It only really settles down on smooth pavement.
Does Acura?s new flagship have the goods to make inroads into a segment so well-populated with outstanding vehicles?
It?s a tough arena, and the RLX is priced right in line with the Cadillac XTS ? a high-styling sedan with standard magnetic ride control and available AWD.
But if having all four wheels driven is not a high priority, the roomy and tech-savvy RXL makes for a compelling new offering.
2014 Acura RLX
Price: $49,990 base, $62,190 as tested
Engine: 3.5 L direct-injection V6
Power/torque: 310 hp; 272 lb.-ft.
Fuel consumption L/100 km: 10.5 city, 6.4 hwy (premium fuel recommended)
Competition: Cadillac XTS, Buick Lacrosse, Volvo S80, Lexus GS, Lexus ES, Infiniti M, Audi A6, M-B E Class, BMW 5 Series
What?s best: Spacious cabin, quality build, cool standard LED headlights.
What?s worst: Front-drive only, ride a bit too stiff.
What?s interesting: Rear-wheel steering is back.
- 2014 Acura RLX Elite Peter Bleakney photo
- 2014 Acura RLX Elite Peter Bleakney photo