Show Floor Update: According to Jeff Conrad, VP and general manager of Acura sales, the 2014 Acura RLX that just hit the Acura stand at the 2012 L.A. auto show, “looks good from any angle.” While we’re sure there will be folks out there who would beg to differ, there’s no doubt the new Acura flagship is a dramatic step up in the styling department from blandmobile RL it’s replacing. The RLX’s fancy LED “Jewel-Eye” headlights look much better in person, and the floating design reminds us of the trick headlights found on the NSX concept.
Before reading the rest of this, stop and ask yourself this question: “When was the last time I saw an Acura RL?” You’ll probably be thinking about it for a while. The RL has never been a big seller for Acura, and in its twilight years it has only sold in the hundreds. That’s not a good place for a brand’s flagship to be, which is why Honda is throwing almost everything it has into making the RL’s replacement, the 2014 Acura RLX, far less anonymous. Visually, the production RLX isn’t all that different from the “concept” shown in April at the 2012 New York auto show. In fact, all that seems to have changed are the wheels and fascia. The once-controversial power plenum grille remains, but it is far more elegantly executed than the initial versions. Surrounding it on either side are fancy LED headlights. Dubbed Jewel-Eye by Acura, these not only provide a unique (possibly insectile) look to the RLX, but also are said to improve illumination. The most visible features at the rear are its Accord-esque taillights and hidden exhausts, allowing Acura to give the fascia a clean look.
As was the case with the RL, power for the RLX comes exclusively from a six-cylinder engine — fortunately for Acura, the recent move away from V-8s has made the lack of one a non-issue. The RLX is powered by a version of Honda’s 3.5-liter V-6 fitted with direct injection and cylinder deactivation technology (Variable Cylinder Management in Acura-speak) good for 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. Though those are improvements of just 10 hp and 5 lb-ft over the RL’s 3.7-liter V-6, the RLX’s engine is said to make 90 percent of its torque from 2000 to 6000 rpm. More important, the Acura expects the RLX to be rated at 20/31 mpg city/highway — a considerable improvement over the RL’s 17/24 city/highway numbers. The engine is mated to an updated version of the RL’s Sequential Sportshift six-speed automatic. The RLX’s version gets revised gearing, a new shifter, steering wheel-mounted paddles, and a Sport mode that Acura says makes for more aggressive shifts. Curiously, however, the RLX is not fitted with any sort of all-wheel drive. Instead, Acura uses a new system called Precision All-Wheel Steer (yes, there’s an acronym: P-AWS) that independently controls the toe angles of the rear wheels. Those looking for all-wheel drive will have to wait for the arrival of the 370-hp RLX Hybrid.
Beyond the four-wheel steering is a considerable list of active safety technologies. It starts with a new version of the AcuraLink connectivity system that now includes traffic information for surface streets as well as freeways; continues into the existing lane departure and collision warning systems (Lane Keeping Assist System and Forward Collision Warning, in case you want to keep up with the marketers); and finishes with adaptive cruise control with a special low-speed following setting, which presumably allows the RLX to close the gap more tightly when in traffic. Acura also mentions an Agile Handling Assist dynamic braking system, something we’ll have to look into when we get our hands on the car.
Size-wise, the RLX doesn’t deviate much from the RL. At 196.1 inches in length, the RLX is just 0.3 inch longer than its predecessor, but rides on a wheelbase Acura says is 2 inches longer, without providing specifics. Mathematically, that would mean 112.2 inches for the RLX versus 110.2 inches for the RL. The practical result of the stretched wheelbase is a spacious rear seat that offers a whopping 38.8 inches of rear legroom. One dimension that is smaller on the RLX than on the RL is curb weight. Acura was able to cut the fat through extensive use of aluminum, reducing heft to around 3950 pounds — roughly an 100-pound drop — despite the addition of all the extra technology.
When it arrives in spring 2013, the 2014 Acura RLX will be offered in five flavors: base, Navigation, Technology, Krell, and Advance. The first two come with 18-inch wheels, and, as its name implies, the RLX with Navigation comes with an 8-inch navigation screen. The other three come with 19-inch wheels and increasing levels of equipment, most notably the high-end Krell audio system in the top two trims. Full feature details will be announced closer to the launch date, along with pricing information. Expect a price slightly north of $50,000 for the base RLX and one around $60,000 for the RLX with Advance Package. It remains to be seen whether X will mark the spot for Acura when it comes to the competitive $50,000-plus market that’s home to sharks like the new Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6, but the RLX is certainly a better-aimed shot than the RL ever was.
2014 Acura RLX
BASE PRICE $50,000 (est)
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 4-door sedan
ENGINE ENGINES 3.5L/310-hp/272-lb-ft SOHC 24-valve- V-6
TRANSMISSION TRANSMISSIONS 6-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3950 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 112.2 in (est)
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 196.1 x 74.7 x 57.2 in (est)
EPA CITY/HWY FUEL ECON 20/31 mpg (est)
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 169/109 kW-hrs/100 miles (est)
CO2 EMISSIONS 0.82 lb/mile (est)
ON SALE IN U.S. Spring 2013