1.02.2016

Latter-Day Legend: The 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Front 3/4 view of 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid
The 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.
About two and a half years ago, I was pretty much the lone voice in the automotive journalism wilderness praising the Acura RLX. Despite its quantum leap improvement over its predecessor, the RL, my fellow tirekickers were largely unimpressed.  And so, tragically, were buyers.

I say "tragically" because I stand behind my review from 2014, and am prepared to go even further after my week in the 2016 RLX Sport Hybrid.




2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid rear 7/8 view
2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.
The RLX Sport Hybrid was delivered to me in San Francisco.  I'd driven there on business from Folsom in the 2016 Honda CR-V Touring and it was car swap day, so the folks at DriveShop simply arranged to meet me in what still is called North Beach, but is rapidly becoming Media Gulch, a four-block area of Battery, Vallejo and Front Streets that is home to four television and 12 radio stations.

Map of San Francisco to Menlo Park to Foslom
San Francisco to Menlo Park to Folsom (source: Google Maps)
After taking care of some business for the day job, my next mission was to get to the beautiful Rosewood Sand Hill Resort in Menlo Park for the Western Automotive Journalists holiday dinner.

In a torrential downpour.

Rain and valets at Rosewood Sand Hill Resort
Valet parking at Rosewood Sand Hill Resort.
The picture doesn't do it justice.  The rain began with a few sprinkles as I got onto 280 leaving San Francisco and within ten minutes, it was coming down in sheets all the way to Menlo Park.  Being in the midst (or hopefully at the end) of an historic drought here in California, it was a welcome sight, but this was serious rain.  As in the windshield wipers are on high and if it gets any worse, that's not going to be enough. And it continued to rain for most of the 140-mile drive back to Folsom that night, with water falling from the sky and being thrown up from the pavement by what seemed to be a never-ending string of big rigs on I-80.

A dirty little secret about drivers: They don't know how to drive in the rain.  Maybe it's different in Mobile, Alabama or Pensacola, Florida or one of the other ten rainiest cities in America, but California's not anywhere close to that kind of rain in a good year, and it's been five years since we had one of those.

In that kind of situation, you need your wits about you, you need visibility and you need a car that works with you, not against you.  The RLX Sport Hybrid checked every single one of those boxes.

Interior view of 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid
2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid interior.
$65,950 is the beginning and ending price for the RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling-All Wheel Drive) with Advance Package (Krell premium audio system with 14 speakers, remote engine start, surround view camera system, heated steering wheel and rear seats, heated and ventilated front seats, auto-dimming side mirrors, parking sensors and sunshades for the rear window and rear doors). Everything Acura offers apart from bodyside moldings, car covers, spoilers, trunk trays, fake woodgrain shift knobs (which would require ditching the pushbutton setup in the console) and door sill illumination is covered in that one price.  The standard features list is a long one. Click here to read it.

If you buy a gasoline-powered RLX, you get a 310-horsepower 3.5-liter V6 with a six-speed automatic with an EPA fuel economy rating of 20 city/31 highway.  But go with the Sport Hybrid and the combined horsepower jumps to 377, the transmission becomes a seven-speed dual-clutch unit and the EPA says 28 city/32 highway...numbers that proved on-target despite less than optimal driving conditions.

By the end of that night, I loved the RLX.  And over the course of the next six days, it continued to impress me. This is a car that is far better than the majority of its press and many of the cars in its class that outsell it.

No doubt Acura had high hopes for its flagship, but monthly sales peaked at 830 units in October of 2013 and it's been a steep slide since.  In 2015, the best month was 239 units in May.  They sold an all-time low of 120 in November.  Sales have fallen 36 percent from calendar year 2014.  The Acura RLX is the 249th best-selling car in America.  The list only goes to 298. Hyundai sells more Eqqus (Eqqui?). Kia sells more K900s.  Volvo sells more V60s. And when was the last time you saw any of those?

What does the RLX outsell?  The Mercedes-Benz B-Class electric, the Volvo S80 (now in its 10th year of the current generation), the Mini Paceman, the Chevrolet Caprice PPV (which is sold only to law enforcement agencies) and the $140,000 BMW i8 hybrid are numbers 250 through 254 on the best-seller list.  From there to the bottom is a who's who of the once desirable but past their prime (BMW Z4), the unloved (Mitsubishi i-MIEV), the unobtainable to the masses (Mercedes-Benz AMG GT, Nissan GT-R, Dodge Viper, Alfa Romeo 4C, Audi R8, Jaguar XK, Porsche 918 Spyder), new models just getting on buyers' radar (Audi TT, Mercedes GLC, Toyota Mirai) and cars, trucks, SUVs and minivans no longer on production, the remaining unsold inventory trickling off dealer lots at fire-sale prices (there hasn't been a Volvo C70 since 2013, but seven of them were sold in 2015...as were eight 2013 Chevy Avalanches).

If you're shopping for a luxury sedan in the mid-$60K range and up, do yourself a favor and take a test drive in the RLX Sport Hybrid.  It's that good.  And if sales don't pick up, it'll be a rare classic someday.

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