New Car Review: 2014 Acura RLX

Front 3/4 view of the 2014 Acura RLX

Rarely have I approached a car with such trepidation as I did the new Acura RLX.  Not only has Acura followed parent Honda off the clearly-defined path that once delivered great cars like the original Legend for a similar decade-long walk in the wilderness (plus $10,000 per car and more buttons on the dashboard), but consider this:

The RLX is replacing one of the dullest cars known to man, the RL.  Anything should get a "most improved player" award.  Yet enthusiast magazine and online reviews have largely been yawns and, scarier still, Consumer Reports, in its rave review of the Chevrolet Impala, a car costing $20,000 to $35,000 less, depending on how you option the cars, said in its print edition that the Impala was competitive with the RLX.  Yeah, they also said the Impala could run with the Audi A6, Lexus LS460L and Jaguar XF, too...and as much as we love the 2014 Impala, that's really just CR needing to call the doctor because it's been more than four hours.

Rear 3/4 view of 2014 Acura RLX

So what's the straight scoop?  It's better than the RL ever was.  It's a significant step back in the direction Acura should have been going all along, in much the same way the new Accord is a strong signal that Honda has not only found but may be in reach of its mojo once again.

First things first, Acura is refining its styling statement, reducing the pronounced beaklike grille.  They need to refine and reduce more...but this is better.  The lines aren't breathtaking and the car is massive in some areas.  It really works well in a dark color.  I'd hate to see one in white.

$48,450 will get you in the base model, but our tester was the RLX Advance.  They all come with the same 3.5 liter V6, making 310 horsepower, with a 6-speed automatic transmission.  They all get an EPA estimated 20 mpg city/31 highway.  The feature list is like reading War and Peace.   Go here if you want the full rundown.

The steps up from a base RLX are the RLX with Navigation ($50,590),  which adds navigation, voice recognition, AcuraLink including real-time traffic and a few other related goodies.  Next is the RLX with Technology Package ($54,450). That's everything in the Navigation model plus an upgraded ELS audio system (14 speakers and 588 watts),  premium leather, rain-sensing wipers, power-folding mirrors, acoustic glass and 19-inch wheels.

After that is the Krell Audio Package ($56,950).  Everything in the Navigation and Technology package, but they swap out the audio system for a 14-speaker, 450-watt audio system. That sounds like a downgrade from 588, but Krell is a premium manufacturer and the magic is apparently in the speakers and amplifier:

It sounds phenomenal.  As someone who has spent a lot of his life in studio environments, this is really, really nice. The Krell package also includes a power rear sunshade and manual door sunshades.

And finally, the one we drove...the RLX with Advance Package ($60,450).  All of the above plus collision mitigating braking with heads-up warning, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, heated and ventlated front seats, heated rear seats, rear footwell lighting, front and rear parking sensors and auto-dimming side mirrors.

So, what's it like to drive?  Well, it's not blisteringly fast.  Acura is the one Japanese near-luxury brand that never got into the V8 game, so there's no surprise there.  It's simply a smooth, more than adequately powerful V6.  It's remarkably quiet.  It handles very nicely for a machine of its size (you'll never confuse it for its little brother and our favorite Acura, the TSX, though).

Interior view of 2014 Acura RLX

As with the Accord, the one glaring deficiency is in the infotainment system.  The graphics for the navigation, audio and phone interface feel like they're five or six years behind the average and a good 10 years behind the best in the business today.  And, as we pointed out in the Accord review, tech is what these guys should do better than anybody.  Especially in a $60,000 car ($61,345 with delivery).

So......trepidation's gone.  Acura has improved their big sedan, moved the ball down the field a significant distance.

But...at $60K...there are a lot of choices. I might take this over a Jag XF (not sure, I haven't driven one in almost five years).  I'd be amazed if I'd pass on an Audi A6 to buy this, though.  But I never would have considered Acura (since the demise of the original Legend) in this size and price class before, so progress has been made.  To be truly competitive, Acura needs to see this as a first step, and take equally large strides with every successive improvement and refinement of the RLX.