- Tight, precise handling
- Lots of legroom in both rows
- Smooth, powerful hybrid drivetrain
- Conservative exterior styling
- Outdated technology features
- Not very emotionally satisfying
Acura RLX Expert Review
- After a refresh for the 2018 model year, the RLX enters 2020 essentially unchanged.
The RLX is Acura's range-topping midsize luxury sedan. It debuted for the 2014 model year to replace the Acura RL and has remained a niche seller since. Although it's not as common as midsize luxury cars from European and other Japanese manufacturers, the RLX packs some interesting features and technology that aren't commonly found on the market.
Several storied nameplates exist in the midsize luxury sedan segment, but the Acura RLX is not among them. That's not because it's a bad vehicle, but against segment competitors it lacks style, technology, and performance—and it's old. It seems the RLX exists mostly to appeal to Acura loyalists, but nonetheless it has some noteworthy traits.
One of those is all-wheel steering, which is standard on V-6 powered front-wheel-drive cars. Its effect is subtle, but the so-called Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS) system alters the rear wheels' toe angle and uses single-wheel braking to improve agility, stability, and turning radius.
Another is the available hybrid drivetrain, which shares technologies with the Acura NSX supercar. Similarly to that sporty mid-engine masterpiece, the RLX Sport Hybrid uses a 3.5-liter V-6 supplemented by three electric motors: one joined to the engine driving the front wheels, and one more for each rear wheel. The result is a hybrid version of Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), which has more power and better fuel economy than the standard non-hybrid V-6.Regardless of engine choice, the RLX's cabin is spacious, quiet, and comfortable. Plush soft-touch materials and wood trim abound, and rear-seat legroom betters most European class competitors.
However, all that space and luxury surrounds technology that's quite outdated. The dual-screen infotainment system is cumbersome to use and doesn't make efficient use of dashboard space. The bottom touchscreen isn't quick to respond, and neither screen is particularly high resolution. Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are notably absent and there's only one USB port, but a 14-speaker sound system, effective suite of driver-assist features, and an available head-up display keep the RLX out of total obsolescence.
That may not last for long, though. The RLX is a niche vehicle; Acura reported selling just over 1,000 examples in 2019 while the TLX sedan sold more than 26,000. And as Acura sold over 50,000 MDX and more than 60,000 RDX crossovers in the same period, the business sense of keeping the aging RLX around isn't clear. Only Acura knows how much longer the RLX might stay around, but while it's on sale in 2020, perhaps its rarity is part of its appeal.
The RLX's standard engine is a 3.5-liter V-6 with VTEC variable valve timing, connected to a 10-speed automatic transmission. Output measures 310 hp, 272 lb-ft of torque, all sent through the front wheels. In MotorTrend testing, this engine accelerated the RLX from 0-60 mph in 5.8 seconds. EPA-rated fuel economy is 20/29 mpg city/highway.
Optionally available is the so-called Sport Hybrid drivetrain, which employs a 3.5-liter V-6 assisted by three electric motors. One is joined to the engine and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission to drive the front wheels, while each rear wheel is powered by its own electric motor. The result is all-wheel drive, with improved power output of 377 hp and 341 lb-ft of torque combined. As a result, 0-60 acceleration drops to a MotorTrend-tested 4.9 seconds. Fuel economy is improved as well; the EPA rates the RLX Sport Hybrid at 28/29 mpg.
The NHTSA gives the RLX a five-star (out of five) overall safety rating score, comprised of five-star scores in frontal crash, side crash, and rollover tests. From the IIHS, the RLX earns top Good scores in all crashworthiness tests, and the second-highest score of Acceptable for its headlights. Additionally, its standard front-crash prevention system earned the top Superior ranking, as it avoided collisions in the 12 mph and 25 mph tests.
Standard active safety and driver-assist features on the RLX include forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane-keep assist with lane-departure warning and corrective steering, blind spot monitors, rear cross-traffic alert, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control.
The standard RLX offers 14.9 cubic feet of cargo volume in its trunk. The rear seats do not fold down, but a pass-through door behind the rear center armrest allows long items like skis to fit inside. Drivetrain components in Sport Hybrid models make it slightly less practical; its trunk cargo volume measures 12.0 cubic feet and it does not have the trunk pass-through.
In the RLX's front row, there are 37.6 inches of headroom, and 42.3 inches of legroom. The second row offers 36.9 inches of headroom, and 38.8 inches of legroom.
The RLX features a dual-screen infotainment system. The top screen measures 8.0 inches and displays the standard GPS navigation system. The lower one is a 7.0-inch touchscreen, and controls systems like audio and climate control. There's also a smaller vehicle information display positioned between the instrument gauges. Media features include Bluetooth streaming audio, SiriusXM satellite radio, an auxiliary input jack, and smartphone USB audio interface, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are not available. Numerous steering wheel buttons allow control of audio, driver-assist, navigation, and phone functions. The Sport Hybrid model is equipped with a head-up display. All models have a 14-speaker audio system, with a premium system included on Sport Hybrid models.
2020 Acura RLX: The standard RLX features the V-6 with 10-speed automatic front-wheel drive powertrain, plus all-wheel steering. It rolls on 19-inch wheels finished in gray with machined faces. Outside, it has LED headlights and taillights, heated and power-folding side mirrors with reverse tilt-down, acoustically laminated glass panels, and a moonroof. Seating surfaces are upholstered in perforated leather with contrast stitching and piping. Front seats are 12-way adjustable and feature heating, and the steering wheel is leather-wrapped. Ambient lighting helps illuminate the cabin. Convenience features include remote keyless entry with push-button start, auto up/down power windows, auto-dimming rearview mirror, and three-zone climate control.
2020 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid: The RLX Sport Hybrid gets the model-specific hybrid all-wheel drive powertrain, which improves performance and fuel efficiency. It has 19-inch wheels with dark gray accents and machined faces. LED foglights are mounted inside the lower front bumper. The side mirrors gain auto-dimming functionality. Inside, the front seats are heated and ventilated, and the rear outboard seats are heated. The steering wheel gains heating, too. Additional ambient lighting is added to the rear footwells, and sunshades on the rear window and side doors provide sun protection and privacy. A head-up display and upgraded 14-speaker audio system are also part of the package. Front and rear sonar sensors, plus a 360-degree view camera system, make parking the RLX easier. Sport Hybrid models gain a remote start system which warms up the engine and cabin before the driver gets inside.