The $4050 that Acura cut from the asking price of its 2018 RLX Sport Hybrid is the most significant change the brand has made to its refreshed all-wheel-drive sedan. Introduced as a 2014 model, the largest Acura sedan receives changes aimed at making it more competitive with other premium mid-size players such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the Audi A6, and the BMW 5-series. Two RLX models are available, the Sport Hybrid, which we drove in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, and the front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steering P-AWS model.
The Sport Hybrid comes with the same 377 combined horsepower that it has had since its introduction, and how it arrives there is still unique in the segment. Powering the front wheels are a 310-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and a 47-hp electric motor housed inside the RLX’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission’s case. The rear axle is powered by two 36-hp electric motors. One motor acts upon each wheel and, when cornering, each can apply either positive or negative torque to help steer the car with torque vectoring. It’s an elegantly Honda-like solution to a problem we’re not sure needed solving in this segment—and it’s essentially the same system that powers the front wheels of the NSX supercar.
Your Mom’s Acura
Minor adjustments to the transmission and electric motors offer improved response in Sport mode, but the RLX is not the kind of car that begs to be driven hard. Acura admits as much by marginally softening the RLX’s nonadjustable suspension for 2018. It’s soft enough now that it distinctly lacks the body control of the (less powerful and more expensive) Audi A6 that Acura presented for comparison. “It’s more compliant, but the changes are incremental,” said Jonathon Rivers, the RLX’s lead product planner, about the Acura’s revised suspension.
When cornered with purpose the RLX manages the task adequately, but softness is a core component of its character, and if pushed too hard it will protest by punishing its bump stops over midcorner undulations then floating loosely through the remainder of bend. This behavior erases any impulse to explore the benefits torque vectoring might offer. Mercifully, its steering provides enough information to make prudent decisions at reasonable speeds while requiring more effort than an A6’s lightweight helm.
So, Acura finds itself peddling a sedan that is in several ways at odds with itself. Underneath, there’s the hardware and technology of its NSX supercar, sure. Yet the sedan’s lack of adjustable dampers yields less suspension latitude than most every car in its segment, the package being more at home absorbing freeway frost heaves than it is clipping apexes.
New Shape, New Colors
Otherwise, from behind the wheel there’s only one other small tweak worth mentioning: The RLX’s deeply sculpted hood now houses an attractive angular bulge over each front tire, part of the reshaping that also visits the car’s nose, side sills, and rear end for 2018. The new RLX’s headlamps are restyled and more attractive, as is Acura’s new pentagon-shaped grille, which replaces the chrome beak the RLX has worn since 2013.
Inside there’s a new interior color, Espresso, bringing the total count to four. The trunk gains close to an extra cubic foot of volume thanks to a smaller, lighter (by 8.2 pounds) battery pack. New to the Acura lineup is the RLX’s Traffic Jam Assist feature, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to minimize driver input below 45 mph. We found it effective only on well-marked, reasonably straight freeways that were gorged with slow-moving traffic. But those are the conditions under which Acura designed the system to work, and it does, making small steering corrections and following the vehicle ahead safely at low speeds.
The Value Equation
While the 2017 RLX was available in two trim levels (Technology package and Advance package), the 2018 lineup has been simplified; the P-AWS now is available only as a Technology model and the Sport Hybrid only as a loaded Advance. At its new asking price of $62,865, the RLX Sport Hybrid comes standard with driver-assist technologies and 19-inch wheels that you’ll pay extra for from its German competition. Its front-drive brother, the P-AWS model, increases $450 in cost to $55,865 but replaces the 2017 model’s six-speed transmission with Honda’s new 10-speed automatic. It uses the same 310-hp V-6 as the hybrid, although it’s rated at 272 lb-ft of torque, a 1 lb-ft reduction.
The RLX Sport Hybrid is a fine automobile that’s less sport sedan than it is compliant cruiser. It’s made nicer with the restyling of its nose and backside, and hacking four grand from its asking price can only help dealers move it through showrooms, which clearly is Acura’s goal. That its all-wheel-drive system offers more value in the snow than it does on a winding road shouldn’t diminish its appeal. It might not be a first choice for those of us who seek more control on a shapely back road. But it might still be yours.
VEHICLE TYPE: front-engine, all-wheel-drive, 5-passenger, 4-door sedan
BASE PRICE: $62,865
ENGINE TYPE: SOHC 24-valve V-6, aluminum block and heads, direct fuel injection, 310 hp, 273 lb-ft; 1 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motor, 47 hp, 109 lb-ft (front); 2 permanent-magnet synchronous AC motors, 72 hp and 108 lb-ft (rear); combined output, 377 hp, 341 lb-ft; 1.1-kWh lithium-ion battery pack
TRANSMISSION: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic with manual shifting mode
Wheelbase: 112.2 in
Length: 198.1 in
Width: 74.4 in Height: 57.7 in
Passenger volume: 102 cu ft
Trunk volume: 12 cu ft
Curb weight (C/D est): 4400 lb
PERFORMANCE (C/D EST):
Zero to 60 mph: 5.5 sec
Zero to 100 mph: 14.1 sec
Standing ¼-mile: 14.1 sec
Top speed: 130 mph
EPA FUEL ECONOMY:
Combined/city/highway: 28/28/29 mpg