by Roger Biermann
Acura’s largest premium luxury sedan, the RLX, was first introduced in 2013 and, following a comprehensive mid-cycle update last year, continues in 2019 without any major updates to what is a refined but rather anonymous competitor in the class. While undoubtedly casting more of a distinctive silhouette thanks to the addition of the latest pentagonal grille, the likes of the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class still offer more presence, as do more price-competitive rivals from Lexus and Infiniti. Still, the RLX’s starting price of $54,900 for the Technology Package represents a high-value ticket to luxury motoring. Featuring a 3.5-liter V6 producing 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque, the RLX channels this power through a ten-speed automatic transmission and the front wheels to deliver solid, smooth performance. Also standard is Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system. For buyers looking for a premium sedan with a host of standard safety features, and who don’t mind flying under the radar, the RLX fits the bill.
Following a major refresh in 2018, the Acura is unchanged for the current model year. The most significant of the recent updates are visible up front, where you will find a larger, modernized grille and LED headlights. The ten-speed automatic transmission and Traffic Jam Assist also form part of the latest updates.
The RLX P-AWS favors conservatism over aggression, and this remains the case even following the 2018 facelift. While the C-pillar curve reminds one of BMW’s iconic Hofmeister kink, little else will have you mistaking the RLX for one of the more muscular Germans. Features such as LED headlights and taillights, the pentagon-shaped grille with chrome detailing, and lower sills with bright trim detailing do at least modernize the exterior. Smartly designed, noise-reducing 19-inch alloy wheels are standard on the RLX, as is a power sunroof.
The RLX’s restyle brought with it a marginal increase in length to 198.1 inches, just under two inches longer than the previous model, although the wheelbase is the same at 112.2 inches. Width is 74.4 inches, helping the Acura feel spacious inside, and the RLX stands 57.7-inches tall. Curb weight for the RLX tops out at 3,977 pounds. The RLX has a shorter wheelbase than both the BMW 5 Series and Mercedes E-Class (4.9-inches shorter than the BMW and 3.5-inches shorter than the Mercedes), yet is a lengthier car than each. It’s these dimension differences that play to the RLX’s less dynamic, more comfort-oriented philosophy.
Acura has retained a selection of seven exterior color choices for the RLX. Standard hues include Platinum White Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, and Modern Steel Metallic. For $400 more, buyers can choose from four more striking color options that go some way towards elevating the aesthetics of the RLX, such as the Brilliant Red Metallic and Gilded Pewter Metallic. The darker shades best complement the more tasteful chrome detailing of the refreshed design.
Acura has kept it simple with the RLX P-AWS, with just one engine option falling under the Technology Package (the Advance Package, with its Sport Hybrid powertrain, differs considerably, and is reviewed separately), and providing competent performance.
The RLX P-AWS features a 3.5-liter V6 engine and drives the front wheels through a ten-speed automatic transmission, which is a first for an Acura model and provides improved performance and efficiency. The 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque produced by the RLX allow it to hit 0-60 miles per hour in six-seconds and reach a maximum speed of 155 mph, making it a respectable, rather than remarkable, performer in the class. With the competition offering a vaster array of engine options, the RLX doesn’t offer buyers much choice. Likewise, rivals also offer rear- and all-wheel drive optionsl, the latter only available under the Hybrid variant of the RLX. The V6 is however suitably refined, even at higher revs, although stops short of feeling particularly sporty.
The RLX’s 3.5-liter V6 naturally-aspirated engine produces 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque, while a drive-by-wire throttle control system is used. Intake valves feature i-VTEC (intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control). The RLX also uses Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), a system that deactivates the three rear bank of cylinders, aiding fuel efficiency.
The ten-speed automatic transmission is 22 pounds lighter than the previous six-speeder and its ratio range is a significant 68 percent wider, helping it to extract the best from the V6. Both upshift and downshift speeds are quicker, and the very tall top gear makes for relaxed cruising. Getting up to cruising speed is effortless, with the RLX being pleasingly responsive from a standing start. Overtaking on the highway is made easier thanks to the transmission, which quickly selects the right gear and is resistant to excessive hunting. The ten-speed transmission can also produce swift direct downshifts of four gears (tenth to sixth, or seventh to third), which improves drivability.
A standout feature on the Acura RLX P-AWS is its Precision All-Wheel Steer system, which is standard fitment on this front-wheel-drive model. Providing independent toe angle control of the rear wheels, the system is said to provide better agility, improved stability, and better responsiveness for faster steering maneuvers.
Out on the road, this translates to the RLX feeling fairly fleet-footed for its size, although P-AWS doesn’t contribute to a car that feels more dynamic than rivals such as the 5 Series, A6, or the AMG variants in the E-Class range. Steering feel and response is light and accurate, making for relaxed progress in urban environments or at higher speeds, where keeping the RLX pointed in a straight line isn’t a chore. However, the RLX doesn’t offer as much grip as some rivals in the class, and cornering limits are therefore lower. Driven more sedately, few drivers would find too much to complain about. Ride comfort is merely average for the class, the RLX feeling rather unsettled and missing the overall sophistication of a 5 Series, such as when traversing mid-corner bumps at speed. The refinement of the engine and comfortable seats somewhat compensate for the inconsistent ride. Less impressive is braking feel, which offers up a disconnected sensation under hard braking.
The RLX returns acceptable gas mileage, achieving EPA-rated mileage estimates of 20/29/23 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. This is on par with class rivals, but superior to the similarly powered 3.7-liter V6 Lincoln Continental, which achieves a combined 20 mpg by comparison. A 17 percent taller top gear for the 10-speed automatic transmission aids economy on the highway. The gas tank size of the RLX is 18.5 gallons, which is on par with rivals and lends the Acura a combined cycle range of 425 miles. Recommended gas type is premium unleaded 91 octane.
The Acura RLX’s interior is undoubtedly luxurious, with fine plastics and wood inlays all being of high quality allowing for no annoying rattles or squeaks to intrude. The dual-screen infotainment system does however come across as dated and isn’t the most user-friendly system around, considering the leaps taken by many competitors in recent years. Thankfully, the seats (powered and heated up front) are plenty comfortable and accommodating of all frame sizes, while space, front and rear, is generally excellent. This makes the RLX easy to get into and pleasant once you’re there. Instruments lack the full digitization and customization of the top competition, but they’re also legible and neatly presented. The electronic gear selector features an unusual flat design, so as not to intrude when accessing the dash-mounted controls.
The RLX can seat five passengers in comfort thanks to the car’s generous dimensions and well-designed seats. In front, the majority of drivers won’t feel short on space. At the back, the RLX offers more legroom than both the 5 Series and E-Class. Rear headroom, however, does lag behind most others in the class, the result of a fairly sharply sloping roofline, so taller passengers over six-feet won’t feel quite as taken care of. Getting inside the RLX is convenient, with doors that open wide aiding ingress appreciably. Overall, the RLX ticks most of the space and seating boxes required of the mid-size luxury sedan class.
The RLX comes standard with attractive sports seats trimmed in perforated Milano premium leather, while contrast stitching and piping are tasteful. The leather interior is available in three colors: Ebony, Espresso, and Seacoast. The light-colored Seacoast (with matching lighter wood trim) looks the most special to our eyes, although it won’t be the easiest of the three choices to keep clean. A leather-wrapped steering wheel and gear shift knob, together with neat stitching on the dashboard and door panels, ensure that all major controls are pleasant to the touch, even if they cloak what is a conservative overall design.
The RLX’s trunk space measures 14.9 cubic feet, which is smaller than you’d reasonably expect in a car of this size. It’s smaller than the Lexus GS and the Germans; consider the impressive 18.7 cu. ft. trunk size of the BMW 5 Series. Unfortunately, the RLX also doesn’t offer folding rear seats, which severely limits overall cargo space and versatility. Most rivals offer a 60/40 or 40/20/40-split folding rear seat, which makes this all the more disappointing. The RLX does offer a locking pass-through to accommodate long and narrow items, but this doesn’t balance out its other shortcomings in terms of everyday practicality. Expect the trunk to hold no more than two large suitcases and three soft duffel bags, but thankfully loading is easy thanks to a broad opening.
Interior storage is good in the front but poor at the rear, where only map pockets on the backs of the seats are provided. Up front, storage space is much more useful; the center console bin includes a removable tray, and its top will flip up in any direction for the convenience of both front seat passengers.
The Acura RLX P-AWS with Technology Package is comprehensively equipped and backs up its value proposition by offering many features as standard. Interior convenience and comfort items include power folding mirrors, a Smart Entry Keyless Access System, tri-zone climate control, and 12-way power adjustable and heated seats for both front occupants. The electrically-operated sunroof, with a tilt and slide function, can also be remotely controlled. Driver assistive features include Traffic Jam Assist, Adaptive Cruise Control, and a Lane Keeping Assist system. For added visibility, a multi-angle backup camera is fitted and includes wide, normal, and top-down views.
The RLX is fitted with a dual-screen infotainment system that lacks the simplicity and technology of systems in competitors. Comprising an eight-inch screen higher up and a seven-inch touch screen lower down, the system makes sense in theory, with the top screen controlling audio, information, and navigation functions, and the lower screen housing controls for audio and more that is within reach of both the driver and front seat passenger. In practice, it’s all a bit much to digest for the average driver. Although the infotainment’s list of features includes Bluetooth functionality, HD Radio, and 14 speakers for the sound system, the absence of both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto is a glaring omission and speaks to the age of the interface as a whole. Navigation is taken care of by a standard hard-drive-based system that could be faster in its operation.
There are very few reported issues with the Acura RLX, with the 2014 model year being the worst by far - the number one complaint here involved suspension rattles. Of course, the RLX’s low sales volumes must be taken into account, with only 1,931 units sold in 2018, and an average of under 150 units per month in 2019. The NHTSA has not issued any safety recall for the 2019 RLX, while J.D. Power rates the model as average for overall reliability, a half-star improvement on the 2018 model year and bettering the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but trailing the BMW 5 Series. The RLX is covered by a four-year/50,000-mile limited warranty and a six-year/70,000-mile limited warranty on the powertrain, matching the likes of the 5 Series and Lexus GS.
The RLX’s safety standards are high, with the NHTSA awarding it the full five stars. Matching this result is an excellent IIHS safety rating, with a Superior rating for front crash prevention. In 2018, following its update, the RLX was selected as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.
Standard on the RLX is the AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver assistive technologies. The suite includes Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist System, Lane Departure Warning System, Traffic Jam Assist (TJA), Road Departure Mitigation, and Collision Mitigation Braking System. The RLX is the first Acura to offer TJA, which uses wave radar and cameras to help the driver retain a safe lane position at speeds below 45 mph. However, the Adaptive Cruise Control system isn’t the best and doesn’t maintain the target speed setting with much subtlety. Airbags include dual front, front side, side curtain, and a driver’s knee airbag, taking the number to seven. The advanced braking system features ABS with EBD, Brake Assist, and automatic brake hold. Safety features also include a LATCH child-seat mounting system.
The Acura RLX P-AWS represents an old-school take on the mid-size luxury car segment, and as such, falls short on more modern and sophisticated competition in a few key areas. While the ride and handling balance are fine in isolation, the FWD RLX can’t match the competition for overall composure and driving enjoyment when pushed. The 3.5-liter V6 is a smooth engine and the ten-speed transmission a big improvement on what came before. Together, they highlight the RLX package, but as the only powertrain available, this limits the wide-ranging appeal of the model.
On the showroom floor, the RLX is hampered by a fundamentally dated shape, even if detail upgrades have kept it semi-fresh. The same goes for the interior, which is luxurious but let down by an unimaginative design, while the infotainment system somehow manages to be both too complicated and too rudimentary, eschewing the latest in connectivity features.
The RLX’s practicality also lags behind many others with its small trunk and the lack of folding rear seats, even if interior space is fair. Not a seriously flawed car, the RLX just doesn’t stand out in any particular area and is below average in several aspects that matter to the discerning customer, making this generation difficult to recommend.
The Acura RLX P-AWS with Technology Package is the only model available and starts at an MSRP of $54,900 before options. Not included in this price are taxes, licensing, and a destination and handling charge of $995. A monthly payment estimate works out to approximately $915.
The Acura RLX comprises a single non-hybrid model and package: the RLX Precision All-Wheel Steer with Technology Package. As per Acura’s model terminology, the only other RLX available is the Advance Package, which brings with it not just a specific set of features, but a significantly different Sport Hybrid drivetrain and all-wheel drive - handled in a separate review.
The front-wheel drive RLX uses a 310-hp, 3.5-liter V6 paired with a ten-speed automatic transmission. On the outside, 19-inch Pewter Gray machine-finished wheels are standard, and you can choose between seven different exterior colors. Standard features include heated and 12-way power adjustable seats for the front occupants, a 14-speaker audio system, and tri-zone climate control.
Acura has specced the RLX Technology Package well, leaving little room for additional options. This will be welcomed by buyers who prefer most items to be included, but leave those after a more bespoke product a bit frustrated.
Outside, LED fog lights are one of the more appealing - and pricier options, at $750 - but they do improve illumination in inclement weather, while also complementing the RLX’s re-designed face. Besides your choice of color, that’s pretty much all to get excited about on the options list.
There’s only one RLX to choose from, and that’s the front-wheel drive model with the Technology Package and gas-only V6 engine. Buyers interested in a few of the additional features of the Advance Package won’t be able to upgrade in this way; they’d have to commit to the hybrid powertrain, seven-speed dual clutch transmission, and all-wheel drive system of this alternative model.
For buyers who have decided on Acura’s range of sedans, it’s worth considering the RLX’s smaller sibling, the TLX. With an MSRP starting at $33,000, the TLX is over $20,000 cheaper than the RLX at a base level. With familiar Acura family styling, the TLX is seven inches shorter than the RLX, which does give it a sportier appearance. The base 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder, with 206 horsepower, is significantly down on power compared to the RLX’s V6. However, specced similarly to the RLX (3.5-liter V6 with FWD and P-AWS), and the TLX comes in at $40,100, a $14,800 savings over the equivalent RLX that sports the superior transmission, the ten-speeder proving more responsive than the TLX’s nine-speed shiftable automatic. A similar dual-screen infotainment system is available on the TLX, but crucially, it adds Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, both not available on the RLX. While the interior is smaller, there are no great sacrifices in terms of the TLX’s ability to accommodate five passengers, although three at the back will be a tighter squeeze.
The Lexus LS range provides a step up in luxury for buyers who may be trying to decide between a touch more class relative to a financial saving. An MSRP of $75,450 for the cheapest LS, the LS500, is 20k more expensive than the RLX, and for that extra outlay, you’ll get a 3.5-liter twin turbo V6 producing a brawny 416 hp. The LS is however 730 pounds heavier than the RLX and much larger in footprint, occupying a different segment entirely, so it needs the extra urge. The LS’s class shows in its exemplary refinement, beautifully constructed interior, and silky smooth ride quality. Interestingly, the Lexus has its own infotainment usability issues, with the touchpad-based system not being as simple to use on the move as it should. It’s still better than the RLX’s dual-screen setup, however.
A fellow Japanese competitor in the form of the Infiniti Q70 is a close match for the RLX, both offering heaps of standard features in a luxurious package without the inflated prices of the more established Germans. The Q70’s first advantage is a more extensive range, being offered with either V6 or V8 trims. The Q70 3.7X Luxe has an MSRP of $52,450, undercutting the RLX while providing 330 hp from its V6, 20 hp more than the RLX. V8 models provide superb performance and feel much sportier, but with an MSRP from $63,350 for the pleasure of owning one, these versions do carry a hefty price premium. The Q70 also offers all-wheel drive propulsion. Space utilization is similar, with the Acura offering more rear legroom but the Infiniti providing more headroom. The Q70’s interior is well made from good materials and is on par with the RLX in this regard. While the Q70 also feels in need of an update, it does cut a more distinctive figure than the RLX.