by Roger Biermann
The Acura RLX Hybrid is the brand’s largest premium luxury sedan, complete with an advanced hybrid powertrain for an excellent blend of performance and efficiency. The Sport Hybrid Package is the most advanced model in the RLX range that benefitted from a significant redesign in 2018, helping to keep the sedan as competitive as possible, even if it continues in 2019 without any major changes. The Acura Sport Hybrid system of the RLX pairs a 3.5-liter V6 with three electric motors for a total output of 377 horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque. Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) and a seven-speed DCT (Dual Clutch Transmission) are the sole drivetrain and transmission options. Move beyond the impressive mechanicals, and the RLX is a rather more conservative package alongside the big three Germans (BMW’s 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz’s E-Class, and Audi’s A6), and even next to fellow Japanese class competitors like the Infiniti Q70 and Lexus GS. At an MSRP of $61,900, the RLX Hybrid is, however, fully kitted out, bar a few of the latest connectivity features. A comfortable cabin seats five with ease, but trunk space in the Hybrid is severely limited to accommodate the lithium-ion battery pack.
Following a major revision for the 2018 model year, the RLX Hybrid continues into 2019 without any noteworthy updates. The major revisions included a revised pentagonal grille and LED headlights and tail lights. Traffic Jam Assist, a driver aid which works at speeds below 45 miles per hour, is now also included.
Despite the latest round of updates, the basic RLX design was first introduced in 2013, and it shows in what is a rather anonymous appearance - a head-turner this is not. The Jewel Eye LED headlamps and 19-inch Shark Grey alloys (unique to the Hybrid) are attractive in isolation, but they can’t transform an overall shape that lacks sparkle.
The RLX is slightly longer than the pre-facelift version, at 198.1 inches, but it maintains a wheelbase of 112.2 inches. Width is 74.4 inches and height is 57.7 inches, making for a spacious interior that is easy to access. In terms of length, the RLX Hybrid stretches beyond most in its class, being longer than a BMW 5 Series, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and Infiniti Q70. Curb weight for the Hybrid is a hefty 4,380 pounds, which is 403 lbs heavier than the gasoline-only model. Of course, the Hybrid’s additional power helps to overcome this weight penalty.
The RLX is available in a selection of seven exterior colors. Buyers can opt for Platinum White Pearl, Lunar Silver Metallic, Gilded Pewter Metallic, and Modern Steel Metallic, all of which don’t cost extra. Three additional colors are available for $400, and these are Majestic Black Pearl, Fathom Blue Pearl, and Brilliant Red Metallic. Darker shades conceal some of the Acura’s bulk and also emphasize the updated chrome detailing.
The RLX Sport Hybrid comes standard with the Advance Package, which encompasses a 3.5-liter V6 bolstered by three electric motors. Total output is 377 horsepower - no other Acura bar the NSX, which uses a similar drivetrain setup, has ever produced more power - with 310 hp being produced by the V6 alone. The combined torque output is 341 lb-ft. Unlike the gas-only, front-wheel drive RLX, the Hybrid uses the SH-AWD (Sport Hybrid All Wheel Drive) system, and power is channeled through to the four wheels via a seven-speed DCT (Dual-Clutch Transmission).
Performance is excellent, the Hybrid managing 0-60 mph in 5.5 seconds. This is faster than the BMW 530e plug-in hybrid, which uses BMW’s xDrive all-wheel drive system.
The RLX Hybrid’s naturally-aspirated, 3.5-liter V6 produces 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque. Using the i-VTEC (intelligent variable valve timing) system from parent company Honda, it’s a refined and powerful engine even before taking into account the added urge from the three electric motors (a single electric motor in front; two at the rear). Combined output is 377 hp and 341 lb-ft. The RLX Hybrid uses a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission - without requiring a torque converter, overall efficiency is improved.
Performance is rewarding, with the electric motors making their presence known especially at low to medium speeds. The Hybrid picks up steam quickly, and there’s a pleasing smoothness between the application of gas and electric power. Pulling off moderately sees the transmission launching in second gear, but press harder and it will select first for maximum responsiveness. With just two driving modes - Normal and Sport - the RLX doesn’t offer the same range of control like some competitors, but this also makes it a simpler machine to pilot. In most cases, the dual-clutch combines well with the gas and electric motors in executing swift shifts. Using the paddle shifters for more assertive driving helps to get the most out of the RLX.
The RLX’s SH-AWD system provides sufficient grip in the city and up to medium speeds and, together with a 13.9:1 steering ratio that responds to inputs quickly, this combination provides enough fun to shoot out of corners cleanly, utilizing the immediately available torque of the hybrid powertrain. Steering feel is good by modern standards and not over-boosted, but isn’t overly generous with feedback, either. Cornering does provoke some understeer, but this can be remedied by applying heavier throttle at higher speeds. Torque vectoring is made possible by the two rear electric motors, as they’re able to enforce positive or negative torque to enhance handling - the sensation is moderately effective in helping the RLX maintain composure through bends and to keep body roll contained. The weight distribution of 57:43 front:rear is also an improvement on the gasoline model (60:40 weight distribution).
Ride comfort is less impressive, being inconsistent under changing conditions. While the RLX bowls along quietly on a smooth motorway, it can be undone by sudden changes in direction, mid-corner bumps, and when the throttle is applied aggressively. In this area, the Hybrid’s extra weight reveals the sensation that the car is underdamped.
Braking performance and feel are affected by the electric motors’ ability to capture regenerative braking energy, and unfortunately, not in a good way. Heavier pressure on the brake pedal can leave one confused about the amount of braking power to come, owing to a lack of feel and a consequent oversensitivity in stopping power. There are no issues with the RLX’s body control under hard braking, however.
Being a hybrid, expectations of the RLX’s gas mileage are understandably high. As expected, the major gains are to be found in city driving. EPA-rated economy for the RLX Hybrid is 28/29/28 mpg on the city/highway/combined cycles. While highway gas mileage is the same as the gas-only model, fuel economy in the city will see you get an extra five miles per gallon, when the electric motors will be working most of their magic. The gas tank’s size is 15.1 gallons, which allows for a combined range of 423 miles. While the RLX provides acceptable economy considering the performance on offer, it trails the Lexus GS 450h for efficiency (29/34/31 mpg).
Although finished in high-quality plastics and attractively-stitched leather upholstery, the RLX’s interior is let down by a drab design and an infotainment system that is miles behind for both its usability and available connectivity features. That aside, there are still many positive attributes to the RLX’s interior. Seating is h and comfortable, and on the Sport Hybrid, the front seats are not only heated and electrically operated, but ventilated too. The Hybrid also benefits from a head-up display and a quality Krell audio system. Space utilization is good all-round, the only weak link being rear headroom that can be restrictive for six-footers and above. A flat design for the electronic gear selector means easier access to buttons on the dashboard, while a versatile center console and a decently-sized glove compartment provide useful storage options up front.
The RLX’s generous dimensions help to provide spacious seating for five passengers. Legroom and headroom are plentiful up front, and those in the back seat will find more legroom than in a 5 Series or E-Class. Rear headroom isn’t in the same league, though, and lankier passengers over six-feet will have to adjust their seating position to prevent their heads from brushing up against the roofline. A fairly large hump in the center of the floor also protrudes, restricting foot space for passengers consigned to the rear middle seat. Wide-opening doors make it easy to get into and out of the RLX.
Milano premium leather with contrast stitching and piping are standard on RLX models, and buyers have the option of three interior colors: Ebony, Espresso, and the lighter Seacoast. Wood trim also changes to match the choice of interior color, with the Seacoast option getting a lighter, high-gloss wood trim. Not offered is a more modern matte-finish wood trim, as found on several competitors. The steering wheel is leather-wrapped, and attractive stitching spans the dashboard and extends to the door panels. The dashboard top is covered in plastic, but it is also soft to the touch, and generally, the RLX interior steers clear of any visible cost-cutting in its construction.
There’s a price to pay for the increased performance and fuel efficiency of that advanced Hybrid powertrain, and it’s apparent when opening the trunk: here, you will find just 12 cubic feet of trunk space, down from the already average 14.9 cu ft you’ll find in the gas-only model. The culprit, of course, is the hybrid battery, impacting the available depth. This means that upright stacking of large suitcases won’t be as easy as in the gas-only RLX. The RLX also lacks a folding rear seat, so extra cargo space is limited to the back seat (provided nobody happens to be sitting there, of course). The locking pass-through on the gas-only model isn’t available on the Hybrid, either.
Storage space in front includes a clever center console which slides back and forth and can also be opened from either side, improving usability for the front seat passenger. The glove compartment is a decent size and is lined with felt to prevent hard items from rattling annoyingly. Rear seat passengers will have to make do with map pockets on the front seatbacks, the only storage option available for them.
The RLX Sport Hybrid with the Advance Package is the best equipped RLX there is, and with few options available, most features you’d expect come as standard. The comfortable seats are enhanced by heating, ventilation, and 12-way power adjustment in front, while the rear outboard seats are heated. Further convenience and comfort features include a Smart Entry Keyless Access System, tri-zone climate control, and an electrically-operated sunroof with a tilt and slide function. Driver convenience is increased with standard fitment cruise control, rain-sensing windshield wipers, and an electric parking brake with automatic brake hold function. Unique to the Hybrid is a head-up display, rear door side sunshades, and a power rear window sunshade. The AcuraWatch suite encompasses a variety of safety and driver assistive technologies like Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keeping Assist System, and Traffic Jam Assist System.
The RLX’s dual-screen infotainment system is the interior’s Achilles heel. Using an eight-inch screen on top and a seven-inch touch screen lower down, it aims to group different controls between these two screens, but the logic simply isn’t intuitive in practice. Screen resolution also lacks the crispness expected of vehicles in this class and the graphics themselves are uninspiring. While several features are included such as Bluetooth, an HD radio, 14-speaker Krell audio system, Acura’s navigation system, MP3/auxiliary input jack, and Pandora compatibility, the lack of both Apple CarPlay or Android Auto integration is a major issue. The Krell sound system provides rich sound reproduction and will please all but the most diehard of audiophiles. Ultimately though, an updated infotainment system for the RLX can’t come soon enough.
The 2014 model year was the worst for the RLX in terms of reliability when the primary complaint related to suspension rattles. Things have improved markedly since then, with few complaints and no safety recalls issued by the NHTSA for the 2019 RLX. However, with disappointing sales volumes (just 1,931 RLXs were sold in 2018 across both gas-only and hybrid derivatives), there isn’t much data to work with to accurately rate RLX ownership.
J.D. Power has rated the RLX as average for overall reliability, which is a half-star improvement on 2018’s model. This is a better rating than the Mercedes-Benz E-Class, but lower than that of the BMW 5 Series. The RLX is covered by a four-year/50,000 mile limited warranty and a six-year/70,000 limited warranty on the powertrain, comparable to the Lexus GS. For the Hybrid model, coverage of the battery pack differs by state, so we’d advise you to consult with your local dealership.
The RLX has an excellent safety record, with the NHTSA bestowing it the full five-star rating. Its IIHS safety rating is also excellent, with the RLX achieving a Superior Rating for the frontal crash test. Following its 2018 update, the RLX was chosen as a Top Safety Pick by the IIHS.
The RLX Hybrid is fitted with the AcuraWatch suite, bringing with it many standard safety features and driver assistive technologies. Among them are Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Departure Warning System, Lane Keeping Assist System, Traffic Jam Assist (TJA), Collision Mitigation Braking System, and Road Departure Mitigation. As the first ever Acura to offer the TJA system, the RLX makes use of wave radar and cameras at speeds below 45 mph, helping drivers to maintain a safe lane position and appropriate distance from the preceding vehicle, reducing fatigue in stop-start traffic. Seven airbags are fitted to the RLX, include side-curtain airbags with accompanying rollover sensors, as well as a knee airbag for the driver. A LATCH child seat-mounting system is also standard.
The RLX Hybrid is a curious blend of cutting edge powertrain mixed with a conservative design and dated infotainment system. Without a doubt, the V6 engine and three-motor Sport Hybrid system represent the best of the RLX. Their operation is seamless and the performance on offer is admirable. As luxury sedans go, the RLX is perfectly in its groove at a high-speed cruise on a smooth motorway, where drivers will enjoy the refinement of the powertrain. They’ll also feel pampered in the cosseting interior.
Ask more of the RLX Hybrid though, and it doesn’t answer quite as confidently as the $60,000+ price would have you expect. The ride quality and handling aren’t as well sorted as key competitors, making the RLX a somewhat frustrating drive when pushing it as hard as its Sport moniker and power output demand. On imperfect road surfaces - and unfortunately, there are many of those - the RLX can feel unsettled.
Inside, the glaring lack of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto seal the fate of the infotainment system, which simply doesn’t cut it in 2019, let alone in the mid-size luxury sedan class. For a large car, the practicality sacrifices are also hard to justify; the small trunk and non-folding rear seats will give no reason for an already SUV-obsessed market to rethink the appeal of a large, three-box sedan. An honest offering, Acura would do well to skip another RLX update and throw all their energies into a brand new model that can really challenge the segment’s big guns.
The Acura RLX Sport Hybrid with Advance Package is the sole Hybrid offering in the range and is available at an MSRP of $61,900. A handling charge of $995 applies, and not included are taxes, registration, and licensing fees.
The RLX Hybrid is only available in one package, the SH-AWD with the Advance Package. The only other RLX model available is the gas-only V6 with its Technology Package. The Hybrid is unique in having all-wheel drive and a motor-integrated seven-speed DCT (dual-clutch transmission).
The Sport Hybrid’s specs also include a standard head-up display, a superior Krell Audio System with 14 speakers, a surround-view camera system, and ventilation for the front seats. Seven exterior color options are available for the Hybrid, and it gets unique 19-inch Shark Gray machine-finished alloy wheels.
The Hybrid model benefited most from the RLX’s most recent refresh. The pre-facelifted Hybrid accounted for only 13 percent of RLX sales, but this figure jumped to 40 percent following the refresh.
Acura has left very few options for buyers to play with, preferring to include all the important creature comforts as standard on the RLX Advance Package. The exterior can be given a lift by opting for special dark-chrome alloys at $2,700, while a surprisingly substantial, color-matched decklid spoiler looks good and is available for $410. Other than that, you won’t find anything nearly as comprehensive as what an Audi S-Line or BMW M-Sport pack would offer, and you’ll have to settle for the RLX Hybrid’s single package as it is.
If it’s a Hybrid RLX you want, you’ll have no choice of engine, drivetrain, or package - there’s only one of each, the well-equipped Advance Package. As long as you want all-wheel drive, a dual-clutch transmission, and a meaty 3.5-liter V6 cleverly boosted by three electric motors, you’ll have little to complain about.
The first bit of competition for the RLX comes from within its own stable: the smaller, sportier, and much more affordable TLX. Seven inches shorter but almost half of the price of the RLX Hybrid, the base model TLX represents a significant saving. Of course, that base model also means almost half the power, with the 2.4-liter inline four-cylinder producing just 206 horsepower. More appealing is the RLX V6 with P-AWS (Precision All-Wheel Steer), which, at $40,100, still provides lusty V6 power. The TLX’s smaller interior still doesn’t feel cramped, so will be suitable for most families. The infotainment system is also a big step up over the RLX’s system and offers both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.
The Lexus GS 450h offers its own take on the mid-sized luxury hybrid sedan and starts off with an MSRP of $63,635. Combined consumption is 31 mpg for the Lexus, better than the Acura’s 28 mpg. Total system output is 338 hp for the GS 450h, trailing the 377 hp of the RLX Hybrid. A CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) is fitted to the Lexus, and this, together with its lower power output, makes the RLX Hybrid the superior performer. Both cars share similar interior traits, each being finely constructed but lacking when it comes to their infotainment systems, the GS’ system featuring a clumsy controller that simply isn’t intuitive to use. Space and cargo capacity is a mixed bag, the RLX offering more rear legroom than the shorter Lexus, but the Acura is soundly beaten by the Lexus’ larger trunk: it offers an extra six cubic feet of packing space.
Infiniti’s Q70 is another capable Japanese rival with a long list of standard features and a similarly luxurious interior. Price-wise, the Q70 5.6 Luxe most closely matches the RLX Hybrid and starts at an MSRP of $63,350. Of course, fuel consumption drops off a cliff, but the performance from the 420-hp V8 is towering, and it achieves comfortably below the five-second mark for the 0-60 mph sprint. The two are closely matched for interior space, while the Q70 offers more model and trim options. Ultimately, for most buyers, it’ll likely come down to a preference for the Acura or Infiniti brands, and the bragging rights of perceived eco-friendliness to separate these two.