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2014 Acura RLX: Acura reboots with a rejigged RLX

It?s reboot time for Acura.

The up-scale division of Honda has had its ups and downs over the years. Frankly, I don?t think it ever fully recovered from dropping the Integra and Legend nameplates.

But in order to become a true luxury car player ? to join ?Tier One,? as Acura calls that top echelon ? the division understands it has to do more than make dipped-in-gold Hondas.

It has to offer cars that are unique ? not only relative to its corporate cousin, but to the larger market ? and offer something in the way of a customer experience that this picky clientele can?t get elsewhere.

The first product arrow out of the quiver was last year?s ILX, which ? sorry, Acura ? is pretty much a dipped-in-gold Civic.

Frankly, I found that car instantly forgettable, although it helped shove Acura?s sales last year up twelve percent, outpacing the overall luxury market.

Next up is the RLX, the brand?s flagship luxury sedan, designed to compete with such Tier One stalwarts as BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, as well as Audi A6 and Lexus GS (I?m not totally certain which brands Acura, um, accords that lofty designation).

It hits Acura showrooms in May of this year, starting at around fifty grand ? a huge drop from the current RL ($64,690) or the original 2005 RL which began life even more over-priced at nearly seventy grand ? in 2005!

(And how?s this for irony? In Japan, the cars we have known as Acura RL are called Honda Legend).

You may be forgiven for thinking that the RLX is four-wheel drive. After all, the outgoing RL is four-wheel drive, and ?X? seems to be industry shorthand for that feature ? as in Acura RDX, Acura MDX, etc.

Nope.

At least at launch, the RLX is front-drive only. A four-wheel drive Hybrid will join the roster in late 2013.

The RLX is just a shade longer overall than the RL, but is taller (10 mm), wider (45 mm) and gains 50 mm in wheelbase.

So while the overall footprint isn?t much bigger, it is significantly roomier inside, notably in shoulder room and cross-your-legs-at-the-knees rear-seat legroom.

The trunk is much bigger than before at 433 litres, and passes the apparently-critical four golf bag test.

The new body also looks larger, probably due to the steeper windshield.

The Japanese love to come up with fancy descriptions to describe the styling themes of their cars.

?Exhilarating sleek dignified elegant alluring form; pride, dynamic nose and tail; advanced aero fused shape? is how they characterize the RLX.

Well, well.

The most striking design element is the so-called ?Jewel-eye? headlights, consisting of two rows of four LED elements which sparkle individually, even in daylight, plus a larger unit for high beam.

These give the car a unique face, and also provide brighter and better-distributed light.

A bodyside character line drops down from the arched front fenders, and carries along below the beltline. Acura designers say this is aerodynamically functional, helping the car claim class-leading (i.e., low) drag and lift coefficients.

Inside, you?d be looking for ?smart exhilarating luxury.?

Yes, the always-pointless push-button start and damnable touch screen have to be in there, but most functions have redundant real controls too.

Actually, there are two screens, so the functions can be separated, meaning there are fewer levels of menu to mine through to get at what you want.

There?s also voice activation for most functions, but like virtually all of these systems, it?ll drive you nuts trying to figure out how to make it work. I was sitting in the parking lot of Mustard?s Grill, one of Napa?s most famous restaurants, and the SatNav still couldn?t find it.

The innards are nicely crafted, although the colour schemes are rather muted. I suspect though, that the cool blue colours of the screens will feel calming with time.

Increased use of high-strength steel and aluminum in the body is supposed to keep weight down, but at 1,788 kg (3,941 pounds) the RLX is no featherweight, being heavier than most of its direct competitors.

Rigidity is excellent however, and the RLX earns top marks in all the crash tests, including the new ?small overlap? test which is not yet mandatory, but is needed to earn a ?Plus? in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety?s ?Top Safety Pick? scoring system.

Safety is, of course, a whole lot more than surviving a crash; it?s vastly more important not to get into one in the first place.

To this end, the RLX offers the increasingly-common forward collision and lane departure warning systems (we used to call these ?eyes?).

New, however, is another take on four-wheel steering. This concept was all the rage a couple decades ago, but the benefits weren?t sufficient to justify the cost.

Acura believes that with better electronics, that has now changed.

Called Precision All-Wheel Steer (and they are avoiding the obvious acronym ? get better grip with better PAWS), it turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts for more stable high-speed lane changes, in the opposite phase for more agile cornering, and toes them in under hard braking, again for improved stability.

RLX also has what Acura calls ?Agile Handling Assist,? where braking force is automatically applied to the inside rear wheel to help pull the car around a tight corner.

Not alone here; such varied cars as the McLaren 12C and Ford Focus have something very similar.

The RLX also has ?Adaptive Cruise Control? ? again, not new. But the ?low-speed follow? is somewhat rarer. It allows you to track the car in front of you, even bringing the car to a complete stop in traffic. Hit ?Resume? and it automatically trails that car ahead, maintaining a safe distance.

Trolling through this wine-country town though, I found it too abrupt, accelerating harder than I would have on my own, then having to brake harder to avoid the rear-ender.

Nice idea; maybe needs some fine-tuning.

Powering all this is a new 3.5 litre V6, now with direct injection for improved power and fuel economy.

It is bolted onto a six-speed automatic with paddle-shift override. Funny; not too many years ago, six speeds was state-of-the-art?six is now two behind.

How does this all work in this car?

Mostly, pretty well. The engine provides decent acceleration, although with the peak torque not coming in until 5,800 r.p.m., it may feel a trifle doggy off the line.

While the car is quiet overall, the engine gets a big gruff when pushed hard ? one of the few downsides of direct injection is that it can get noisy.

The car feels agile on twisty roads ? the essential goodness of the double wishbone front/multi-link rear suspension aided no doubt by the chassis electronics (we couldn?t turn that stuff off, so it?s hard to say how much difference it all made).

Turning circle isn?t great though ? a crossways engine (as it always does) limits the amount of lock the front wheels can attain, four-wheel steer or no.

The seats are comfortable, and the car feels ? and is ? roomy.

Question: Can it compete with those Tier One competitors?

Acura bravely offered a BMW 5 Series, a Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and a Lexus GS 350 for back-to-back comparison (somebody had taken the Audi A6).

And in very brief test drives of those three, I?d say Acura still has a way to go, especially with respect to the German brands. They have a presence, a feel for the road, that the Acura ? and the Lexus for that matter ? cannot match.

But the RLX does get Acura in this game, with enough features ? and a price point ? where it can at least get on peoples? radar screens.

As for that customer service thing, Acura will be launching something called ?Concierge Experience? at Acura showrooms across the country over the coming year, promising cutting-edge facilities and exceptional sales, service and follow-up processes.

If they can pull it off, it might give the RLX an added boost to help make its mark in this hotly-contested field.

The Data Panel

ACURA RLX. Four-door five-passenger mid-size luxury sedan. Front-wheel drive.

PRICE: (estimated?real prices should be available later this week): base?$49,995; ?Technology? package?$59,995; ?Elite? package?$69,995.

ENGINE: 3.5 litre V6, single overhead camshaft per bank, four valves per cylinder, variable valve timing and lift, direct fuel injection.

POWER/TORQUE: Horsepower / lb.-ft: 310 @ 6,500 r.p.m. / 271 @ 5,800 r.p.m.

FUEL CONSUMPTION: Transport Canada City/Highway, l/100 km: 10.5 / 6.4

COMPETITION: Audi A6, BMW 5 Series, Hyundai Genesis, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class.

WHAT?S BEST: Roomy, comfortable cabin; nimble handling, class-leading highway fuel consumption; ultra-comfortable seats, class-leading fuel

WHAT?S WORST: Engine gets noisy on hard acceleration; six-speed transmission behind the curve; driving feel still not up to the best of the Germans.

WHAT?S INTERESTING: For a styling icon, Acura still uses the old NSX?introduced in 1990

  • 2014 Acura RLX: Acura reboots with a rejigged RLX
  • 2014 Acura RLX: Acura reboots with a rejigged RLX
  • 2014 Acura RLX: Acura reboots with a rejigged RLX
  • 2014 Acura RLX: Acura reboots with a rejigged RLX

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