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2018 Acura RLX Road Test and Review

What’s the most powerful Acura of all time? That’s an easy one. It’s the 2018 Acura NSX. The hybrid-powered supercar packs 573 hp underneath its sleek, aerodynamic bodywork. Now, can you name the second most powerful?

I’ll give you a hint: You’re looking at it. That’s right, it’s the 377-horsepower 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid. The brand’s redesigned flagship luxury sedan makes almost 100 hp more than the original NSX supercar, which debuted back in 1991. Also, it has all-wheel drive and is brimming with the latest safety and comfort features. For 2018, Acura has revamped the RLX, giving it a new look and vast improvements in comfort and performance, which should make it far more competitive with the other mid-size luxury sedans such as the Audi A6, Genesis G80, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and BMW 5 Series.

High-Value Luxury Hybrid

The 2018 RLX is available in just two configurations. Prices start at $55,865 (including $965 for destination) for an RLX P-AWS, which is front-wheel drive and powered by a 310-hp 3.5-liter all-aluminum V6 engine that works with a new 10-speed automatic transmission. Acura has quite a few awkward acronyms; P-AWS stands for Precision All-Wheel Steering. The system manipulates the geometry of the RLX’s rear suspension with small electric motors to minimize the sedan’s turning radius and improve its handling response in quick maneuvers.

The all-wheel drive Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sits at the top of the range and costs $62,865. It borrows considerable hybrid technology from the brand’s NSX supercar and it uses the same 310-hp V6 — only here it’s in combination with a new, lighter battery back and three electric motors, which add another 167 hp. This model uses a seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission. On this model, SH-AWD stands for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, and the unique system ditches rear drive shafts for two electric motors, one at each rear wheel. It’s the same layout used on the NSX, and it benefits the RLX’s handling as well as its energy recovery for improved fuel efficiency.

Smooth Powertrain

The 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid feels small from behind the wheel. Most of the time you can fool yourself into thinking you’re driving a sporty coupe. It’s that responsive. It’s that fun to drive — especially in Sport mode, which quickens the sedan’s throttle response, retunes its transmission for more immediate action, tightens up its steering, and keeps its big V6 running. This allows you to access all 377 hp as soon as you put your foot down. No waiting. The electric motors provide instant torque, and the engine loves to rev to its 6,800 rpm redline. Acura doesn’t quote a 0-60 mph time, but our unscientific testing puts it in the low-5-second range. If that’s accurate, the RLX is about a half second slower than the 400-hp Volvo S90 Plug-in Hybrid but quicker than a BMW 530e iPerformance.

In Normal mode, the gas engine shuts off often in the city and highway driving under 50 mph to save fuel. It happens so quickly and so smoothly you don’t even notice. But it’s odd to be driving down the road with the tachometer needle sitting on zero. When you need more power, the engine does kick on at just the right time.

Agile Handling

The Acura’s steering is precise, and you can feel the road’s surface through its leather-wrapped steering wheel. It rides well, with a satisfying compromise between sport and luxury, which is an achievement considering the big sedan rides on large 19-inch wheels and 40 Series Michelin tires. Drive it hard, and the RLX answers the call with good overall balance and admirable levels of grip. The Sport Hybrid is heavy at about 4,400 lbs, but it’s better balanced than the base RLX because its battery pack behind the rear seat counterbalances the weight of its engine. The hybrid model has 57 percent of its weight over its rear tires while the base model has 61 percent.

On a twisty mountain road or your favorite on-ramp, the RLX’s all-wheel drive system provides a locked-in feeling that gives you the confidence to go faster. It also makes the sedan very stable on the highway. Don’t misunderstand, however: This is a sporty sedan, but it’s no hardcore sports sedan. If you’re looking for real speed with four doors, German automakers like BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Audi still make the world’s best.

Good Fuel Economy

Overall, the 2018 Acura RLX delivers good fuel economy for the mid-size luxury sedan class. The RLX P-AWS has EPA ratings of 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. For comparison, the BMW 540i, which is more powerful, is rated for 21 mpg city and 30 mpg on the highway.

Considering it’s a hybrid, it’s easy to expect huge Toyota Prius fuel economy numbers from the Sport Hybrid. Don’t. This is a big, heavy sedan with 377 total horsepower. Still, it’s considerably more efficient than the base model. The EPA rates the RLX Sport Hybrid at 28 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. We averaged 26.1 mpg in mixed driving over a week in Los Angeles on premium fuel, using Sport mode about 25 percent of the time. By the way, the Acura NSX is rated 21 mpg city and 22 mpg highway.

New Sportier Look

Acura’s designers had a little fun with the updated 2018 RLX. They didn’t have a clean slate, but they were able to give the sedan all-new bodywork from its A-pillar forward. The changes include an aggressive new grille, sexy LED headlamps that Acura calls Jewel-Eye, and a new hood with some interesting curves and bulges you can see from the driver’s seat.

Overall the 2018 RLX is understated, attractive, and modern. The changes have shaved more than 1.5 inches from the sedan’s overall length, which is now 197.8 inches, about 3 inches longer than a BMW 5 Series. To shave weight, Acura uses aluminum extensively in the RLX’s body, including the hood, front fenders, and door skins. The new headlamps kick out some serious candlepower, lighting up the night ahead like an NFL field on Monday Night Football, and the RLX feels solid. Its doors close with a satisfying thunk.

Spacious and Rich Interior

The RLX’s front-seat luxuries include power seats, heated and cooled seats, and a heated steering wheel. Some may find the unusual push-button shifter to be off-putting, but you get used to it. Seat comfort is very high and the interior’s overall fit and finish is exceptional. This is a well-built interior and its simple white-on-black instrumentation is just classic. I also like the chrome trim on the shifter, window switches and parking brake. Instead of one large infotainment screen, the RLX has two smaller screens to display the navigation, audio, and other information. The interface is a combination of touchscreen and the manipulation of a large knob; it works well, but a single large touchscreen is still the better approach.

The RLX seats five comfortably. Its rear seat offers plenty of legroom, although headroom gets tight if you’re over 6 feet tall. Our test vehicle had rear air conditioning vents and heated rear seats, as well as adjustable headrests.

Hybrid’s Trunk Is Smaller

Interior storage is also well thought out with a large felt-lined console bin and cupholders, although the door bins are small. The base RLX’s trunk is sized well at 14.9 cubic feet, but the battery pack takes up some of the trunk on the Sport Hybrid model — knocking it down to 12 cubic feet.

That’s a small trunk for a car this size, and it’s less cargo space than you get in the Volvo S90 hybrid and the BMW 530e hybrid. Still, it proved to be more than enough for an airport run where it handled several carryon suitcases and backpacks. The Acura’s lack of a power opening and closing trunk lid was surprising, though.

Standard Advanced Safety Systems

Acura has gotten aggressive with its tech-based safety systems strategy. Every 2018 RLX gets AcuraWatch, which is the brand’s full suite of driver aids. Our Sport Hybrid test vehicle was equipped with an emergency automatic braking system with a forward-collision warning, lane-keeping assist, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow that now works in stop-and-go traffic.

Our RLX also had a blind-spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert, parking sensors, and road departure mitigation and lane departure warning, which automatically steers the sedan gently back into the center of your lane. You know it’s working when the steering wheel does a little shimmy in your hands. There was also a surround-view camera system, which gives you a bird’s-eye 360-degree view of the sedan. It’s activated by a button on the end of the turn signal stalk.

Final Thoughts

For more than two decades, Acura’s flagship sedan has flown under the radar — first under the RL name and now as the RLX — overlooked by most luxury car shoppers. Well, it’s time for the car to get noticed. With its new look, smooth and powerful powertrains, and long list of standard high-tech safety systems, the 2018 RLX is finally ready for prime time.

And it’s a solid value, especially the Sport Hybrid, which undercuts a comparably equipped BMW 530e xDrive iPerformance by thousands. Well-appointed, comfortable, and fun to drive, the 2018 Acura RLX is a very desirable sedan.

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