The new Acura RLX is perplexing. Unlike its predecessor, the RL, it doesn't have all-wheel drive. It's not even offered. That means a loaded, $61,345 RLX sends all 310 of its direct-injected horses (DI is new to the model this year) to its front tires.
It's puzzling that Acura would declaw its flagship sedan, especially considering how it aims to steal sales from the BMW 5-series and Mercedes-Benz E-class, nearly half of which are purchased with all-wheel drive. The front-wheel-drive-based Audi A6 and Cadillac XTS are also sold predominantly with all-wheel-drive; removing traction doesn't seem an effective way to attract luxury buyers. On the side, the Acura is at least capable of epic front-wheel burnouts.
To combat some of the understeer that big front-drivers are known for, Acura has developed P-AWS, which stands for Precision All-Wheel Steer. The system can steer the RLX's rear wheels to help cut tight arcs, or even toe in both rear tires for added stability under heavy braking.
Charge through a set of switchbacks, and it's hard to miss that the Acura is heavy and wide, even for a luxury barge. Its suspension isn't tuned like that of a hard-edged sport sedan, and there's some body roll as you pile into a corner. The six-speed automatic, a gear or two down on its German rivals, is tuned for comfort, not engagement. In short, the RLX is more focused on cush than performance; both it and its passengers will be happiest long before the car's tires start to howl.
Acura claims that a lack of interior space was one of the main reasons why people ignored the bland-looking RL. Addressing that, the RLX's much larger back seat offers nearly the same rear legroom as a BMW 7-series. That's well and good, but the milquetoast exterior styling is a bigger problem: If not for the LED headlamps, it would be difficult to distinguish the model from the old RL. Save, of course, the smoke pouring from the front rubber.
All-wheel-drive hits the RLX next year in the RLX Sport Hybrid, which uses electric motors to drive its rear wheels. This torque-vectoring system is similar to the one in Acura's upcoming NSX supercar. We were recently given two laps around Sonoma Raceway in a Sport Hybrid prototype. Compared to the two-wheel-drive car, the hybrid was much more planted in corners. Unless you simply have to have an RLX right now, it's worth the wait.
- PRICE $49,345
- POWERTRAIN 3.5-liter V-6, 310 hp, 272 lb-ft; FWD, six-speed automatic
- WEIGHT 3933 lb
- 0-60 MPH 6.6 sec (est)
- TOP SPEED 130 mph
- EPA CITY/HWY 20/31 mpg
- ON SALE Now