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[REVIEW] 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

[REVIEW] 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD

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The definition of “remarkable” is “worthy of making a remark”.

When I drove the Acura RLX for the first time almost a year ago, I thought that it was a competent albeit slightly boring large luxury sedan.

The same could be said to apply to the RLX Sport Hybrid, but in its case, beauty is far more than skin deep. It may not look it upon first impressions, but this is one of the most advanced sedans currently on the market.

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While it still is a bit of an uphill battle for Acura to get their brand in front of those shopping for a large luxury car, I think that the RLX Sport Hybrid has a much larger chance of being “remarkable” due to Honda’s know-how in hybrid technology.

From the car company that brought you the legendary Acura NSX and well, the Acura Legend, let’s take a closer look at Honda/Acura’s largest luxury hybrid vehicle.

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What’s in a name?

“Sport Hybrid” you say? Isn’t that an oxymoron?

When anyone utters the word “hybrid”, most people’s minds will likely conjure up images of a Toyota Prius or a Honda Insight. However while both of those hybrids are designed for efficiency first, power and drivability second, this is where the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid changes things up.

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Unlike Honda’ Insight, the hybrid system has been set up to aid in handling and drivability, in a big way.

Eagle-eyed readers will notice that the “SH” part of the rear trunk lid badge is painted the same blue as the Honda Earth Dreams logo. This is not by coincidence but rather by design.

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Acura’s engineers have clever attached one electric motor to each of the two rear wheels, thereby making the RLX Sport Hybrid an all-wheel-drive vehicle. Except for a bit of wiring, there is no physical driveshaft that connects the front wheels and engine to the rear wheels.

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The RLX Sport Hybrid can move on gas or electric power using front, rear or all-wheel-drive as needed. Since there is no physical driveshaft connecting to the rear, parasitic drivetrain losses are also reduced, once again increasing energy efficiency.

In essence, by combining years of experience with “Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive” plus hybrid technology, Acura’s engineers have created a more eco-friendly version of SH-AWD system, but with some significant improvements.

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Four motors?!

Driving enthusiasts often pigeonhole hybrid car owners as those who camp out in the slow lane with the cruise control pegged at the speed limit or slower. These days though thanks to the likes of the BMW i8, the McLaren P1, the Porsche 918, and the Ferrari LaFerrari, it’s time to throw those old notions away.

Hybrids have really come into their own as also being performance machines while still delivering substantial fuel economy benefits.

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Under the hood is Acura’s corporate 310 horsepower 3.5L i-VTEC V6 from the non-hybrid RLX. There are three new motors including a front-mounted electric motor adding 47 hp (35 kw) and 109 lb-ft of torque, and two rear electric motors, each rated at 36 hp (27 kw) and 54 lb-ft of torque.

Combined with the hybrid drive system, the total horsepower rating has now been bumped up to a very respectable 377, with a total combined torque of 341 lb ft.

This makes the 2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid the most powerful premium offering in Acura’s North American line-up, until the new NSX arrives at least.

So, does the promise of fuel savings hold up in the real world? I’m happy to say that the “Sport” in “Sport Hybrid” actually does translate into swift performance and sporty handling. More on this later.

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Fuel economy is officially rated at 8.0L/100 kms in the city, and 7.5L/100 kms on the highway. This is a substantial improvement versus the 11.9L/100 kms in the city that the non-hybrid RLX is rated at.

Funneling the power to the wheels is Acura’s 7-speed dual-clutch transmission with Sequential SportShift paddle shifters, Grade Logic Control and a Sport mode through Acura’s new push button electronic gear selector.

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Acura says that this new gear selector is more efficiently packaged for the driver to be able to easily select the desired drive modes. However, it’s a rather curious addition as it doesn’t necessarily save on any centre console space, typically the motivation for these sort of things.

I suppose it feels different and more high tech, but it’s almost just as large as the traditional gearshift lever. I could honestly take it or leave it. But it will be something new and different for your first time passengers in the car, so perhaps bragging rights alone are worth the new addition.

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Handling

The pleasant surprise is that the RLX Sport Hybrid feels like a completely different animal from the front-wheel-drive RLX.

Yes, the Sport Hybrid shares the same double-wishbone, lower double-joint front suspension and multi-link rear suspension as the front driver RLX. And yes, the ride is still well controlled and smooth in a variety of urban, highway, and open road scenarios thanks to the Amplitude Reactive Dampers.

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Out on the road, you’ll find that the power commanded by your foot is substantially improved. Electric motors generate their full torque from the get-go, so there’s a much bigger feeling of thrust versus the standard RLX.

The SH-AWD system’s torque vectoring system is also really apparent in corners, and you can feel the computer using it to turn the car with authority.

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During cornering manoeuvres, the system cleverly uses the twin electric motors in tandem. SH-AWD can apply a little drag to the inside rear wheel while simultaneously adding more power to the outside rear wheel.

The electricity generated by dragging the inside rear-wheel is essentially regeneration, and SH-AWD takes this regenerated energy to power the opposite rear wheel.

A video posted by andrew_ling (@andrew_ling) on

Resultantly, the system doesn’t even have to dip much into the battery pack’s reserves very much in order to aid in the Acura’s handling. That, ladies and gents, is what you call having your cake and eating it too.

Unlike the non-hybrid version of SH-AWD, the Sport Hybrid’s system works in without you having to get on the throttle pedal. But it is also active in various conditions whether you’re accelerating into a corner, coasting, or just holding steady on the throttle pedal.

The end result? The RLX hybrid feels like a much more smaller and nimble vehicle. For me, the effect was much more apparent than the P-AWS four-wheel-steering system in the front-wheel-drive only RLX.

Creature Comforts and Safety

All RLXs benefit from a longer wheelbase and wider greenhouse than competing mid-luxury sedans.

There are a few best-in-classes here including rear seat legroom at 38.8 inches, and front/rear shoulder room at 59.6 inches/57.0 inches respectively.

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For comparison purposes, the RLX has rear legroom equivalent to the standard-length wheelbase Jaguar XJ and BMW 7-series, and a tad more than the Lexus LS and Audi R8.

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Buyers should note that cargo space is sacrificed due to the trunk-mounted 72-cell 1.3 kWh lithium-ion battery pack.

EPA cargo volume is rated at 14.7 cu ft for the non-hybrid versus only 11.6 cu ft for the hybrid RLX. You also lose the ability to fold down the rear seats due to the sizable battery module.

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My test vehicle was a full-loaded model with a luxurious, leather trimmed interior and all of the state-of-the-art technology that you would expect at this premium level.

Nice Milano leather upholstery and plenty of soft touch surfaces remind you that you are being coddled in Acura’s finest.

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I still have the same praises and faults regarding the RLX’s dual screen infotainment system, which you can read in my 2014 RLX review.

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Standard features include Acura’s excellent full-colour Heads-Up display and driver-assist systems such as Collision Mitigation Braking System, Lane Keeping Assist, and Blind Spot Warning.

Acura has now dubbed their comprehensive suite of driver assistive systems as “AcuraWatch”.

New for 2016 is Acura’s Surround View Camera system that provides a 360-degree image of the area around the vehicle using four separate cameras to combine views from behind, directly in front of, and both left and right sides of the vehicle.

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Also new for the 2016 in the Sport Hybrid is Road Departure Mitigation (RDM), which can use both steering force and braking force to help the RLX from leaving a detected lane. And finally there is the new rear Cross Traffic Monitor, to enhance driver confidence when backing up.

Wrap-Up

This Acura flagship sedan brings to market a unique blend of exhilarating all-weather dynamic performance with V8-like acceleration but with 4-cylinder fuel efficiency and hybrid emissions. It’s quick, refined, agile, loaded with technology, and relatively unique.

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In a crowded market class, it’s really a one-of-a-kind luxury performance sedan with its electrically powered torque vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system.

The question is whether people give Acura a chance to demonstrate their most technologically advanced vehicle in the company’s history. The jury is still out there as the RLX is a rare sight to be seen.

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I do think that those shopping in luxury all-wheel-drive sedan segment would be remiss in not giving the RLX Sport Hybrid a try.

But crucial to sales success is that Acura’s sales consultants will truly have to be prepared to explain the efficiency and performance benefits of the unique hybrid technology and all-wheel-drive system. That was certainly the main selling points of the car for me personally.

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Those who do indeed buy into its understated appearance will certainly appreciate the technological sophistication the RLX Sport Hybrid offers, and the effort the engineers took to perfect such a unique and cutting edge vehicle.

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About The Author

Andrew Ling

Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.

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