Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2014 Acura RLX Elite

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Not many people know that Honda was the genesis for Toyota and Nissan creating their Lexus and Infiniti luxury brands.

When Honda first introduced the Acura Legend, the great-grandfather to the RLX, it competed so well with models from established American and European luxury manufacturers that the other Japanese manufacturers had to respond in kind.

Although Honda continues to sell the RLX as the “Legend” in other parts of the world, they dropped that model name in North America to better associate Acura’s models with the “Acura” luxury brand name (versus just as the “Integra” or “Legend”).

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Fast forward to 2014 and Acura has renamed the RL’s successor to the “RLX” in order to emphasise how its engineers have completely reworked its flagship sedan.

Exterior

Honda played it decidedly safe with the Accord’s styling when the sedan was redesigned last year. Few would argue that the new shape isn’t an upgrade over the prior model. But critics have called it too derivative, particularly the rear, where it could be mistaken for a 2008-2014 Hyundai Genesis.

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While it’s certainly not the worst thing in the world to draw likeness to cars that are above the Accord’s class, most of my friends who saw the RLX thought that it was just a bigger, more luxurious, and more expensive Accord.

While this means that the RLX also evokes feelings of reliability and dependability, it’s not particularly emotionally exciting.

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The RLX’s styling is unlikely to offend anyone and indeed it could be the perfect car for a luxury limousine company, or for someone in the witness protection program.

However for luxury buyers who want a bit of visual excitement in their vehicles, Acura is going to have to work a bit harder, to take bigger chances in the styling department, if it intends to steal them from their Mercedes-Benz E-Classes, BMW 5-series, Audi A6, or Lexus GS on just looks alone.

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The good news is that despite the anonymity, the RLX is still a sharp looking car.

While Acura has played it safe with a toned-down version of their signature shield grill, the JewelEye LED headlamps and their 8 projector lenses add a decidedly upscale flair and much needed attention to the RLX front end.

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Aesthetics aside, the JewelEye headlamps are functionally the best LED headlamps I’ve experienced on a vehicle bar none. Thanks to the 8 projector lenses offset at different angles, the beam pattern is extremely wide and evenly distributed.

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Even on wet surfaces in rainy conditions, the headlamps do their job above and beyond typical HID Bi-Xenon headlamps. With LEDs having a colour temperature higher than Xenon bulbs, the output truly mimics daylight.

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Acura has also put up a detailed video explaining more about the technology.

Interior

Acura’s lineage to the Honda brand is easily recognizable in all of their products. In this case that’s a good thing.

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Most of the gauges and physical buttons are laid out logically, and the dual hooded gauge cluster binnacle and GPS navigation screens are similar to those in the Honda Accord. The gauges are very clean and look expensive, befitting the ambience in the rest of the vehicle.

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The RLX overcompensates for the old car’s biggest failing with a 2” longer wheelbase and 1.7” wider body. The sheer amount of space inside will surely impress anyone who opens its huge doors.

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The cabin is far airier and roomier than before with lots of clearance for occupants’ extremities. It’s also beautifully finished in muted tones.

Front and rear legroom is immense and it is immediately clear that this is a perfect vehicle for long road trips.

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I found the front heated/ventilated seats to be very broad and comfortable, similar to the Acura MDX Elite’s. The headrests are very plush, almost rivalling ones that I experienced in a Maybach many years ago.

My only complaint is a lack of lateral support but then again this is a large luxury car and not a sports sedan.

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Out back, the commodious rear seats are heated and equally comfortable as the front seats. Since my RLX was the “Elite” package model, the rear doors were also fitted with some nifty rear privacy screens to accompany the power rear sunshade.

The Elite package also includes acoustic glass to further reduce wind and road noise within the cabin.

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Like the MDX, the RLX has a dual screen interface. The 8” upper screen showcases major functions and the GPS navigation map whereas the 7” lower screen is a touchscreen with haptic feedback. The haptic feedback is arguably the best in the business as far as responsiveness is concerned. Cadillac could learn a thing or two here for their CUE system.

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This lower touchscreen is used for climate control, some settings, and also shortcuts for audio and navigation. Acura does include some hard buttons to jump to major functions (e.g. camera, settings, menu, etc) as well as a large rotary knob with force feedback that controls the upper LCD screen.

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For the most part the system works well, but like my experience in the MDX, I found some of the user interface discombobulated. I never quite remembered whether to use the rotary knob, hit the menu button, the settings button, or scroll through the touchscreen.

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Fortunately with some experience under my belt from the MDX, I found the learning curve less steep than before. But nonetheless, like the average quality screen resolution and graphics, it can still be improved upon.

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A high end audio system on wheels

Upgrading to the Elite package on the RLX will buy you several luxury and safety options. But it also upgrades Acura’s ELS sound system to the 14-speaker Krell audio system.

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For those of you who don’t know, Krell has 30 years of experience building audiophile-ranked home stereo equipment. Therefore the RLX benefits greatly from their expertise.

The upgrade to the Krell system includes tasteful aluminium speaker grills (because they distort and vibrate less than plastic) that cover 6 Zylon (the world’s strongest super fibre) mid bass drivers.

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The system’s tweeters are even composed of lightweight magnesium cones that reproduce extraordinary musical detail at high frequencies without unwanted shrillness. Krell also says that the amplifier they’ve designed for RLX has 33% less distortion than the amplifier in a competing luxury car.

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Stepping out from beneath the technical jargon, my impressions are that this system delivers just about the best dynamic range I have ever heard front a car stereo system. Bass notes thumped throughout my entire body (thanks to the carbon fibre composite subwoofer) while vocals were crystal clear regardless of the volume.

So how does it drive?

The RLX has a few clever tricks up its sleeve to try to stand out from the competition.

First and foremost is the new Precision All-Wheel Steer System (P-AWS). In development for over 5 years, the system only adds 11 lbs to the car’s weight. P-AWS electronically alters the toe-angle of the rear wheels depending on steering and braking input. So essentially what you have is four-wheel steering.

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Unlike the old hydraulic system in the Honda Prelude from the 1990’s, the RLX has computer controlled actuators attached to the rear wheels that allow each wheel to be adjusted independently.

This system is designed to increase agility and combat understeer typically found in front-wheel-drive cars (which the RLX is). An important point for Acura to make as most of the RLX’s competitors are either rear wheel or all-wheel drive.

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Although the adjustments are limited to just a couple of degrees each way, P-AWS does work as advertise and helps to produce an improvement in handling.

Under braking, both rear wheels turn inward slightly to increase the car’s straight-line stability. As the driver turns into a right-hand corner, the rear wheels steer slightly left to make the car turn in more quickly. Exactly like what you see on monster trucks.

At low speeds such as in a parking lot, the opposite-direction steering makes the car surprisingly manoeuvrable. At highway speeds, P-AWS turns the rear wheels in the same direction as the fronts to improve control.

P-AWS is almost imperceptible to all but the most discerning drivers where a very slight pivot motion is detectable as the rear aligns with the front.

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Despite P-AWS’ trickery though, the RLX still feels like a big front-wheel-drive sedan. But thanks to the electric steering, there is almost no torque steer upon hard acceleration and the car is actually decent to drive.

While the electric steering is numb and lacks sensation, it is precise and responsive enough. More importantly, it pairs well with the smooth and quiet ride that the suspension setup delivers. This setup is one that is tuned to prioritize comfort over handling, but thankfully the RLX never feels disconnected or floaty over rough surfaces.

So the good news is that the RLX actually has some level of precision and is fun enough on twisty back roads. However it really is far more apt at shuttling passengers through the city or on long road trips. Or just being a really nice and spacious Japanese luxury sedan to drive day in and out.

Sending powers to the front wheels is Honda’s 3.5L V6 that provides 310hp and 272 ft-lbs of torque. This is the first Acura to use direct injection and cylinder deactivation, and Acura claims excellent fuel consumption ratings of 10.5L/100 kms in the city, and 6.4L/100 kms on the highway.

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In a luxury marketplace filled with 7 and 8-speed gearboxes, Acura could’ve no doubt improved upon those fuel consumption ratings with a more advanced transmission. However the tried and true 6-speed automatic gearbox is well calibrated to the engine’s power band.

Just don’t expect it to be particularly sporty like BMW’s excellent ZF 8-speed automatic gearbox.

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Overall, my observed fuel economy during mostly city driving was 11.5L/100 kms. Very good for a large luxury sedan in real world conditions.

The Elite Package on the RLX also includes many of the active and passive driver assistance technology that I enjoyed in the MDX Elite.

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Like in the MDX Elite, the RLX Elite gets us as close to fully autonomous driving as is legally possible at this time. To read more about this cutting edge technology, jump over to my Acura MDX Elite review.

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Wrap-up

Acura has a well-balanced large luxury sedan on its hand with plenty of comfort. It’s a big step forward for the brand. But looking at the luxury sedan segment as a whole, the RLX doesn’t exactly blow my mind.

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Nonetheless, those looking for bulletproof Acura-reliability and a front wheel-drive luxury sedan should still find the RLX appealing. I can totally see long time Honda Accord owners “graduating” to the RLX after years of Accord ownership.

I just hope that there are enough of those buyers to keep the RLX from becoming just a legend.

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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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