Luxury cars should be special. You can give me a medal for stating the obvious, but that simple fact eludes some car companies that persist in slapping luxury price tags on cars that are really just pumped-up family sedans.
The two-star 2014 Acura RLX sedan is the latest example. Despite an upscale interior, Acura's new flagship sedan is no match for the handling and performance of the Audi A6, Cadillac CTS, Infiniti M37, Lexus GS 450 and Mercedes E350. It even falls short of high-end family sedans like the new Chevrolet Impala and Toyota Avalon.
Prices for the 2014 Acura RLX run from $48,450 to $60,450. A 310-horsepower 3.5-Litre V6 and sixspeed automatic transmission are standard on the front-wheeldrive sedan. An all-wheel-drive hybrid version due later this year promises to deliver more power and higher fuel economy. Acura hasn't announced prices for the AWD hybrid yet, but don't expect an economy car. It'll cost more than the gasoline-only model.
I tested a fully equipped $60,450 RLX that featured attractive oyster-shell leather seats, adaptive cruise control, Krell audio, power sun roof, voice recognition, blind spot and lane-departure alerts, automatic braking to avoid collisions and more. As attractive as those features are, the RLX's handling performance and overall refinement don't match its luxurious competition.
The RLX's interior is among its strong points. Roomy and comfortable, it provides more passenger and luggage space than the competitors. The back seat is particularly accommodating. The car I tested had an attractive light and dark color scheme, soft materials at nearly every touch point and plenty of storage cubbies for glasses, cups, phones and music players.
The gauges are big and clear. I found the controls a bit clunky. A touch screen in the middle of the center stack runs some systems. A dial and a few buttons below the touch screen control other functions that are displayed on a second screen above the touch screen. It's an odd combination that does nothing that couldn't be accomplished with a single, well-designed touch screen.
The optional voice recognition understands words well, but requires more steps than competing systems do for common tasks. I never got voice access to the contacts in my iPhone. After my week with the RLX ended, Acura told me AT&T iPhones have extra steps that aren't in the manual. I'd suggest shoppers have a salesperson pair their phone so they can see if they can make voice-activated calls.
Several people I spoke with about the hands-free phone complained about the audio quality. The RLX's EPA rating of 20 m.p.g. in the city, 31 on the highway and 24 combined is very good. Only the refreshed 2014 Mercedes E350 matches it among the competitors I've named. The RLX is so efficient that its annual fuel bill should be lower than competitors that use regular gasoline, like the V6 Cadillac CTS and Lincoln MKZ.
The RLX is not for enthusiastic drivers. Throttle response is unexceptional. Engaging the sport setting helps, but will reduce fuel economy. I experienced mild torque steer when I accelerated quickly from a stop. The car boasts of Acura's new rear-wheel steering system, but felt no more responsive than its competitors. In quick turns, the handling betrays the nose-heavy layout typical of big front-wheel drive cars.
The RLX handles more like an average family sedan than the sport sedans it hopes to compete with.
Other than eye-catching multielement LED headlights and mildly flared front fenders, the RLX's styling is anonymous. I could barely pick it out when it was parked in front of my house, let alone in a crowded lot.
It's the latest stumble from Acura, which became the first luxury Japanese brand when Honda created it nearly 30 years ago. Acura was intended as a step up from Honda models like the Accord and Civic.
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