Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Acura RLX Leads the Way

The 2014 Acura RLX is Honda's premium brand's new flagship. It is the largest Acura sedan ever made, the better to compete with all those other cars hoping for your luxury car dollar. It succeeds the RL, which has sold somewhat slowly.

Does a midsize luxury sedan have to have a V8? Acura doesn't think so. This new sedan has a slightly smaller 3.5-liter V6 instead of the RL's 3.7-liter, but horsepower is up by 10 to an impressive 310. Torque bumps up by 1 to 272. And more than 90 percent of the engine's peak torque is available between 2,000 and 6,600 rpm, so there's never a slow or hesitant moment behind the wheel. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered.

The new car addresses concerns the RL's problem of being slightly smaller than the competition, and therefore falling off many shopping lists. A two-inch-longer wheelbase provides cavernous rear legroom, and the extra 1.7 inches of width gives those happy rear passengers a little more private space.

No one can argue that the car isn't attractive, although it is not the kind of vehicle that jumps out at you. Staying subtle, the sharp-edged beak of recent Acuras is banished. In the now more subtle and rounded nose you'll see the Jewel-Eye headlamps, which look a lot like a large anniversary band, flattened into a plane. The sparkling row of lamps illuminates the roadway with a crisp brightness. At the other end, the taillights use periphery LED illumination, which produces a much more defined light than a traditional incandescent bulb.

Inside, there's all the soft and subtle touches that promote relaxation. I noted leather on the dash, something rarely found in anything short of a Rolls. It's all sweeping and energetic, with black surfaces and brushed-look trim. The leather continues on the seats, armrests, and shift knob. On the steering wheel, the adjustments at 3 and 9 for volume and digital information are little wheels--easy to roll with your thumb to make your selection.

There's a friendly four-note tone when you start the car and then--silence. The direct-injection engine (Acura's first) sends the car along the freeway like a magic carpet. It's rated at 20 City, 31 Highway, 24 Combined by the EPA, which also bestows a 5 for Smog and a 6 for Greenhouse gas--midpack.

Acura has promoted its wares as being filled with high-tech, and this remains true. On the trunk is the acronym P-AWS, which sounds like little cat feet but is actually Precision All-Wheel Steer. This system monitors and calculates the correct amount of independent rear-wheel steering (toe angle) necessary for driving conditions. So, you won't see the rear wheels move, but they do help you around corners.

Another happy acronym is the Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS), which scans the road ahead and actively helps you stays in the middle of the lane.

An upscale and handy feature is Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), which lets you set a desired speed and a distance interval behind the vehicle ahead. This makes it safer to use cruise control in light traffic as well as on the open highway. This system comes with a new Low-Speed Follow capability, so it still works even when traffic slows below the speed you set. It will even stop your car if the vehicle ahead is in range of the system. The next step? Self-driving cars.

There are five models--all sedans--and all made in Japan. The "base" car is loaded already, and the remaining four levels add something each time. The second level is RLX with navigation, which also gives you a seven-inch color display and AcuraLink. The latter connects your car to a world of communication and entertainment. Level three is the one I tested--RLX with Technology. My Crystal Black Pearl tester added nine items to the second level, including nicer interior leather, great-looking 19-inch alloy wheels, and nifty self-folding outside mirrors. It also gave me the accident-preventing Blind Spot Warning System.

The last two levels, RLX with Krell Audio and RLX with Advance, pour on the electronics. Krell, a big name in electronics that I've never heard of, puts 14 speakers in its namesake model along with manual and electric sunshades. The Advance, at the top, ventilates the already heated seats and gives you the Collision Mitigating Braking System (CMBS). CMBS helps prevent your hitting someone, working with Forward Collision Warning, which flashes lights if it thinks you're in danger of having an accident.

It's all very technological, but the driving experience is laid back and effortless. You do get to feel the car when you take it on curving roads, and there's some road feel mixed in. It's not like the land yachts of yore, and I'm grateful for it.

Prices start at $48,450 for the RLX and move up to $60,450 for the Advance. Add in $895 for delivery. My tester came to $55,345.

If you're a fan of Honda products and want the nicest, biggest sedan they make, you'll gladly forgo Lexus, Infiniti, and various German and American sedans for this new model. Still hewing to the balanced, restrained look of generations of Honda Accords and the original Acura Legend, it's bigger and better, and will not disappoint.