Acura RLX hardly a Legend in the making
When Honda's luxury flagship, the Acura Legend, debuted in 1986, it was not only handsome and athletic, but it possessed a brilliant name for a new premium sedan. Although the moniker might have seemed presumptuous, the car's exceptional nature quickly proved otherwise. The Legend's name was appropriate, even for a deb.
So, if any car can point to Acura's loss of direction in the intervening decades, it's their new flagship, the 2014 Acura RLX.
Let's start with the name. Would you rather buy a Legend or an RLX?
Of course, the bland moniker is fitting; the 2014 Acura RLX is a yawner in the looks department, aside from its distinctive front lighting. Maybe the Acura faithful will notice your new ride, but few others will.
At least the RLX's cabin is more spacious than the outgoing 2013 Acura RL, which the RLX replaces. Credit goes to an extra two inches in wheelbase and 1.7 inches in width. Once inside, it's most apparent in the rear seat, which finally boasts enough space to match its competition. That said, the rear seat sits low and headroom is limited for taller passengers. The front seats are wide, flat and hard, but thankfully have aggressive side bolsters that help keep you in place during cornering.
As is true of Acura models, the cabin is nicely trimmed and well built. The overall aura isn't flashy; it's one of subdued luxury.
The instrument panel has been simplified when compared to the RL. But like other Acura and Honda products, there are too many screens. There are two in the center console and one in the instrument cluster. That's at least one too many, especially since the screens display duplicate information for the audio system. Making matters worse was an automated voice announcing which SiriusXM satellite radio station was tuned in – as if you couldn't read the same information on the RLX's multiple screens.
While it may be overstuffed with pixels, at least the RLX is brimming with the sort of driving assistance amenities one expects, such as a rear-view camera, lane-keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, blind-spot warning, collision-mitigation brake system, collision warning and lane-departure warning. It's a good thing, too, since these features are offered on cars costing tens of thousands of dollars less.
Surprisingly, the RLX lacks a heated steering wheel. Considering its price, it should have one. Again, lesser cars do.
Any of this car's shortcomings could be overlooked if it performed with the sporty aplomb Acuras are known for. But once again, the RLX disappoints.
The RLX comes with a 3.5-liter V-6 engine that produces a mere 310 horsepower. Part of the reason for this is that, unlike most competitors, the RLX employs front-wheel drive, which limits the amount of power Acura can use. Here's why.
In front-wheel-drive cars, the front wheels steer and power the car. Since a set of tires can only do 100 percent of something, if they're using 40 percent of their ability to steer the car, there's only 60 percent of their traction to transfer power to the pavement. By contrast, in a rear-wheel-drive car, 100 percent of the front wheels' traction is used to steer, while 100 percent of the rear wheels' abilities are available to power the car. This is why high-powered cars use rear-wheel or all-wheel drive.
With such limited power, the RLX, while lively, doesn't live up to its station. The effortless acceleration expected in a luxury car is in reality little better than those costing $20,000 less. The electric-assist power steering is rather numb and the ride is very firm. Yet this car still manages to insulate and comfort the driver in a way not associated with the brand. The overall feel is that of a gussied-up Honda Accord.
And in many ways, that's the RLX's real competition. Considering that it's not much quieter, or more refined, or more powerful, or significantly more opulent or handsome, why not just pop for the Honda Accord or, for that matter, an Acura TL? Either way, you'll save a boatload of cash.
And that has become Acura's problem, for this car and the rest of the brand. What defines it? What makes it special? You probably don't know and, it seems, neither does Acura. Otherwise, they might have called this sedan the Legend.
Thankfully, they didn't, because it isn't.
2014 ACURA RLX:
–Engine: 3.5-liter SOHC V-6
–Wheelbase: 112.2 inches
–Length: 196.1 inches
–Weight: 3,997 pounds
–Cargo space: 15.3 cubic feet
–EPA rating (city/highway): 20/31 mpg
–Fuel type: Premium
–Base price, base model: $48,450
–Base price, test model: $60,450
–As tested, including destination charge: $61,345
ABOUT THE WRITER
Larry Printz is automotive editor at The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk, Va. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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