The $4050 that Acura cut from the asking price of its 2018 RLX Sport Hybrid is the most significant change the brand has made to its refreshed all-wheel-drive sedan. Introduced as a 2014 model, the largest Acura sedan receives changes aimed at making it more competitive with other premium mid-size players such as the Mercedes-Benz E-class, the Audi A6, and the BMW 5-series. Two RLX models are available, the Sport Hybrid, which we drove in Southern California’s Santa Monica Mountains, and the front-wheel-drive, all-wheel-steering P-AWS model.
The Sport Hybrid comes with the same 377 combined horsepower that it has had since its introduction, and how it arrives there is still unique in the segment. Powering the front wheels are a 310-hp 3.5-liter V-6 and a 47-hp electric motor housed inside the RLX’s seven-speed dual-clutch automatic transmission’s case. The rear axle is powered by two 36-hp electric motors. One motor acts upon each wheel and, when cornering, each can apply either positive or negative torque to help steer the car with torque vectoring. It’s an elegantly Honda-like solution to a problem we’re not sure needed solving in this segment—and it’s essentially the same system that powers the front wheels of the NSX supercar.
Your Mom’s Acura
Minor adjustments to the transmission and electric motors offer improved response in Sport mode, but the RLX is not the kind of car that begs to be driven hard. Acura admits as much by marginally softening the RLX’s nonadjustable suspension for 2018. It’s soft enough now that it distinctly lacks the body control of the (less powerful and more expensive) Audi A6 that Acura presented for comparison. “It’s more compliant, but the changes are incremental,” said Jonathon Rivers, the RLX’s lead product planner, about the Acura’s revised suspension.
New Shape, New Colours
Otherwise, from behind the wheel there’s only one other small tweak worth mentioning: The RLX’s deeply sculpted hood now houses an attractive angular bulge over each front tire, part of the reshaping that also visits the car’s nose, side sills, and rear end for 2018. The RLX’s headlamps are restyled and more attractive, as is Acura’s new pentagon-shaped grille, which replaces the chrome beak the RLX has worn since 2013.
Inside there’s a new interior color, Espresso, bringing the total count to four. The trunk gains close to an extra cubic foot of volume thanks to a smaller, lighter (by 8.2 pounds) battery pack. New to the Acura lineup is the RLX’s Traffic Jam Assist feature, which combines adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist to minimize driver input below 45 mph. We found it effective only on well-marked, reasonably straight freeways that were gorged with slow-moving traffic. But those are the conditions under which Acura designed the system to work, and it does, making small steering corrections and following the vehicle ahead safely at low speeds.
The Value Equation
Whereas the 2017 RLX was available in two trim levels (Technology package and Advance package), the 2018 lineup has been simplified; the P-AWS now is available only as a Technology model and the Sport Hybrid only as a loaded Advance. At its new asking price of $62,865, the RLX Sport Hybrid comes standard with driver-assist technologies and 19-inch wheels that you’ll pay extra for from its German competition. Its front-drive brother, the P-AWS model, increases $450 in cost (to $55,865) but replaces the 2017 model’s six-speed transmission with Honda’s new 10-speed automatic. It uses the same 310-hp V-6 as the hybrid, although it’s rated at 272 lb-ft of torque, a 1 lb-ft reduction.