Drive to Five Review: 2014 Acura RLX Advance

Odometer (RLX):  7,339

7339

Odometer (ILX):  59,099

59099

Odometer (Legend):  527,807

527807

The Acura RLX greeted me with “Come on in, Tyson,” by illuminating its exterior door handle as I approached the driver’s side.  I stepped carefully over the stainless steel door sill and settled into the ivory-skinned bucket seat.  My index finger instinctively went for the start button and awakened 310 well-trained horses from their slumber.  The subtle sound of Jazz music drifted through the airwaves via 14 high-end speakers, and the car’s automatic climate control immediately customized the cabin environment to my liking.  This, my friends, was not just a car.  It was a full-blown, Acura-fied luxury travel experience and I had just scored a front-row seat.

RLX Heritage

In its day, the Acura Legend was the biggest and the best that the Honda lineup of automobiles had to offer.  When my Legend LS coupe was new in 1994, it sold for a whopping $41,885.   For comparison, a top-line Honda Accord EX at the time was $19,950.  The Legend flagship had features that were far ahead of its time.  Twenty years later, the Acura RLX carries on that same mission:  It delivers unsurpassed tech features, the most advanced safety systems in the industry, and performance levels that only sports cars could dream of in the 1990′s.

Here’s the RLX ancestry summarized in simple list form:

  • 1986 – 1995:  Acura Legend
  • 1996 – 2013:  Acura RL
  • 2014+:  Acura RLX

Generations 1, 2, and 5:

legends

Generation 3:  This was my mom’s 2000 3.5 RL that we loved dearly.

rl1

A year ago, I traveled to the Los Angeles Auto Show for the debut of the all-new RLX Concept.  The world was mesmerized by its Jewel Eye headlamps and its innovative Precision All-Wheel Steering (P-AWS).

rlx_under_cover

It’s time to now put that design to a real-world Drive to Five evaluation.  The latest iteration of Acura’s flagship sedan brings more to the table than ever before;  I shared the extensive list of features of this car in my post linked above, so I won’t go into those details again.  Let’s cut to the chase:  How’s it perform?

rlx_88

Where To This Time, Tyson?

The engineers of the RLX have gone to great lengths to give it optimal handling and balance.  I thought it fitting that I would put that P-AWS to test in a drive with several friends on one of Arizona’s curviest roads:  the Catalina Highway.

road_to_summerhaven

Constructed in 1933 as a way to reach the resort town of Summerhaven from Tucson, Arizona, the Catalina Highway climbs over 6,000 feet in a distance of 27 miles.  And these aren’t leisurely miles.  This is the type of highway where “both-hands-on-the-wheel” attention is critical.  Catalina is loaded with hairpin curves, narrow shoulders, and blind corners — all great elements for a thrill ride.  I took the ILX there last year.

catalina_highway

My tester RLX was dressed in the color that every luxury sedan looks best in:  Black.  The Crystal Black Pearl RLX that I drove this week was equipped with both the Tech package and the Advance package.

rlx_ilx

ilx_rlx

three_legends_3

After logging over 300 miles in the RLX on Saturday, I felt like I could hop back in the driver’s seat and easily do it all over again.  To that end, I have discovered perhaps the RLX’s best attribute: It’s a car that makes every drive seem effortless.  Its quiet, composed, and predictable behavior makes it comfortable for any distance.  I would, without hesitation, drive the RLX to Fairbanks, Alaska and back.  Twice.

My friend Ryan, who drives a 2006 Acura TL, stated, “The ergonomics are very Honda.”  It takes just a few minutes to get comfortable and to become acquainted with the key controls.  The interior design is masterfully executed in both form and function.  Two-tone door panels add visual interest and the sweeping instrument panel gives a feeling of cavernous interior dimensions.  I’m quite certain the rear seat leg room is better than any first class airline.  Oh, and those back seats are heated, too.

tyson_driving_rlx

Canyon Carving

Now here’s where I wanted to lure out the RLX’s alter-ego.  Inside that chiseled body and vault-like interior, does this car have a heartbeat?  Can it evoke any kind of performance driving excitement?  I assure you, after absolutely mashing the RLX accelerator to the floor and flying up the Catalina Highway, the answer is a resounding YES.

Most people wouldn’t take a luxury car in hot pursuit of a more powerful 2-seater sportscar, but that’s exactly what I did.  When Matt set an aggressive pace up Mount Lemmon in his Nissan 370Z 6-speed, the RLX was right there on his tail.  Sport Mode, I discovered, changes the entire personality of the RLX.  Shift points are modifed.  Engine response is notably different.  And when pushed, the RLX chassis is composed and firm.  When others in our 8-car caravan were having to cut corners in the twisties, I was able to keep the car within my lane and retain absolute control over its direction.  Dare I say it?  This car was fun to toss around.  And “toss” isn’t a word that you usually associate with a vehicle that weighs 4,000 pounds and has features like a power rear window sunshade.

With the stereo blasting Sirius XM channel 51 (BPM), all 4 windows down and the moonroof wide open, I was in my element, calling those 310 willing horses into action.  On one leg of the trip, I had a passenger, Jack, comment, “This thing has some growl when you get on it!”  He wasn’t kidding.  The engine note from the direct-injected 3.5 liter V6 is addicting; one listen and you’ll want to hold the car in gear with the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters and let it sing all the way to the redline.  That’s what I did.

night_gauges

rlx_group

rlx_370z

group2

Return to Phoenix

After having my faith in Acura’s “Precision Crafted Performance” heritage reinforced, my friends and I headed back to Phoenix with our hodge-podge of vehicles.  The RLX feels right at home at 80 mph on the interstate.  In fact, the cabin was so quiet that Jack was asleep in the passenger seat for a good chunk of the drive.

The RLX is just about as close as you can get to an autonomous car:  With the lane-keeping assist system (LKAS) activated, the car will retain its position in a lane.  If the driver removes his or her hands from the wheel long enough, it will prompt with a message “Steering Required” to make sure he or she is awake.  The adaptive cruise control made my trip a breeze – even with notoriously heavy traffic on the Tucson-to-Phoenix I-10 corridor.  The car maintained a preset distance from the vehicle ahead of us.  These types of features would make a long drive amazing.

picacho_gas_station

Real-World Insights – Pros:

  • The ultimate cross-country ride.  Very refined, quiet and smooth on the highway.  Zero wind noise.  The doors close solidly.  The car has “substance” and feels quality throughout.  Grant Road in Tucson is in horrible shape, but the RLX made it bearable.
  • Comfort is top-notch.  Ventilated seats work almost immediately – a feature that would be used frequently here in Phoenix.
  • Safety and driver-assistance features are great helps, especially the adaptive cruise control and lane departure assist systems.
  • Competent canyon carver.  Despite its size, the RLX suspension is confidence-inspiring.  P-AWS is subtle yet important for helping this big car feel nimble in tight cornering situations.
  • Luxury is cutting edge.  Love the little touches like power folding sideview mirrors.  Jack said, “Now this is luxury” when he was playing with the rear window sunshades.

group1

Cons:

  • Front-wheel-drive platform does exhibit some tire spin from hard acceleration.  AWD will help this car launch with more authority.
  • Dual-screen instrument panel interface is often duplicative in nature.  When I changed the music volume via the steering wheel control, it showed the audio level in 3 separate places!  Also, the album art is teeny and there appears to be plenty of space to make it bigger.
  • For a $61k car, it should have foglights.

Final Take

The Acura RLX gets more than its share of criticism.  I heard, “Looks like an Impala,” a couple of times this week while showing it off.  And some people will never get over the front end styling no matter how much Acura refines it.  But I honestly feel like if everyone who judged this car would take a few moments in the driver’s seat before declaring it a failure, their ballots would swing completely in the other direction.

The RLX brought just a huge grin to my face as I threw it around the corners at Mount Lemmon, and it pampered me in the process.  The travel experience in the RLX can be as engaging OR as effortless as the driver wishes to make it.  That’s the beauty of this car.  Want to rocket up the mountain and hug those curves?  Great.  Feeling drained after a hectic workday?  I can think of no better vehicle to commute in.  The RLX can play many roles, and I can say with certainty that it’s a vehicle I would be proud to own.  Thanks to Acura for the loan!

Here are the rest of the pictures & a video from Saturday’s adventure.

Kelvin, Jim, Brad pre-departure

chevron_meetup

Staging for the trip:  NSX, 370Z, RS5, TL SH-AWD

pre_departure_2

The guys, chatting it up before leaving the Phoenix area

pre_departure

Kelvin checks out the interior of the RLX

kelvin_inside_rlx

I guess the Acuras didn’t get the “let’s back in” parking memo.  Nick’s Aztec Red Nissan Z was by far the lowest vehicle of the bunch.

parking

How’s that synchro-rev tranny treating you, Matt?

matt_in_370z

Taking a breather at Windy Point lookout, about halfway to the summit.  Will, Matt, Alan, Paul, Kurt, Nick

wall_group

What was Kurt pointing at here?

wall_group_2

Little hike to a scenic overlook:  Allen, Paul, Brad, Tyson

alan_paul_brad_tyson

Soaking up the scenery:  Kurt, Paul, Nick

kurt_paul_nick

The guys admiring some of those RLX lines

rlx_front

Two sport coupes with completely different missions

caddy_acura

Lunch at Fortunato’s Italian Deli on Tanque Verde Rd in Tucson

group_at_lunch

Will gets cozy in the RLX driver seat

will_inside_rlx

Kelvin takes a peek at its 3.5-liter engine

kelvin_rlx_engine

And Kurt… well, I don’t know what Kurt was doing here

kurt_rlx_engine

A look at the RLX dual-screen interface

screens

Rolling back home

tl_rs5

And a sunset pic with the Acura brothers, Tyson and Paul

tyson_paul_rlx_tl

Thanks as always to my friends for joining for the drive, whether in person or via the blog.

21 Responses to “Drive to Five Review: 2014 Acura RLX Advance”

  1. Thanks for the info! Acura really should publicize more pics of the car (interior & exterior) at night. The lights & ambiance are some of its best features that do not show in day time photos.

    • Hey, I agree. The RLX is full of LED lighting treatment – map lights, the lights on the exterior door handles. Even the gauges look really great at night. I think the only thing I would change about the car – if it were mine – would be to get a darker interior rather than the ivory. There were areas on this 7,000 mile RLX that were already starting to show some scuffs. Thanks for your comment!

  2. Nice car. Great write up, one gets a better feeling of this car from you than most .

    • Thank you Terry! I only wish I could have done a better job of taking all my readers on a “virtual ride.” The car really performs, and I enjoyed every mile. Today, I’m getting the 2014 MDX for a week. So stay tuned for a similar write-up on that one soon enough!

  3. Okay. Seriously. Here are my observations:

    That car speaks to me. It has my name all over it. Don’t you have connections enough that you could gift it to me? Christmas is coming up, and I am pretty sure you have my name this year.

    That song by Katy Perry? Love it. At least I can afford to buy that on iTunes.

    Did I spy a bicyclist pedaling UP that steep climb? I am reading your blog post even as I pedal, though on a recumbent bicycle, just taking a ride in the RLX vicariously through you.

    Can you write? Can you draft a most captivating description of cars and scenery and whatever crosses your path? Affirm. Write on. And ride on.

    • I figured the Katy Perry song “Legendary” Lovers was fitting for a story about the successor to the Legend! I’ll see what I can do about having Santa Claus bring you a fully loaded RLX this Christmas. And YES! There were a few crazy bicyclists going up that grade. I also learned that there is an uphill marathon called Mount Lemmon Marathon held each October, running the 26 miles from Tucson to Summerhaven. I can’t imagine running UPHILL for 26 miles. Killer.

  4. Nice write up Tyson… but there are still two major flaws in the design:

    1. Too many doors.
    2. They forgot to put an M/T into it.

    rich

  5. Unlike Rich up there, I don’t mind the 4 doors at all.
    I would like to see Acura offer something in terms of a sport package or aftermarket upgrade to the “beak” front ends. I know that when you order a specific package on the Honda Accord it changes the front grill some for a more sporty look.

    At $61.k I can’t see myself in one any time soon, but I would drive the wheels off if I had the chance!

    • Yeah, Dave, I was thinking the same thing. It would be neat to see Acura do something like an A-Spec kit for this car to dress it up a bit. Maybe a lower underbody kit, a bit lower suspension, some different wheels. Lots of potential. I’d like to see how the AWD version performs – it’s set to debut this coming week at the LA show. I believe there are some slight cosmetic differences with that one, too. I’m headed to the show on Tuesday night so I’ll let you all know!

  6. Nice write up Tyson. You really pointed out all the highlights. $61k..ouch :)

    • It’s a lot of money but when you put things in perspective, the Legend was really expensive in its day too. Though I don’t know who ever actually paid $41k for their Legend. I think when I looked at the original bill of sale for my 1994 it was somewhere in the mid-high $30′s. Thanks for reading the write up. I had a lot of fun with the car!

  7. Joyce McGregor Says:

    Tyson, you are a WRITER!!!. I don’t read your blogs to be sold on cars. I read because you are a MASTER at using descriptive words and phrases in very novel ways. I am impressed each time I read your blogs. Good job!!

  8. Tyson, nicely done on the review. As a long time Acura owners, I can certainly understand why Acura felt the need for this car to be in the line-up and addressed some of the problems with the previous generation RL, it did not go far enough to make Acura competitive with its competitors in the market space. Acura seems to continue to struggle with their brand identity, making it hard to understand how they expect this car to succeed. That said, I saw one for the first time a few weeks ago and the Jewel Eye headlights really stand out and look great from a distance.

    You can read our review, done by my brother, of the RLX, albeit only with the Technology Package, on our site at http://www.eastwestbrothersgarage.com/2013/02/test-drive-2014-acura-rlx-p-aws-tech.html

    • Hey there, thanks for reading my review. Are you the East brother or the West brother? Just curious if you’re the one with the S2000 or the TSX SE 6MT. GREAT choices either way. Love your website and I’ll be following your upcoming write-ups. I see that we aligned on many points about the RLX including its power delivery when you come down on the throttle and its level of refinement. Styling is still a common gripe. I, too, am dying to get behind the wheel of a SH-AWD version so I can see how the driving experience differs.

      I’m curious where you see the RLX fitting into the marketplace. To be fair, I really should try and drive some of the vehicles that this is targeted against. A Lexus LS460 base price is a full $10k more than even my fully loaded RLX. I’ll have to research pricing on some other vehicles in similar classes too, but I see the RLX as a decent value for what you get. It’s out of my price range either way :)

      • The RLX seems to be one of those tweeners, slotting in between the full-size and mid-size categories, which makes it a bit difficult to decide who it competes against. The full-size cars, like the S-class and 7-series, are light-years ahead in features and luxury, but the mid-size cars, like the 5-series and new CTS, offer substantially more performance chops. At the moment, the only real direct competitors seems to be the Cadillac XTS and the Volvo S80.

        Regardless of where it fits, Acura needs to define its place in the market and build the cars to fit that market instead of trying to be everything to everyone. Lexus and Infiniti have each found success doing precisely this on opposite ends of the market, same with BMW and Mercedes, limited edition and performance sub-brand cars excluded, of course. This is where I feel the RLX struggles the most – it is trying too hard to appease the more performance oriented buyers with its chassis tuning and P-AWS technology, but also trying to grab for way more luxury oriented buyers with a soft ride, sound dampening, and huge interior.

        If Acura can simply decide which market they want to focus on, they can build a better, more tightly focused car. If they want to pursue a performance image, create a sub-brand and go all out like the AMG cars.

        - East Brother, owner of the TSX,

  9. I just can’t get over the $61K – there’s one on ebay now that was damaged during transport for $44.5K and has only 10 miles on it.

    I would really like to take one for a spin though!

    • Hmm, I’ll have to take a peek at that one on Ebay! The RLX is definitely worth taking for a spin if you ever get the chance. What’s going on for you this weekend?

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