Autolist rating: 5/5
But would we buy it? Yes
Price range: $55,865 – $62,865
- The RLX is a comfortable, efficient and powerful large sedan from Acura.
- The all-wheel-drive hybrid system is great but eats into trunk space.
- This is the biggest step yet for Acura in the cutthroat world of luxury sedans.
What is it?
TLDR: Acura’s unsung hero sedan.
Acura is the luxury division of Honda, and the RLX is the largest and most luxurious sedan it makes. It sits atop Acura’s three-model sedan lineup, followed by the midsize TLX and the compact ILX.
The RLX competes against a wide variety of luxury sedans, including the BMW 530e xDrive, Mercedes-Benz E400, Audi A6, Lexus GS 450h, Infiniti Q70 Hybrid, Cadillac CT6 and CTS, Lincoln Continental, Volvo S90 and Genesis G80 Sport.
For the 2018 model year, Acura refreshed the exterior design of the RLX, added a wider color palette, redesigned the seats and made minor changes to the car’s powertrain and chassis. The result is a car that’s generally more exciting to look at (the earlier iteration was way too vanilla) and one that finally feels like it can compete against its storied rivals.
There are two versions of the RLX: the base front-wheel-drive version and the optional all-wheel-drive hybrid model; we tested the hybrid model, which Acura calls the Sport Hybrid.
Starting at $62,865, it has a 3.5-liter V6 engine and three electric motors that make a combined 377 horsepower. Not only is that a healthy output, but the RLX’s ace in the hole is the efficiency the hybrid powertrain gives it.
The car is rated by the EPA at 28/29/28 miles per gallon in city/highway/combined. Those are impressive numbers for a full-size, all-wheel-drive sedan, especially one with that much power. The car’s transmission is a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic.
But as mom always said, there’s no free lunch. The biggest drawback to the hybrid model is that its trunk is smaller than the base RLX’s. That’s because the hybrid batteries are stored between the rear seats and the trunk itself, shrinking the hybrid’s useable space down to 12 cubic feet from the 14.9 cubic feet in the base model.
That may not sound like much, but in our testing on a long road trip with four adults and their luggage, the difference meant a few bags had to be crammed into the cabin with the passengers. The hybrid model is also about 300 pounds heavier than the base gas RLX and costs an additional $7,000.
The base front-wheel-drive RLX starts at $55,865 and comes with the same 3.5-liter V6 engine as the Sport Hybrid, minus the hybrid element. This car has 310 horsepower and a 10-speed automatic transmission.
Without the benefit of the electric motors, the gas RLX is significantly less efficient in city driving. Its EPA rating is 20/29/23 miles per gallon in city/highway/combined.
TLDR: Power, efficiency and refinement.
Green power. 377 horsepower is a lot, and the fact that you can have it and all-wheel drive and nearly 30 miles per gallon in combined driving feels almost too good to be true.
Smooth power. Not only does the RLX Sport Hybrid have plenty of power, but it’s delivered smoothly without lags or lurching as the car switches between engine and electric power (or combines the two). The biggest compliment we can give is that passengers can’t feel when the electric power is or is not engaged.
Refinement. Acura has always made nice vehicles, but they usually trail competitors in terms of luxury panache. While some models in Acura’s lineup still have room for improvement, this refreshed 2018 RLX is the company’s biggest step yet towards true luxury legitimacy.
TLDR: Trunk shrinks, weight jumps.
Shrunk trunk. As we mentioned, the hybrid system’s batteries have to be stored somewhere, so Acura put them in between the rear seats and the trunk. This means there’s less cargo space than you’d expect on a full-size luxury sedan. Generally, this is a tradeoff we’re ok with, given the other benefits of the hybrid system, but if you’re going to be doing tons of traveling with lots of luggage, this may be a concern.
Old infotainment. Acura uses a two-screen infotainment setup in most of its current vehicles: a touchscreen in the dashboard and a larger screen at the top of the dashboard that’s controlled by a rotary knob. While Acura made some improvements to it in the RLX for the 2018 model year, it can still be confusing to use since it’s not always clear which function is on which screen. The system is showing its age, and the next new Acura on the market will ditch it altogether.
The weight. A complicated hybrid system like this adds a lot of mass to a car (300 pounds in the case of the RLX). While the car has more than enough horsepower to compensate, it still doesn’t feel like a nimble sports sedan during eager driving. This likely isn’t a concern for most buyers who just want a comfortable, powerful luxury sedan, but it’s worth keeping in mind.
5 stars of execution
- The RLX Sport Hybrid comes with a long list of standard safety equipment, including pre-collision braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, blind-spot monitoring and cross-traffic monitoring.
- The base (non-hybrid) RLX has a five-star crash test rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and it’s rated a Top Safety Pick by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.
- Acura does a nice job of stuffing both the base RLX and the RLX Sport Hybrid with nearly every creature comfort you could want.
- Acura also streamlined the options to none: both the base and hybrid versions come loaded without any additional options to add.
- Nearly all of its luxury competitors — particularly the hybrid models — cost more than the RLX when comparably equipped.
- The RLX Sport Hybrid has efficiency in spades. It’s rated at 28/29/28 miles per gallon city/highway/combined, which are excellent numbers for an all-wheel-drive car with this much power.
- On a road trip from LA to San Francisco and back, we averaged 29 miles per gallon.
- While the RLX is more efficient than nearly every gas competitor, it does have some stiff competition among luxury hybrid sedans: the BMW 530e xDrive, Infiniti Q70 hybrid and Lexus GS450h all have better combined fuel economy ratings.
Driving experience? Yes
- Acura has done an excellent job stitching together the RLX Sport Hybrid powertrain. The acceleration is smooth and robust, the electric motors engage and disengage seamlessly and the car always has power when you need it.
- The rest of the drive experience is great too: the ride is comfortable, the car is quiet and even the brakes — which often feel mushy on hybrids — are well tuned.
- The downside is the car’s weight; the RLX’s handling is not going to feel as direct or nimble as some rivals.
- All of the RLX’s competitors outsell it — some by a wide margin — and Acura lacks the brand cache of its European rivals. But the RLX Sport Hybrid proves that Acura has the luxury chops to compete.
- The Sport Hybrid gives buyers everything they’re looking for in a luxury sedan: power, comfort, amenities and all-wheel drive and then throws in excellent fuel efficiency on top.
- Buyers who can look past the smaller trunk and the car’s weight will find a lot to like in the RLX.
Total Rating: 5 stars
What’s it gonna cost me?
The base RLX starts at $55,865. It comes with leather seats that are heated up front, moonroof, 14-speaker audio system, navigation system with real-time traffic monitoring, adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking, blind-spot monitoring, lane-keep assist and LED headlights and taillights.
The Sport Hybrid model starts at $62,865. It adds to the base model the 377-horsepower all-wheel-drive hybrid system and seven-speed transmission, a 360-degree camera, parking sensors, heads-up display, upgraded audio system, a heated steering wheel, ventilated front seats and heated rear seats.
As we mentioned, every luxury brand in existence has a competitor to the RLX, so there’s a long list of worthy models in this price range.
The BMW 5 Series is one of our favorites in terms of all-around luxury and performance; the 530i xDrive is a plug-in hybrid with all-wheel drive that’s the closest 5 Series competitor to the RLX, and it’s definitely worth a look.
The Volvo S90 is a standout for its design. The Genesis G80 (Genesis is Hyundai’s luxury brand) is a strong value contender.
The Lexus GS 450h and Infiniti Q70 Hybrid both top the RLX in efficiency but both cost more, don’t offer all-wheel drive and are starting to age. If that doesn’t bother you, then test drive both.
The Cadillac CTS is also aging and can probably be skipped. Also skip the Lincoln Continental.
The Audi A6 is outdated as well, but the next generation has been revealed and is set to go on sale within a year.