2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Elite Road Test Review

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.


Adding dramatic new style to an excellent sport-luxury sedan

Acura's attractive "Diamond Pentagon" grille is making dramatic changes to the way its entire lineup looks, and now we see it adding eye-catching style to the Japanese luxury brand's RLX flagship sedan. 

I certainly like what I see. Acura first applied it to their mid-size 2017 MDX crossover SUV and more recently the 2018 TLX sport-luxury sedan, both having seen year-over-year sales growth since their updates, while the refreshed 2018 RLX Sport Hybrid has experienced a significant 33.3-percent uptick in its Canadian deliveries since January.


 

Of course, there's much more to the redesign than a new grille. For starters, Acura's Precision Crafted Performance design language affects the entire front fascia, hood, side skirts, trunk lid, rear bumper, diffuser-like lower valance, new dual exhaust finishers, and machine-finished alloy wheels, not to mention its modernized set of five-element Jewel-Eye LED headlights displaying new LED character strips around their outside edges, and totally reshaped LED taillights. From front to back the new RLX is a much sportier, much more emotive design, which should really appeal to the car's loyal fan base and hopefully attract more would-be buyers to the value-packed model's camp.


  

Performance remains strong while clean efficiency remains an RLX highlight

Anyone who's driven Acura's RLX Sport Hybrid knows it's an especially impressive sport-luxury sedan, especially in top-line Elite trim. This said its performance-oriented hybrid drivetrain and wonderfully balanced suspension needed no modification when undergoing this mid-cycle makeover, as the former continues forward with 377 net horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque

Similar to Acura's fabulous NSX Sport Hybrid supercar and the brand's most family-oriented MDX Sport Hybrid, the RLX Sport Hybrid uses a three-motor powertrain with electric torque vectoring. A tried and tested naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 powers the front wheels in concert with an electric assist motor, this most fuel-efficient combination used as a default in dry weather or under light loads, but if increased throttle input, hard cornering, or driving on slippery surfaces causes the need for rear-wheel propulsion an electrified version of Acura's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) provides traction from all four tires via two rear wheel-mounted electric motors.

  

Acura calls this system Sport Hybrid Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (Sport Hybrid SH-AWD), an incredibly long name denoting a particularly advanced hybrid powertrain, although its sophistication only scrapes the surface of all the technology aboard the RLX.

Before delving too deeply into the latter, take note that the front-wheel drive-only version of the RLX, available in the U.S., is no longer sold in Canada. Of course, if there were a reasonable enough market for it here, we'd see it. Let's just be glad Acura Canada chose to provide us with the much more formidable RLX Sport Hybrid instead of the 310-horsepower version, as I certainly wouldn't have enjoyed my weeklong test anywhere near as much.

  

Quick and agile yet ultimately stingy on fuel

Yes, where the previous RLX Sport Hybrid was surprisingly fun to drive for its conservative appearance, the new model lives up to its sporty outward character. It moves of the line with zero hesitation, shooting from standstill to 100km/h in just 5.6 seconds, and shifts through its seven-speed dual-clutch Sequential SportShift gearbox with slap shot responsiveness, Acura providing steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, Grade Logic Control and a Sport mode to make the process as engaging as possible, yet smooth and composed.

The Sport Hybrid's unique SH-AWD system defies the big sedan's obvious girth, its actual curb weight measuring in at 1,993 kilos in top-line Elite trim, which is a mere 18 kilograms more than the base model. Still, it never feels very heavy thanks to a nice flat stance during sharp transitional moves, positive engagement from its big, sticky 245/40R19 all-season tires, and strong braking despite repeated stomps, the RLX confidence-inspiring when driven quickly.

Ease off the throttle and it'll also pay dividends at the pump, the Sport Hybrid combining idle start/stop and cylinder deactivation with its electrified powertrain for a claimed 8.4 L/100km in the city, 8.2 on the highway and 8.4 combined, which is superb when compared to similarly capable competitors.

  

Value continues to be key RLX Sport Hybrid strength

The RLX Sport Hybrid provides big initial savings as well. With a starting price of just $65,490 it hits the road for thousands less than its Teutonic rivals, while its list of standard features should at the very least make the Germans feel awkward.

On top of the standard full LED headlights noted earlier, the RLX Sport Hybrid includes standard heatable power-folding side mirrors with driver recognition, reverse gear tilt-down, and integrated LED turn signals, LED fog lamps, ambient interior lighting, remote start, passive keyless access with pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a heatable leather-wrapped powered tilt and telescopic multifunction steering wheel, rain-sensing wipers, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, colour head-up display, dual-zone auto climate control, AcuraLink infotainment with a multi-angle backup camera, navigation, voice recognition, Siri Eyes Free, SMS text message and email reading and response capability, Bluetooth with streaming audio, a 14-speaker surround-sound ELS audio system with hard disc storage and satellite radio, 12-way powered front seats with driver's side memory, heatable front and rear seats, Milano leather upholstery, capless fuel filling, and the list goes on.

  

AcuraWatch advanced driver assistance systems add impressive standard safety

The updated 2018 RLX carries forward with the AcuraWatch suite of advanced driver-assistance systems too, including forward collision warning with autonomous collision mitigation braking, blindspot monitoring and lane departure warning with lane keeping assist and road departure mitigation, plus rear cross-traffic alert, which once again earns it an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating, while new for 2018 is Traffic Jam Assist that uses the Low Speed Follow function of the adaptive cruise control system to semi-autonomously maintain the flow of slow-moving congested traffic, a first for Acura.

AcuraWatch combines millimeter wave radar together with monocular camera sensing technology in order to detect lane markings and surrounding vehicles, which not only keeps the car within its lane, but can also intervene in order to prevent a collision or mitigate the severity of impact.

The move up to Elite trim adds $4,500 to the bottom line yet includes plenty of features to make up for it including extra exterior chrome, auto-dimming side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a 360-degree surround-view parking monitor, ventilated front seats, ambient rear passenger's footwell lighting, rear side sunshades, a powered rear sunshade, and a sensational Krell ultra-premium audio system that might be worth the price of entry alone.

  

Improved interior quality and refinement live up to flagship status

All of this comes in a cabin that's even more upscale than last year's RLX, due to higher grade materials in key areas, soft touch surfaces throughout, beautiful aluminum and wood trim, well damped, nicely fitted switchgear that includes one of the more innovative pushbutton gear selectors in the industry, plus redesigned seats that are oh-so comfortable and supportive while trimmed out with sporty contrast stitching. Mine were done in Ebony to complement its Lunar Silver metallic exterior paint, but no-cost Seacoast beige, light Greystone, and Saddle Brown are available as well, depending on your outer colour choice.


 

A highly legible gauge cluster features a bright colour TFT multi-information display at centre, while the centre stack houses Acura's well proven two-tiered infotainment system. Its ability to provide multiple functions simultaneously is a real bonus, this process normally requiring a split screen in competitors and therefore a reduction in space for individual functions. I found this especially helpful when using the RLX' excellent surround camera and its extremely accurate navigation system, while Bluetooth phone setup and operation, which included streaming audio, plus its many other functions were easy to operate.

  

Unbeatable value in the mid-size luxury-sport sedan E-segment

If you haven't already guessed, I like the RLX Sport Hybrid. It has long been a joy to drive or be driven in, and now that it's outward appeal matches its inner qualities, I believe it's one of the more intelligent sport-luxury sedan purchases available today. You should really give it a try, as its value proposition, especially when factoring in its advanced hybrid drivetrain, truly can't be beat.

 

 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press

Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press

Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.

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