Test Drive: Redesigned Acura RLX is bank-vault quiet

Test Drive: Redesigned Acura RLX is bank-vault quiet

March 23rd, 2013 by Mark Kennedy in Business Diary

The redesigned Acura RL competes with the flagship sedans of BMW and Lexus.

Photo by Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy

FAST FACTS

Model: 2014 Acura RLX

Exterior color: Bellanova White

Interior color: Seacoast

Engine: 3.5 liter, six-cylinder

Horsepower: 310

Transmission: six-speed automatic

Fuel economy: 31 mpg highway, 20 mpg city

Dealer: Pye Acura

Price (as tested): $57,320

The Acura RLX interior is a blend of tasteful materials and creature comforts.

Photo by Staff Photo by Mark Kennedy

If you're going to play "king of the hill" in the midsize luxury sedan segment, it means going up against some heavy artillery - notably the Cadillac XTS, Audi A6 and BMW 5-series.

Acura has redesigned its flagship RLX for just such a battle.

The bigger Acura has just started arriving at Pye Acura in Chattanooga, and we scored a test drive on Wednesday in a Bellanova White model on its way out the door to a new home.

First impression: The six-cylinder RLX compares remarkably well to its competition, especially with additional interior room and impressive fuel economy.

STYLING AND CONVENIENCE

The RLX cuts a handsome -- though understated -- profile. In this class, a sedan does not call attention to itself with garish lines or bold colors. The RLX has the brand's familiar "helmet shield" grille which has become the main design cue of new Acuras. Each headlight assembly features two rows of eight LED lights.

The V-shaped nose of the car tapers into a tiered hood and elegant a-pillars that don't obscure inside-out visibility. Side panels are marked by body-colored door-guard strips and door handles, a nice break from the chrome accents you see on most upscale models today.

The rear of the car is remarkable because of what is not there. Instead of encasing the RLX's exhaust tips in chrome cladding (like virtually every other automaker), Acura tucks them away so they vent invisibly behind the rear bumper for a clean, uncluttered look. The RLX with tech package, like our tester, comes with 19-inch rims, featuring handsome 14-spoke wheels.

Inside, the RLX has a double-wing dash architecture and our test car was tastefully decorated with contrasting beige (Seacoast) and black dash and door panels. The heated, Milano leather-covered seats hug your body like a soft, warm glove.

The speedometer and tachometer feature gleaming chrome needles that move around the analog gauges like the hands of a fine timepiece.

Tech goodies on the RLX include Pandora Internet connectivity, a 14-speaker premium sound system and a navigation system with real-time traffic reports. Safety options include soft chimes that sound if you accidentally begin to drift across highway lanes without signaling.

DRIVING IMPRESSIONS

Close the doors and crank the engine on the RLX, and a rich hum envelops the cabin. The sense of isolation is like being inside a bank vault.

One of the high-tech features of the RLX is an all-wheel steering system which helps the sedan scamper through curves with no noticeable body lean. On a smooth freeway, driving the RLX is like piloting a cloud. Car & Driver clocked the RLX's zero-to-60 time at 5.9 seconds.

The 310 horsepower V-6, direct-injection engine makes 310 horsepower and packs a wallop when you punch the gas. And speaking of gas, the RLX returns a respectable 31 miles per gallon in highway driving (20 mpg city).

In our test drive on Highway 153 and Amnicola Highway, the RLX showed off its pedigree as a boulevard cruiser. This is a car that you melt into. It's great therapy for stress.

BOTTOM LINE

Our RLX test car featured a tech package and tipped the scales at $57,320, not bad for a car that takes Acura refinement to a new level. Assembled in Saitama, Japan, the RLX is a reminder of what the Japanese auto industry can do when it resolves to up the ante on luxury. A hybrid version of the RLX with all-wheel-drive is in the pipeline and is scheduled to arrive in car stores later this year.

Contact Mark Kennedy at mkennedy@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6645. Follow him on Twitter @TFP COLUMNIST. Subscribe to his Facebook updates at www.facebook.com/mkennedycolumnist.