The 2018 Acura RLX sedan features subtly revised styling that improves its looks and upgraded interior materials. The standard V6 model gets a new 10-speed transmission.
RLX offers two drivetrains: front-wheel-drive V6 or all-wheel-drive hybrid gas-electric.
The standard engine is a 3.5-liter V6 that’s been in the RLX since 2014, making 310 horsepower. It’s front-wheel drive, and for 2018 gets a new 10-speed automatic, replacing the previous 6-speed. It gets an EPA-rated 20 mpg City, 29 Highway, or 23 Combined.
The available hybrid powertrain borrows technology from the spectacular Acura NSX sports car/supercar. The all-wheel-drive RLX Sport Hybrid combines the 3.5-liter V6 with a paddle-shifting 7-speed dual-clutch transmission and three electric motors for a total of 377 horsepower. The hybrid rates 28/29/28 mpg, indicating it’s much more efficient around town.
Premium gasoline is required for both models.
Safety equipment includes rearview camera, adaptive cruise control, forward-collision warnings with automatic emergency braking, and lane departure warning. RLX Sport Hybrids add a surround-view camera system and parking sensors. For 2018, there is Traffic-jam Assist, which provides some autonomous driving by following the car ahead at speeds up to 40 mph. Safety scores are top-notch with five stars in every test from the NHTSA, and a top Good score in every test from the IIHS, who make the RLX a Top Safety Pick.
The 2018 Acura RLX ($55,865) comes with leather upholstery, heated power front seats, keyless ignition, navigation, ELS premium audio, and the safety equipment.
The RLX Sport Hybrid ($62,865) adds surround-view camera system, heated rear seats, cooled front seats, front and rear parking sensors, and 14-speaker Krell audio with crystal-clear sound.
The new hood has more character lines, and the new grille has a handsome diamond pattern. The grille and LED lighting resembles that on the MDX sport utility vehicle. In the rear, LED taillamps trace a ribbon of light around the corners. It’s the most dramatic thing about the styling. There’s also a rear diffuser in glossy black plastic. Liberal use of brightwork adds flash.
The styling is improved, but it’s banal, resembling the last-generation Honda Accord. You have to park a 2018 RLX beside a 2017 RLX to recognize a difference. Competitors like the Audi A7 hatchback and Mercedes-Benz E-Class sedan flaunt extravagant curves to make the RLX forgettable.
Compared again to the Audi A7 and Mercedes-Benz E-Class, the wide cabin of the RLX falls short in the lavish department. Fit and finish are good, but the cabin lacks passion. The low dash is a design of twin arcs around the center console, but there’s no design theme apparent.
The front seats are more supportive for 2018, and they are cozy, with contrasting stitching; there’s a new shade we like for 2018 called Espresso. The front seats are heated and have 12-way power support. On the Sport Hybrid, the front seats are cooled.
In the front, there’s excellent kneeroom and headroom, while the passenger footwell is wide and flat.
The rear isn’t so good. Wide door openings make entry and exit easy, and the seat cushions are supportive and shaped well, but the sloped roofline limits rear headroom. Tall passengers graze the headliner, a problem uncommon to sedans this size.
There’s good storage space in the cabin, but the trunk is small, at 14.9 cubic feet. The Sport Hybrid has even less, 12 cubic feet, although that’s more than last year, thanks to a reshaped battery pack.
The dual-screen infotainment system is aged, if not ancient. With the two screens functioning differently, it’s neither fluid nor intuitive. The good news is there are a lot of buttons and switches, so it can be largely avoided. RLX models do not offer Android Auto and Apple CarPlay.
The V6 comes with a new 10-speed automatic. With 310 horsepower, the RLX accelerates with just a small amount of urgency.
As for handling, the front-wheel-drive RLX leans into corners casually. At low speeds, it uses rear-wheel steering, as sensors on the rear wheels turn them in the opposite direction of the front wheels.
It absorbs bumps without fuss. It’s not the kind of car that needs an adaptive suspension as found on some rivals.
The Sport Hybrid takes the 3.5-liter V6 and combines it with three electric motors, two 27-kw motors in the rear differential to drive each rear wheel, and the third for the front wheels, thus all-wheel drive. The powerplant makes a combined 377 horsepower and 341 pound-feet of torque. It responds quickly, and accelerates with the thrust of an electric car; the zoom feel endless. The electric motors seem to make the shifts of the 7-speed dual-clutch transmission smoother.
The power perpetually shifts between wheels, as determined by sensors, for optimum traction and grip, amounting to torque vectoring. We found the traction in rain with the all-wheel drive outstanding.
The steering in the 2018 RLX Sport Hybrid that we drove felt heavier than the 2017 RLX models with V6 engines we have driven. The light touch at higher speeds was gone. It remained light at low speeds, thanks to that rear-wheel steering, but got heavier and stayed that way on the highway, including in corners.
The well-tuned suspension on the hybrid is excellent at damping a wide range of bumps, again without being electronically or otherwise adaptive. The creamy ride comes on soft springs and absorbent tires.
The Acura RLX is a smooth and comfortable sedan for the daily commute. It doesn’t stand out in the class, however, with unexciting looks, a dated, uninteresting cabin, and a less-than-thrilling V6. Ride quality is great, handling is benign. The Sport Hybrid stands out for its mechanical ingenuity.
Sam Moses contributed to this review; with staff reports.