2014 Acura RLX first drive review: Welcome to Pleasantville

2014 Acura RLX

2014 Acura RLX, photographed near Thorntree Country Club, DeSoto, Texas.

For those of you remembering this year’s Super Bowl advertising more clearly than the Super Bowl itself, you’ll recall Jerry Seinfeld attempting to negotiate with the guy whose deposit is on the just-announced (at the time of the ad) next-gen NSX. Seinfeld seems mildly desperate, channeling George Costanza in a manner he would have never done on his sitcom. Just as Jerry moves to close the deal Jay Leno swoops down and scoops the guy with the deposit up, leaving Seinfeld with that same pained expression he had when getting dumped by Teri (“and they are fabulous!”) Hatcher. If only Acura’s 2014 RLX might generate such excitement and/or angst.

Acura’s relatively brief history in the marketplace, which began with the intro of its largish Legend (and Civic-based Integra) in 1986, has enjoyed/suffered more ups and downs than the Wall Street Journal. As the first Japanese automaker to move upscale in the U.S., Honda’s very credible effort was soon eclipsed by Toyota’s Lexus and – to a lesser degree – Nissan’s Infiniti. And when the modestly successful Legend was replaced, the alphanumeric gods took hold (of late, they’re seemingly everywhere) and rechristened the new model ‘RL’. If you’re looking to write an MBA thesis, this topic will absolutely knock ‘em dead.

Despite its alphabetical association with Ralph Lauren we enjoyed the RL, offering – as it did – adequate size, space and reasonable responsiveness. Coupled with what Acura’s brain trust (should that be all caps?) dubbed Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, this new Legend was an oh-so-acceptable substitute for those of us wanting to drive an Audi without ever really wanting – back in the day – to own an Audi. But with modest sales and seemingly even less interest from the aforementioned brain trust, the Legend withered in the marketplace while the suits dithered in the board room.

2014 Acura RLX instruments.

Acura’s RLX features clear, legible instrumentation, perfectly proportioned wheel, and two screens!

That, of course, was then; this new RLX is now. To its credit, the newest Acura will never be confused with its RL predecessor. To its discredit, it might be confused with something from the Nissan studio: Maxima, upsized Altima, etc. Thankfully, no one will cross-shop it with a Juke, but the styling, whether from the front, rear or in profile, is a relatively generic take on Asian/global design. We’re pleased this new RLX is several steps removed from the ‘Full Metal Jacket’ ethos of Acura’s TL, ZDX and – to a lesser degree – TSX, but we’d have hoped, given the competition for your $50K, there might be a strong dose of good ol’ fashion design within its lines, and no hint of good ol’ fashion Nissan.

Inside, as our press blurb declares, the RLX features “premium, soft touch materials throughout, with the tasteful application of premium metal and wood-grain accents.” Unquote. We found it pretty darn upmarket in both comfort and function, and most of the control layout would be described as intuitive. The centerstack provides you with not one but two (TWO) screens, one for your Navigation (8-inch) and a slightly smaller screen for your On-Demand Multi-Use Display. The leather-trimmed armrest, which slides open, conceals a storage compartment with USB connectivity, 12-volt accessory power outlet and space to store a tablet ‘device’. We used it to store our mother’s handicapped-parking tag.

In back, the RLX provides up to three inches more legroom than competitive models, which include the 535i, Lexus GS350 and Audi A6. (The chauffeur-equipped Chinese executive class should absolutely love it.)  And for those of you looking for a new benchmark in high-fidelity audio, look no further than your Krell-equipped RLX. National Public Radio has never – to our ears – sounded better.

Of course, our very 20th-Century sensibilities will typically figure luxury transport should be judged – at least in part – by its drivetrain. As noted, that was then. And ‘now’ puts turbocharged fours under the hoods of both BMW’s 5-Series and Jaguar’s XF. So, while rumors of a V8 in Acura’s upper echelon might have been based on actual discussion, what we get is an all-new (and very satisfactory) 3.5 liter V6. Offering Direct Injection and a single overhead cam per bank, the six generates 310 horsepower and 272 lb-ft of torque. That torque peak is delivered anywhere you want it, as long as you stay between 2,000 rpm and 6,600 rpm. Mounted to a ‘lightweight and rigid’ aluminum front subframe, we have to admit we hardly knew the V6 was there. Even when we might have wanted to know it was there. Which is so old school, but then, it is $50,000 of your net dollars!

Matched to a 6-speed auto with what Acura’s Sequential SportShift, we were genuinely pleased by the powertrain’s brio, especially when the Sport button was selected. That Sport mode ups the aggressiveness ante – the car’s, not yours – with more aggressive shift points and more significant engine braking. And we wouldn’t drive the RLX without it.

On the road the Acura out-Cadillacs Cadillac, with a plush ride and enough isolation to suggest Ann Romney should buy three. In the aforementioned Sport mode it can be made to let its hair down, but you’ll never confuse it with the neo-hooligans on the German showrooms. We had a modicum of fun in what is obviously not a sport sedan, and achieved 22.5 miles per gallon. That – for the luxury and comfort of an RLX – is a modicum of gas.

Arguably more compelling is an upcoming RLX Sport Hybrid, offering Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, 370 horsepower and anticipated EPA ratings of 30 city/30 highway/30 combined. Available later in 2013, we could imagine Jerry and Jay fighting over that. Or maybe not…

Specifications follow.