2017 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Elite Road Test

August 16 2019, North Shore Acura

2017 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Elite Road Test

Superb performance, luxury and value in an innovative flagship sedan

Staying true to brand DNA is a critical factor to overall success, and something Acura has worked hard to maintain as it has grown its brand throughout the past 31 years. Now, looking at every single model within its ever-broadening lineup, from the entry-level ILX to the ultra-advanced NSX mid-engine supercar, performance is equal in importance to refined luxury.

Nowhere is this more evident than Acura's highly advanced RLX flagship sedan. When introduced it was first to incorporate standard LED headlamps, which were so dazzling they were deservedly dubbed "Jewel-Eye", while then-new active safety technologies like autonomous emergency braking were also part of the RLX package.

V8-like performance with a four-cylinder's fuel economy.

The RLX remains an innovation leader. It's the only car in its class available solely as a hybrid, and a performance-oriented Sport Hybrid at that. In fact, much of the new NSX' drivetrain components were first utilized within the RLX. Acura claims net output of 377 horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque via a 3.5-litre V6 and three-motor electric/ lithium-ion battery combination. For a quick synopsis, the internal combustion engine (ICE) powers the front wheels in concert with an electric assist motor, similar to the Accord Hybrid. Call this default mode, the most fuel-efficient way to get around. If torque is needed at the rear due to increasing power, pushing hard through a corner, or experiencing inclement weather, an electrified version of Acura's torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) provides traction from all four standard 245/40R19 all-season tires via rear wheel-mounted dual electric motors.

Heightening the RLX' sporty nature, a seven-speed dual-clutch automated transmission provides quick shifts enhanced by steering wheel paddles and Acura's innovative pushbutton gear selector, complete with a very responsive Sport button, making it a lot more entertaining to drive many number of its rivals.

While the RLX Sport Hybrid is quick off the line and plenty enjoyable through the curves, its fully independent suspension, consisting of a lightweight double-wishbone setup with lower double joints up front and a multi-link design in back, with stabilizer bars and amplitude reactive dampers at both ends, is wonderfully compliant on most any type of road surface, still it's a car that begs to be driven harder than its luxurious surroundings suggest.

Extremely agile handling thanks to innovative all-wheel drive

The electric power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering is tuned for better feedback than many of its luxury peers, while the aforementioned SH-AWD, 19-inch wheels and tires, plus Agile Handling Assist that uses active braking technology to slow the inside (or outside) wheel during high-speed cornering to minimize oversteer and understeer, makes for a very engaging sport sedan. The big disc brakes do a good job of hauling the big car down from a fast pace quickly and in control too, even after repeated application. Really, the RLX needs to be experienced to be appreciated.

I'd say the same for the car's nicely appointed, impressively refined cabin. First off it's quiet inside, as one would expect from a car in this class. Along with standard acoustic glass and active noise cancellation, some of its sound deadening can be attributed to premium soft touch synthetic and natural surfaces applied just about everywhere. Beautiful French-stitched leathers cover much of the instrument panel, door inserts and armrests, as well as the seat upholstery, of course, the front seat inserts perforated to allow forced ventilation. Both front and rear seats are three-way heatable as well, while the former are power-adjustable in myriad ways. It's a comfortable car, no argument.

Stunning interior lives up to premium class standards

The cabin pulls eyeballs too. Along with that stunning leatherwork, gorgeous high-gloss hardwood adorns the dash front, centre console and door panels, as does tastefully applied satin-finish aluminum and chromed metal trim. There's no panoramic sunroof opening up the roof overhead, and the primary gauge cluster ahead of the driver isn't a fully configurable TFT display like some in this segment, nor is its fully colour multi-information display (MID) as large or as feature-filled as others, but Acura makes up for this with a head-up display projecting critical info on the windshield and its duopoly of displays atop the centre stack, the topmost one more of an MID and the lower touchscreen for infotainment purposes.

A set of controls, including a large rotating controller, prompt the former and your fingers do the walking over the latter, with all the usual premium features included such as a 360-degree surround overhead camera (that's actually a split-screen simultaneously showing a backup camera with active guidelines), an accurate navigation system with excellent mapping, plenty of car info (especially hybrid details), phone info, an HVAC display for the GPS-linked tri-zone automatic climate control, and lastly an audio display for the phenomenal Krell surround sound system. Additionally, all of the switchgear throughout the cabin is excellent.

First class accommodations front and rear

As noted the rear outboard seats get three-way heatable elements controlled by switchgear on the backside of the front console, centered by a button for powering the rear window sunshade up and down. Side window sunshades are included too, but they're manually operated. Rear seat finishings are as impressive as those up front, and roominess deserves the proverbial "limousine-like" commendation, with so much legroom it's downright silly.

Specifically, when I positioned the driver's seat to my five-foot-eight height, I had about 10 inches left over in front of my knees, another four inches above my head, five from my shoulders to the door, and about the same for my hips. Three abreast would be easy enough, but it's best to lose the centre passenger and enjoy the comfortable armrest that folds down from the middle, complete with small cupholders that pop out from the front.

For a hybrid that uses much of its rear bulkhead for storing its battery, the squared out 328-litre trunk is quite accommodating. Its floor, seatbacks and sidewalls are nicely finished in premium carpets and chromed tie-down hooks are included for strapping in loose cargo, while surprisingly enough there's a large two-compartment stowage area under the load floor for hiding valuables.

Now that we're talking practicalities, Natural Resources Canada gives the RLX Sport Hybrid a fuel economy estimate of 8.2 L/100km in the city, 7.8 on the highway, and 8.1 combined, which is superb for its class.

An impressive assortment of standard and optional features

If the RLX' fuel economy doesn't interest you, the RLX' high level of standard features will. For just $65,490 plus freight and fees it comes with most everything already noted plus heatable power-folding side mirrors with driver recognition, reverse gear tilt-down, and integrated LED turn signals, LED fog lamps and taillights, 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, a head-up display, AcuraLink infotainment with a multi-angle backup camera and navigation, voice recognition (with Siri), SMS text message and email reading and response capability, Bluetooth with streaming audio, 14-speaker surround-sound ELS audio 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 more.

Standard safety features are just as impressive, including all the usual active and passive gear as well as 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. This earns the RLX an IIHS Top Safety Pick rating.

The RLX Sport Hybrid delivers great value

On top of this, my tester's Elite package includes the previously noted surround view camera system, Krell audio upgrade, ventilated front seats, and rear sunshades, while also adding auto-dimming side mirrors, ambient rear passenger footwell lighting, plus front and rear parking sensors for $4,500, resulting in a new total of $69,990.

With or without the Elite package the RLX Sport Hybrid is a superb car and an excellent value. I recommend a closer look, but more importantly you should spend some quality time behind the wheel.