The Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD brings a unique set of skills to what has become a challenging sales environment.
What is it?
The RLX is Acura’s flagship sedan, and it competes with everything from the BMW 5 Series to either of Hyundai’s new luxury-division cars, the Genesis G80 and G90. In a time when crossovers and SUVs are most in demand, it’s up to sedans to fight for their pieces of a diminished pie.
Pricing and trims
The RLX offered in either front-wheel drive or Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (Super Handling – All-Wheel Drive) versions, and base prices range from $55,390 to $66,890. All have the Technology Package as standard, and adding the Advance Package to either trim is an extra $6,000.
The test car was a 2016 SH-AWD with Advance Package, and it totaled $66,870.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the RLX its absolute top rating – Top Safety Pick Plus, with a rare Superior rating in front crash prevention.
There’s no need to dig into an options list to specify the active safety features that lead to this top rating; all RLXs have it standard.
The RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD produces a total of 377 horsepower. That’s 67 more horsepower than the non-hybrid, but it’s needed, as Acura says that the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD adds about 350 pounds to the front-drive version.
Acura notes that elements of the RLX’s hybrid powertrain are shared with the division’s slick NSX sports car, and it does have some neat aspects. First, you note how quiet the RLX is, and then you appreciate the creamy electricity-augmented launches, which seem to come from a bottomless pool of torque. This is particularly apparent when the Sport button is pressed.
Fuel economy is a main reason to choose a hybrid, and while the RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD matches the non-hybrid’s EPA highway rating of 30 mpg, it bests the non-hybrid’s 20 mpg city by nine mpg.
Our tester came in a bit lower, as it was faced a combination of crushing holiday traffic, San Francisco’s steep hills and my own insistence on milking Sport mode for all its worth, and so the trip computer pegged my miles per gallon in the upper teens. That should probably be considered worst-case.
Familiarity is breeding a certain contentment with Acura‘s tricky electronic shifter, after using it in maybe in six or seven test cars. Few transmission selectors have Acura’s variety of push and pull actuators, and while it beats a flank of look-alike buttons, it still forced me to visually confirm I was indeed hitting the D. It still seems needlessly fussier than a solid-action lever, but we’re keeping an open mind.
The RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD forgoes the dual-clutch, seven-speed unit in the front-wheel drive RLX for a simpler six-speeder. The transmission worked well enough, but the RLX can sometimes take concentration to drive smoothly, particularly when Sport is selected.
Sport keeps the powertrain more on guard, and that can result in some hybrid hiccups that can be felt by your passengers. It’s not a dealbreaker, but buyers looking for the seamless driving experience offered by most premium sedans might be better served by the non-hybrid RLX.
Ride and handling
The RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD retains the non-hybrid RLX’s light and nimble feel. It’s typically Honda in delivering direct steering and minimal body roll; this kind of eagerness to cut and thrust is most welcome in an executive sedan.
That feeling of lightness has a flip side; this RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD mirrored our last front-wheel drive RLX tester in allowing an untoward amount of vibration to travel through the structure, especially the floorboards. Too much shiver comes through when you hit a hard bump, particularly at the RLX’s premium price point.
The RLX’s front seats are wide. Their bottoms tip up in front for ample thigh support, and lumbar supports are adjustable for height. The Advance package adds seat heaters and coolers.
The rear seats are roomy, with 38.8 inches of legroom opening up space for taller passengers.
The RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD’s powertrain battery bites into the trunk, reducing it in size from 14.7 cubic feet to a tight 11.6. A spare tire would further cut that space, so Acura instead supplies an inflator in the under-floor organizer.
It’s in line with traditional Honda values to not encumber a car with unnecessary and weight-adding frills, and so the trunk powers itself up, but it’s up to you to yank it back down with the handle mounted inside the lid.
Infotainment and controls
The RLX’s instrument panel is typical Acura, with thickly defined coves for the driver and passenger. Materials are substantial and have a low-sheen finish, with the exception of the glossy imitation wood.
If you’re not familiar with Acura’s two-screen infotainment system, then it won’t be long until you are, as it takes just a few pre-flights to nail down the logic flow.
As with all touchscreens that are upturned and not shrouded, a sunbeam aimed through the open sunroof can wash out the display while reminding you that it’s a magnet for fingerprints.
There’s no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto in the RLX, but you’re in luck if you like Pandora – the tested RLX linked immediately to my iPhone’s Pandora app upon connecting via Bluetooth. The test car’s Advance package included the 14-speaker Krell sound system, which needed some fiddling with the settings to draw out its impressive sound.
Kudos to Acura for the Advance Package’s Surround View camera system. It is dense with detail, and the path it defines as you steer made it a snap to back into a parking spot.
The RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD faces an uphill battle; Acura would certainly like to move more than the 100 or so that are sold each month, and that volume is down more than 40% from the same January to September span in 2015, which was down by half from the year before that.
In this era of cheap gas, hybrids are not a buyer priority, especially in the RLX’s prestige market. And it could be argued that Acura hasn’t gained enough brand traction to properly field a premium sedan.
But slow sellers like the RLX can many times be bought at steep discounts, and so if the RLX’s combination of Acura reliability and Honda nimbleness appeals to you, then we’d recommend bypassing the RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD to find yourself a front-wheel drive RLX that’s tucked behind the RDX crossovers that are so currently so popular.
It still won’t be as beautifully balanced as Honda’s own Accord, but a cut-rate RLX could be an attractive pairing of Honda virtues with some satisfying dashes of distinction.
2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD
Base price: $65,950
Price as tested, including $920 destination charge: $66,870
- Light and nimble feel
- Comfortable front seats
- Top safety rating
- Familiar styling
- Occasionally abrupt hybrid-system responses
- Touchscreen subject to glare