2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

Sometimes, greatness is found hiding in plain sight.

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You’re forgiven of the name “RLX” flies right over your head. We’ll look the other way if one were to drive right by you and you wouldn’t notice whatsoever. That’s because Acura’s RLX, perhaps one of the most underrated and painfully neglected cars out there, is styled to look like a toaster.

That’s not exactly fair; it looks much better than a toaster, but its shape isn’t going to keep you tossing and turning at night. That forgettable styling is but one of three major problems facing this car, the other two being a woefully small cargo area in the trunk (blame the hybrid hardware) and terribly wooden brake feel (more on that later.) Other than these faults, the Acura RLX Hybrid is a tremendously enjoyable car to drive.

PROS: Wonderfully innovative hybrid system, intelligent four-wheel drive, one of the quietest cars we’ve ever driven.

CONS: Ho-hum styling, underwhelming trunk capacity, ungainly brake feel.

THE VERDICT: One of the best sorted hybrid luxury cars there is, but why couldn’t they have called it “Legend”?

The electrified drivetrain that underpins the RLX is tasked with doling out the most horsepower and torque ever churned out by an Acura product to date- a total of 377 horsepower and 341 lbs/ft. of torque in combined engine/hybrid outputs are ready to be summoned by your right foot. Not surprisingly, this makes for deliciously linear acceleration- you can thank the electric motors seamless augmentation for that, and it’s an addicting sensation that feels much better than forced induction or even a V8. All this snort didn’t add up to an unexpected hit to the wallet at the gas pumps- we achieved 11.3L/100km in mixed driving, pretty darn good for a speedy (and weighty) luxury car. Seeing how well the technology works in the application, we’re already salivating to experience it underpinning Acura’s resurrected supercar, the NSX.

Helping all that oomph get to the tarmac is an extremely complicated four-wheel drive system coupled to what must be the best example of a dual-clutch gearbox going. Its 7 speeds are selected either with nearly undetectable smoothness or with decisive firmness, depending on what settings (Econ/Normal/Sport) you’ve asked for. Only Porsche’s lauded PDK gearbox would be comparable as an industry benchmark.

Power can be sent to any axle, or any combination of the two, in a number of different ways. As long as the onboard batteries have enough charge in them, you can pootle around in EV mode- the RLX’s rear motors do their best to keep the engine from firing as they move you about. Push the pedal a bit harder and when the silky V6 fires up, the motors will step up to fill in any gaps in the gas engine’s output. The result is a nice rush to the redline- pull the upshift paddle and the process begins anew. We didn’t get the chance to see how the system helped commuting in snow and ice, but even in the dry it feels reassuringly buttoned down. Fun Fact: the whole system is so smart that it can regenerate electricity when flung into a corner; as the outside wheel spins faster to help the car rotate around the corner, the inside wheel can regenerate power. How cool is that?

When the situation demands a little more restraint, the RLX quietly gathers itself and goes about the task of indulging its driver and passengers. The way the big Acura pours itself down the road is nothing short of remarkable- it has an exquisite ride that manages to never float or wallow, giving off the impression that someone has laid down plush carpeting beneath the tires. The steering has pleasing heft and builds effort nicely from lock to lock but never forgets its luxury car duties, so it lets you know what’s happening with the front wheels but filters out stuff that would otherwise be deemed uncouth. Only the brake pedal sends out any untoward vibes, and you’ll feel what we mean the first time you apply the brakes and your head rockets forward. You will need some time to get used to the way they feel, and to compensate for the weird feeling retuned through the pedal. This could be easily forgiven if wonky brake feel on regenerative brakes were a common thing, but even Toyota manages to coax some degree of normalcy from its binders, so why not on a high-end Acura? With such a technology laden drivetrain, you’d think this would come easily- especially to a company that knows a thing or two about engineering prowess.

Speaking of prowess, the audio system that comes standard in the RLX deserves mention simply because it is so incredibly good. We’ve been spoiled in the past by in-car high-end audio before, but the way the Krell unit fitted to the RLX faithfully reproduces your favorite music cleanly and precisely (even satellite radio, too)  is astonishing. The fact that everything is so hushed to begin with means the stereo isn’t competing with road and wind noise or anything untoward that would taint the listening experience.

All these redeeming qualities make it hard to focus on the RLX’s flaws. Midsize luxury car buyers always seem to be faced with the same choices on their hands year after year, and frankly some of those choices aren’t worth what their brands are charging for them. The RLX represents a compelling alternative that dishes out vigorous performance, careful efficiency and confidently executed luxury at a price that should be higher, considering the level of kit. This rolling showcase of technology is certainly worth a look.

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

  • Price as tested: $69,990
  • Body Type: 4 door, 5-passenger sedan
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Engine:  3.5 litre V6, DOHC, 24 valves with Front Electric Motor and Rear Twin Motor Unit
  • Horsepower: 310 @ 6,500 rpm (combined horsepower output: 377 hp)
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 272 @ 4,500 rpm (combined torque output: 341 lbs/ft.)
  • Transmission: 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
  • Curb weight: 1,980 kg (4,365 lbs.)
  • Observed combined fuel economy: 11.4L/100 km (20 mpg)