Slipping into the new 2014 Acura RLX Advance brought back memories.
In 1970, my father bought a brand new Cadillac Eldorado Coupe (not the smartest choice for a family car, but anyway…) and since he was coming from a Volkswagon Squareback, it was quite a step up.
The big Caddy bristled with the technology of the day: automatic climate controls (rarely worked), power seats and windows (for a while), cruise control (unreliable), and an AM/FM radio that could find stations by itself (sometimes). It was a wonder of technology and with the hulking V8 under the hood, it was also hugely powerful.
And so it is with the new 2014 Acura RLX Advance.
After nearly a decade of incremental updates, the RLX was overdue for a clean-sheet redesign and what Honda , er, Acura, has delivered is much like the step up from the VW that the fat Caddy represented – except the technology in the Acura actually works all the time.
The updated angular styling of the RLX is attractive, highlighted by the 16 truly cool segmented “Jewel Eye” LED headlights, which garner the majority of comments from onlookers. But those signature headlights are just the tip of the RLX’s tech juggernaut and while much of it is useful and entertaining, some time with the owners manual will be required for owners to get a grip on everything going on in the cabin and throughout the car.
Ground Control for Major Tom
Just like in past Acura flagships, drivers are smothered in tech features to the point that at night, the numerous red-lit controls surrounding the pilot seat can make it seem like you’re helming a junior version of the Space Shuttle. However, some of the most useful tech systems at play are mostly invisible to the driver. For example, the RLX features P-AWS – that’s Precision All Wheel Steering – and if there was ever a feature that should be standard on all big cars, it’s this one.
Turning into tight parking spaces, pulling U-turns at cramped intersections, carving through tight corners, the boat-length Acura could do it all. While the steering system cants the rear wheels just a few degrees at maximum, it makes a huge difference moving the car around in cramped confines. At speed, the wheels will turn in the same direction for enhanced maneuverability. Sadly, due to the limited turning ability of the rear wheels it won’t exactly crab around hazards like this car can or this one could. Additionally, the RLX will also toe-in both rear wheels under hard braking for that extra bit of bite.
Along with the P-AWS steering system, the RLX comes with just about every acronym and trick in the tech and safety book, including a lane departure warning system that will also nudge the steering wheel if you’re really too busy sending that text message, tire pressure monitoring, blind spot alerts, obligatory rear camera with vectoring guides, an airbag for the driver’s knees (no joke) and an adaptive cruise control with a low-speed system that will bring the car to a complete stop if the vehicle ahead hits the brakes. Since our test fleet manager frowns on us smashing $61,000 luxury cars into… pretty much anything (lest the feature not work as advertised), I did not try a full test of the auto-stop system, but the adaptive cruise control system – and pretty much all of the tech suite – worked as expected.
Additionally, there are three AcuraLink apps (available for both iOS and Android) that expand the Acura’s tech reach beyond the dashboard. The primary app, called AcuraLink Connect, is “cloud-based” according to Acura and lets you control doors, lights, horn (now where did I park…) as well as checking the fuel level and keeping up on scheduled maintenance. A nice feature is the ability to find your next destination on your phone and then zap that right to the RLX’s navigation system.
There’s also the aha-powered AcuraLink Streaming app, and as you might imagine, it opens the media floodgates for piping all manner of content into the car along with Twitter and Facebook updates and local points of interest for food, hotels and so forth. All that data is fed into the car’s computer and can be manipulated using the steering wheel controls or the buttony center stack and touchscreen.
Finally, there’s the self-explantory AcuraLink Roadside Assistance app as well. Why all these apps can’t be rolled into one is unclear, hopefully in the future that will be the case.
I wonder if Acura’s in-car suite of technology will be a bit overwhelming for their target demographic …
Once I did, though, Acura’s layout made more sense and I got better at running most things from the steering wheel, which itself is covered with a dozen buttons including a 4-way control wheel. All the tech features worked without any major or even minor failings, although pairing my iPhone 5 took a few tries before syncing up. Voice controls also worked well when using the phone or getting directions.
Acura has also teamed with Krell for the car’s 14-speaker audio system and while it needed a bit of boost through the controls for the kind of bass response I prefer, the system is capable of generating high volume while remaining free of distortion and delivering excellent definition, especially on classical and jazz selections.
But I’ll just say it: between the apps, which are moderately useful, and the complexity of the in-car systems, it approaches overkill. Thanks goodness the RLX has all those safety systems in place because there is no end to the opportunities to take your attention off the road. The system is button-heavy and if you add in the “buttons” that can also fill the LCD touchscreen, it can sometimes takes a bit to find the control or adjustment you’re hunting for. Again, time spent using the system brings more speed and familiarity, but suffice to say the learning curve is steeper than what I’ve experienced to operate similar systems in other cars.
Acura did see fit to include a big button in the dash that dims and then shuts off the top LCD screen completely, but if the phone rings or you give a voice command, it springs back to life on its own. More “off” buttons would be nice.
I wonder if Acura’s in-car suite of technology will be a bit overwhelming for their target demographic, which from their TV spots appears to be affluent middle-aged men with no shortage of gray hair. It’s a demographic I’m sorry to say I’m quickly approaching (more the hair, less the affluence) but even for a highly-wired person like myself, the huge dose of Acura’s cabin tech was a bit much. For someone coming from a low-tech ride, it could be frustrating, at least at first.
Conversely, the more hidden technologies, such as the trick steering system and the myriad safety minders, play their roles unobtrusively. If only the rest of the digital bits were so low-profile.
Power for the (well-off) people
Once you’ve installed the apps, synced your phone, sent the nav computer your paramour’s addy and figured out what pair of pants you last left the wireless key fob in, it’s time to go for an actual drive and it’s here the RLX Advance shines.
While it won’t crush you into the seats under acceleration like a supercar, the 3.5L 310hp direct-injection V6 moves the RLX with refined alacrity and sounds good doing it. With the car in Plain Old Drive, mashing the gas pedal brings instant forward progress and a steady, growing growl from the engine bay.
Hitting the Sport button below the shift gate drops the 6-speed gearbox a cog or two into the engine’s potent midrange. Tapping a paddle shifter on the wheel then puts you in Manual mode, but the Acura still plays minder and will hit the shifts for you if you are about to bang against the redline or forget to shift down while slowing. I found driving the car in Sport sans shifters was typically entertaining enough given the solid ride and commendable cornering prowess, courtesy of the all-wheel steering system and sophisticated suspension. When pushed, it certainly doesn’t drive like a big car, but it’s also a couple of steps slower than actual sporting machines in the same price range.
But of course, this isn’t some track-day weapon, it’s a luxury car. Rolling around town or out poking along on the highway, you definitely get that “cut above” feel from the excellent ash-black leather seats, the superbly finished and quiet interior, and the compliant if not slightly sporting suspension. Passengers who rode in the back of RLX have room to stretch out and can manage their comfort with a central air vent with temperature control and 3-level heated seats. There’s also a center fold-down with two cup holders and a pass-though for skis or that vintage lamp you just bought at auction.
It’s gotta be the… headlights?
On the outside, the Crystal Black RLX’s sharply cut but largely unremarkable styling didn’t make my neighbors green with jealousy. The stacked LED headlights got all the comments and this is certainly not a car you’ll ever be embarrassed to drive, just don’t expect supermodels to spontaneously jump in the passenger seat while at a stoplight on Rodeo Drive. The looks are helped by 19-inch aluminum rims that look a bit like the turbofans from a jet engine but overall, the car reflects Acura’s typical sharp but conservative styling approach outside of the for-now unusual headlights.
Driver’s don’t buy Acuras to stand out (NSX buyers excepted). The cars are popular because they are clearly capable, reliable, luxurious and the brand is aspirational. That’s what keeps buyers coming back. While the RLX may suffer a bit from tech overload, it’s combination of discreet styling, the powerful V6, a comfortable interior and that superb all-wheel-steer handling make it a winner to drive. It certainly isn’t just the fancy headlights.
- Honda’s excellent build quality inside and out
- Powerful V6 that actually sounds powerful
- Paddle shifters placate your inner Ricky Bobby
- Useful, practical rear-wheel steering system sharpens handling
- Blend-in styling, except for the headlights
- Techno overkill in the cockpit – but everything at least works right
- Monthly payments on a $61,000 car loan