Acura is stepping up its offensive against German rivals like Mercedes-Benz and Audi by updating its flagship sedan for the 2018 model year. The Acura RLX enters its fourth year on the market with a tweaked design, additional standard safety features, and mechanical upgrades that promise to boost performance and handling.
With 377 horsepower on tap, the Sport Hybrid Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (yes, that’s the full name) remains the RLX’s most powerful drivetrain option. It consists of a direct-injected 3.5-liter V6 engine and a trio of electric motors that work together to provide a blend of brisk acceleration, sharp handling, and thrifty fuel economy. Acura promises its engineers have made the RLX SH-AWD better to drive than before by drawing on lessons learned from the sporty NSX, which is equipped with a similar drivetrain. An Acura representative told Digital Trends the changes include a lighter Intelligent Power Unit (IPU), which is the name of the battery that feeds the system.
The 3.5-liter V6 engine is also available on its own. Rated at 310 horsepower, it now shifts through the 10-speed automatic transmission that is gradually spreading across the Honda and Acura lineup.
It only takes a brief glance at the RLX’s front end to tell what has changed for 2018: The controversial beak is finally gone. In its place is the maw that falls in line with the company’s newest design language, which was previewed by the chiseled Precision Concept at last year’s Detroit Auto Show. It also receives a new-look front bumper with chrome accents, sharper-looking headlights, and LED tail lamps.
Judging solely from the press shots, it looks like the RLX finally gets the character it has sorely lacked since it first began rolling into showrooms. The nip-and-tuck is complemented by two so-called premium (read: extra-cost) paint colors named brilliant red metallic and majestic black pearl, respectively, and additional alloy wheel designs.
A full suite of electronic driving aids named AcuraWatch comes standard on every RLX, and its feature set has been expanded to include traffic jam assist for the first time. The technology automatically keeps the car in its lane and a safe distance away from the car in front in dense traffic. Also included in AcuraWatch are forward collision warning, lane-keeping assist, road departure mitigation, and adaptive cruise control, among other functions.
The 2018 Acura RLX is scheduled to make its debut on August 15 during Monterey Automotive Week, a prestigious event held on the outskirts of Monterey, California. It will go on sale nationwide in November. Look for a pricing announcement before then.
Updated 8/11/2017 by Ronan Glon: Added information about the changes to the SH-AWD drivetrain.