First Drive: 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

WEST HOLLYWOOD, California — With a quick strike of what I assume was a hammer and chisel, the infamous beak is struck from yet another Acura product. For 2018, the Japanese premium automaker refreshed its RLX flagship sedan, sculpting a shiny new face and cramming a handful of updated tech into the cushy four-door. To make sure the rhinoplasty is more than just skin-deep, I spent some quality time with the range-topping RLX Sport Hybird out on the mean streets of WeHo.

The outgoing RLX Sport Hybrid was an inoffensive, if a bit staid way to save a buck or two on fuel without dipping your foot too far out of the luxury (or premium) pool or completely giving up the conveniences of internal combustion. Three years on, Acura returned to the drafting board and sketched a new schnozz, replacing the old silver triangular insert with the same pseudo-pentagonal grille from the recently redesigned MDX and TLX that appears ripped straight from the pixels of a Tempest game.

To compliment the new face, Acura reshaped the hood as well, now wearing prominent ridges near the outer edges. There’s a new rump as well, sporting sharp-looking LED taillights and a subtle black lower diffuser with larger exhaust outlets. Accentuating the redesigned bodywork are two new paint colors, Majestic Black Pearl and Brilliant Red Metallic, along with new wheel options. Overall, it’s not as clean as the Germans, but it’s much more visually striking than anything else in the segment from Korea or Japan.

The powertrain mostly carries over from the outgoing RLX, save for a nifty new 10-speed automatic transmission for the regular, non-electrified RLX. Stick to the base level, and that new box is hooked up to the same naturally aspirated 3.5-liter V-6 as before, putting down 310 hp and 272 lb-ft of torque to the front wheels. Hop up to the Sport Hybrid, and the 3.5-liter is augmented by three electric motors that combine to create an all-wheel-drive system. These NSX-sourced motors push the total output up to a respectable 377 hp and 341 lb-ft of torque, unchanged from the last year. The ten-speed is absent from the hybrid, but in this case, the seven-speed DCT is responsive enough that we’re not bemoaning the lack of the Honda-sourced ten-speed.

Along with the powertrain, the speed remains the same as well. Merging onto busy California freeways was about as entertaining as it gets in the segment, hitting 60 mph from a dead stop in what feels like the low five-second mark. Once you’re through hustling, it settles into a cushy cruise, soaking up rotten, disjointed sections of road without levying much fuss on the passengers. Of particular note is the hybrid powertrain’s ability at stalling the engine at speed, maintaining momentum with the electric motors. Once a little gas is applied, the engine kicks back over seamlessly.

Steering is light and neutral, offering a touch more feel than its often overboosted segment-mates. The same cannot be said about the brakes, whose regen capabilities led to the all-too-familiar pedal numbness and overly aggressive engagement. If you’re hoping to explore the “Sport” portion of the Sport Hybrid badge, don’t get too aggressive with the wheel. Out on the famous Snake portion of Mulholland Highway, the SH was out of its element. Both the rear-wheel-steer and the torque vectoring system were helpful, but the chassis was at the mercy of the standard all-season tires, screeching and understeering their way through the route. Slap on even some moderately performance-oriented rubber, and the Sport Hybrid should shape-up.

Inside, the changes are much subtler. Updates for 2018 include updated materials, a new Espresso interior color, new sport seats for the hybrid, and deviated stitching. I loved the sport seats, but was not a big fan of the carry-over infotainment system, avoiding the TLX’s new system with Apple Car Play and Android Auto. Still, aside from a few rather Honda-ish components, it was a nice place to spend stuck in traffic while I put the new Traffic Jam Assist system to the test. Essentially, the car combines lane keep assist and adaptive cruise control to “follow” the car stuck in front of you, making congested commutes much, much easier to swallow. Playing passenger for the second half of the drive, I did not differentiate the system from my partner’s driving until he told me Traffic Assist was doing most of the work.

The price for all this hybrid scuttle starts at $62,865, a $1,950 bump over the outgoing RLX SH. However, the Advance package is standard, adding the top-tier Krell sound system, heated steering wheel, and heated and ventilated seats in the front, among other things. Crunching the numbers, that increase is transforms into a $4,050 discount, at least if you were planning on outfitting your 2017 with the now-standard Advance pack.

It’s far from the most dynamic entry in the mid-size premium and luxury segment, but it’s certainly one of the more interesting of the hybrid bunch. For wide-open roads or freeways slogged with traffic, the 2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid is one of the best options for quick, comfortable commutes.

2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Specifications

ON SALE Now
PRICE $62,865 (base)
ENGINE 3.5L SOHC 24-valve V-6/310 hp @ 6,500 rpm, 273 lb-ft @ 4,700 rpm plus front electric motor/47 hp @ 3,000 rpm, 109 lb-ft @ 500-2,000 rom and dual rear electric motors/36 hp @ 4,000 and 54 lb-ft @ 0-2,000 rpm; combined/377 hp, 341 lb-ft
TRANSMISSION 7-speed dual-clutch automatic
LAYOUT 4-door, 4-passenger, front-engine, AWD sedan
EPA MILEAGE 28/29 mpg (city/hwy)
L x W x H 198.1 x 74.4 x 57.7 in
WHEELBASE 112.2 in
WEIGHT 4,380 lb
0-60 MPH 5.1 sec (est)
TOP SPEED N/A

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