Friday, February 7, 2014

Long Term Test: 2014 Acura RLX P-AWS Tech post #1

Long-Term Introduction
Current mileage: 534

With the 2011 Acura RL Tech now officially back in the hands of Acura Financial, we welcome the newest vehicle to our garage: the 2014 Acura RLX Tech P-AWS. Fitted with the latest drivetrain and interior technology that Acura has to offer, the RLX represents a nice upgrade from the now defunct RL. Sporting a 3.5L direct injection V6 motor making 310-hp, a 6-speed automatic transmission driving the front wheels and joined by Acura's new precision all-wheel steering system, the car sheds the signature AWD system in an effort to improve the fuel economy while still maintaining some of the sporty character that the torque vectoring SH-AWD system used to provide.

We tested this car when it first came out last year, and, to be honest, our initial impressions were good, but not great. The interior was nice, with the new two screen arrangement of the center console and huge rear seat, but the outside was a little bland and the steering too soft. Of course, first impressions can be overridden by spending more time with a car and in the case of the RLX, it makes a big difference. I drove it around Southern California for a few hundred miles over the course of a two week period and any initial skepticism for the car was replaced with reserved admiration. Depending on how you use it and what your expectations are, the RLX will either be a big disappointment or a real gem.

Allow me to explain.

While Acura made the effort to market this car as being competitive in sportiness to competitors like the BMW 5-Series, that set some unrealistic expectations for Acura's big sedan. Expecting a FWD sedan to have the performance dynamics of a RWD sedan just is unrealistic. However, cast that expectation aside and realize that the RLX is a big, comfortable sedan with excellent interior appointments that happens to drive quite nicely and it suddenly becomes much more clear what the cars purpose really is. My first two long drives with it came in the form of a business trip to see a client and dinner with a friend who lives a good ways away. Both times, the car provided total comfort while easing through traffic, the ELS audio system providing tunes streamed from my phone, and the excellent driver's seat doing an exceptional job of keeping me relaxed during the drive. That steering that had been too soft during our initial test drive was now beginning to make sense as it has good precision and offered easy cruising on the highway.

With some of the time I had with the car, West Brother and I took it up to the coastal mountain roads on the Palos Verdes Peninsula to push the car a bit to see how it handles the twisties. Since the car was still technically within the break-in period, I did not push the motor too hard, but with the car set to "Sport," I hustled the big sedan up windy roads to the peak of the hills and back down the other side, plunging towards the deep blue waters of the Pacific Ocean. A two ton FWD sedan normally does not handle this well and you can really feel the P-AWS system doing its thing - toss the car into a corner and there is the expected inital understeer that quickly fades as soon as the toe adjustment at the rear is made by the actuators. This creates a more neutral handling feel and allows me to get back on the throttle sooner to accelerate out of the corners. It is still not as neutral as a proper RWD chassis, but in 80% of situations, the car handles corners with aplomb and offers steering feedback that is good enough to accurately place the car where you want it.

Of course, this is just the start of our time with Acura's biggest sedan. It has been a promising start and the car has impressed me with its combination of stately simplicity and quiet competence. It lacks the brash and in-your-face look of the Lexus GS, the storied history of the BMW 5-series, and the Germanic efficiency of the Audi A6, but what the RLX offers is a surprisingly well-rounded and nicely balanced mix of technology, efficiency, comfort, and luxury at a price that undercuts the competition by a few thousand dollars. We fully expect to put this car through the ringer during its extended stay in our fleet and look forward to sharing our experiences.

Read about the car that this replaced, the 2011 Acura RL Tech.

Tags: Acura, automotive, long term, review, RLX