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In this ongoing series, Boston.com talks with automotive authorities about why you should consider driving — or avoiding — a specific model.
2018 Acura RLX
The Acura RLX, the largest sedan from Honda’s upscale sister brand, has been long dwarfed by competing models from Mercedes-Benz, Audi, and the like. But for 2018, Acura’s flagship model gets a much-needed mid-cycle refresh and a racier hybrid version powered by the same three-motor system underpinning the Japanese marque’s $156,000 NSX supercar.
The standard five-passenger Acura RLX runs on a 3.5-liter V6 that delivers a respectable 310 horsepower. All models come with Acura’s Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS) system,, which increases agility with independent rear-wheel steering, and a 10-speed automatic transmission. Upgrade to the hybrid variant, called the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD (that last part stands for “Super Handling – All-wheel drive”) – and you’ll get a fuel-efficient, all-wheel-drive ride that returns a remarkable 377 horsepower and turns a mean corner. The hybrid is paired with a quick-shifting seven-speed dual clutch transmission that handles even winding mountain roads with aplomb.
With its new low-slung stance, sculpted hood, and double row of jewel-eye LED headlights, the RLX now also looks the part of a luxury sedan. Step inside, and you’ll get a spacious cabin that can be decked in high-end woodgrain trim and Milano leather upholstery, and feels as comfortable as any of its Japanese, German, or American rivals. Bluetooth, navigation with voice recognition, and a 14-speaker audio system come standard.
The 2018 Acura RLX received a five-star safety rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. All models come equipped with AcuraWatch, the brand’s suite of advanced safety and driver-assistance features, which includes collision mitigation braking, rear cross traffic monitoring, parking sensors, lane keep assist, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow. For the 2018 model year, Acura has added to its adaptive cruise control system Traffic Jam Assist, which maintains the car’s lane position and cruising speeds and can bring it to a complete stop in slowing traffic, if needed.
Starting at $54,900, the 2018 Acura RLX delivers 20 mpg in the city and 29 mpg on the highway. The Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, which achieves 28 mpg around town and 29 mpg on the highway, begins at $61,900.
What the experts are saying
“The current RLX earns a Top Safety Pick from IIHS. The 2018 model has yet to be rated under tougher testing criteria coming for next year, but the 2017 model earns good crash test ratings. It also has a standard automatic emergency braking system that is rated superior for preventing some kinds of crashes in the first place. Where the RLX falls short is in headlight performance. Its standard LED headlights only get a marginal rating. To earn the Institute’s highest award of Top Safety Pick+ in 2017, vehicles need headlights rated at least ‘Acceptable.’ If you do a lot of driving at night, you may want to consider a luxury car with better performing headlights.” – Russ Rader, senior vice president of communications at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
“In the realm of midsize luxury sedans, the 2018 Acura RLX flies far below the radar compared to rivals like the BMW 5-Series and Mercedes-Benz E-Class. Despite its outlier status, the RLX deserves consideration, especially in Sport Hybrid form. That model boasts a sophisticated and powerful gasoline-electric powertrain and standard all-wheel drive. For 2018, Acura has lowered the price of its flagship sedan and freshened its design, making the RLX an even better value proposition and injecting some much-needed style. Sticking points remain a lack of awareness in buyers’ minds and a history of below-average resale value.” – Matt Degen, senior associate editor at KBB.com
“Acura hopes to make the 2018 RLX more competitive by updating the exterior look, upgrading interior materials and design, and substantially reducing the price of the Sport Hybrid trim. The 377-horsepower RLX Sport Hybrid, which borrows elements of its drivetrain from Acura’s NSX supercar, feels quick and surprisingly capable when the road gets twisty, and promises to return 28 mpg in city driving without some of the compromises usually associated with hybrid powertrains. We were impressed by how the Sport Hybrid system improves a car’s dynamics and never becomes intrusive or disconcerting like some luxury hybrids.” – Will Kaufman, associate staff writer at Edmunds
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly referred to Acura as Nissan’s upscale sister brand. Acura is a Honda brand.