2014 Acura RLX review: High-tech sedan suffers from confusing interface

Audio sources abounded in the RLX, although I could only seem to select which one I wanted to listen to on the lower touch screen, and not on the upper LCD.

With music on the car's own hard drive or on an iOS device plugged into the USB port, I had full access to the music library, with album, artist, and genre categories. When I plugged in a simple USB drive, the system only showed me music in a file-and-folder format. Bluetooth audio streaming also works, with its usual limited control capabilities.

2014 Acura RLX
The AcuraLink Streams app brings in online radio stations, such as Indie Pop Rocks form SomaFM. Wayne Cunningham/CNET

Acura offers a couple of online options for music in the RLX, both running from a smartphone app. The car's interface fully integrated with Pandora, letting me select my custom stations and give songs a thumbs-up or thumbs-down using the touch screen. After installing the AcuraLink Streams app on my phone, I had access to the stations in my Aha Radio account through the car's interface, which included Slacker.

The RLX also features HD Radio as standard in the stereo.

Active cruise, hyperactive lane warning
The Advance trim level of the car I was testing included not only the delicious Krell stereo, but also a number of driver assistance features, from a blind-spot monitor to adaptive cruise control.

Activating cruise control, I set my speed and following distance, then took my foot off the pedal as the RLX used its forward-looking radar to gauge the speed of traffic ahead. The system delivered a somewhat rubber-bandlike feeling as it matched the changing speeds of cars ahead. A convenient graphic on the instrument cluster showed me when it had another car in its sights. At one point a car ahead on the freeway slowed down abruptly, and the RLX hit its brakes as well to match speeds. But as the other car switched lanes, clearing the way ahead, the RLX took too long to pick up speed back to my preset level, forcing me to get on the gas again to avoid pissing off the traffic that was coming up behind me.

2014 Acura RLX
Buttons on the right side of the steering wheel control following distance for adaptive cruise control and activate lane keeping assistance. Josh Miller/CNET

The lane departure warning system beeped excitedly whenever I was about to cross a lane line without signaling, also showing a graphic on the cluster indicating which side I was about to cross. This system can be a little sensitive, so I switched it off when driving down particularly twisty roads.

Front-wheel drive, four-wheel steering
Acura tunes the electric power steering on the RLX so that it requires little effort to turn the wheel. However, to improve handling Acura makes the rear wheels turn as well. Acura calls this system on the front-wheel-drive RLX Precision All Wheel Steer (PAWS). The rear wheels only turn a few degrees, but it makes a big difference in helping the over 16-foot-long RLX come around a corner.

Working against the RLX is its suspension, which I found very unsatisfying.

The RLX's fixed suspension gave the car a floaty, rubbery ride, not uncommon for a luxury-oriented car. As such, it did not keep the car's body particularly flat when cornering at speed. But it also did not lead to a particularly comfortable ride. I felt like my butt was reading Braille whenever the road was less than smooth, with lots of uncomfortable bumps communicated to the cabin. The wheels, specially engineered for low noise, might have been to blame.

The RLX certainly delivered a quiet ride. Standing outside the car, I could hear the chattering of the 3.5-liter V-6 engine's injectors, but inside the cabin that noise was completely muted.

Acura proves the efficiency of direct injection with this engine. It cranks out 310 horsepower and 272 pound-feet of torque, much more than a typical 3.5-liter V-6, yet I saw fuel economy numbers in the mid-20s. Acura's EPA numbers show 20 mpg city and 31 mpg highway. I have seen equivalent cars without direct injection average below 20 mpg.

The engine did not feel especially powerful when I romped on the gas pedal, but the RLX accelerated smoothly and inexorably. It was fast enough for day-to-day driving, and could get up and go when needed.

2014 Acura RLX
Instead of an S position on the gate, the Sport button changes the programming for both transmission and throttle. Josh Miller/CNET

A button labeled Sport near the shifter not only sharpened the throttle tuning, but also made the transmission downshift aggressively. I like the one-touch approach to the Sport mode, as opposed to some cars that require pushing a button or two and moving the shift lever to S.

Sport mode also let me put the RLX's transmission into manual mode. In normal driving, hitting one of the paddle shifters on the steering wheel let me shift the transmission sequentially, but left alone for a moment, the transmission would go back into automatic. With Sport mode activated, manual shift mode remained engaged after I used the paddle shifters.

Features and flaws
The 2014 Acura RLX feels like a big, roomy car, a definite improvement over the outgoing RL model. It drives easily, but it also features a mix of excellent features and serious flaws, and I am not sure the former make up for the latter.

The LED headlights cut a neat path through the night and the direct-injection engine gives it power and very good fuel economy. The Krell audio system also makes a compelling argument for the car, at least for music lovers.

However, the cabin interface is just so weird, so much a mess of disparate and duplicated functions that I hesitated whenever I wanted to choose music or make a phone call. And whenever the road got rough, the ride quality became abysmal.

Beyond those compliments and complaints, the RLX contains many solid features, a good collection of electronics and driving characteristics that help make the car a solid daily driver.

For those considering the RLX, another version coming out later this year may just feature even better handling and fuel economy. Acura will soon launch a hybrid RLX with all-wheel drive. Using an innovative hybrid drive system, this new RLX will not only have the direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 turning the front wheels, but also gets two electric motors at the rear wheels providing power and putting additional torque down at the outside wheel in a turn. Although the hybrid RLX will not have the PAWS four-wheel-steering system, the torque vectoring might be even better.

Despite the drivetrain changes, Acura is not likely to change the interface for the RLX hybrid, and better fuel economy will not make it any less confusing.

Tech specs
Model 2014 Acura RLX
Trim Advance
Power train Direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 20 mpg city/31 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 23.9 mpg
Navigation Optional hard-drive-based with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Digital audio sources Onboard hard drive, Pandora, Aha Radio, iOS integration, USB drive, Bluetooth audio streaming, auxiliary input, satellite radio, HD Radio
Audio system Krell 14-speaker system
Driver aids Adaptive cruise control, lane departure warning, blind-spot monitor, rearview camera
Base price $48,450
Price as tested $61,345

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    2014 Acura RLX

    Part Number: 101413824

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