Acura RLX flagship serves as tech showboat

At the 2012 New York International Auto Show, Acura unveiled a much-needed successor to the RL. The new RLX, shown in concept form, employs technology throughout to help Acura keep up with the luxury competition.

Sarah Tew/CNET
Acura RLX concept
Acura's new concept has LED headlights, which might actually make it to production. Sarah Tew/CNET

NEW YORK--Acura's RL has long been a struggling warhorse, unable to keep the company ahead of the technology charge led by other automakers. But its replacement, the RLX, looks to at least put Acura back on the front lines.

The RLX was shown off as a concept at the New York auto show, but in recent years Acura has tended to follow-through on its concept cars to production. The RLX concept is a meaty sedan with the Acura beak grille, but its proportions remain similar to that of the RL.

Acura RLX concept
The size of the RLX could work against its being accepted as a full-size luxury car. Sarah Tew/CNET

The choice to keep the car of a moderate length could hurt its bid to compete with the Lexus LSes and Mercedes-Benz S-classes of the world. But Acura promises a large, comfortable cabin with many high-tech features. As people get used to luxury in smaller packages, the RLX could be coming at the right time.

Acura previously let out that this car would be a hybrid, so it was not hard to figure out that it would use a variation on the system powering the new NSX. Under the RLX's hood will be a direct-injection 3.5-liter V-6 complemented by an electric motor to drive the front wheels. A dual electric motor array powers the rear wheels, giving the RLX all-wheel-drive.

Not only do these power components combine for 370 horsepower, but the hybrid system also gets the RLX an estimated 30 mpg average.

Acura will also offer a less powerful, and most likely cheaper, front-wheel-drive version, using just the gas engine, with 310 horsepower. To make up for its lack of all-wheel-drive, Acura will include a system that it calls Precision Steering.

This system apparently changes the toe angle of the front wheels to respond to conditions and deliver better handling. This kind of technology you need a mechanical engineering degree to understand.

Active dampers will also contribute to stable handling, along with Acura's existing stability control program.

Inside the vehicle, not shown during the auto show unveiling, will be other important features to keep Acura up with the luxury competition. It will come standard with a forward collision alert and lane departure warning, and there will be a system to prevent drowsy drivers from drifting over lane lines.

For infotainment, Acura announced a partnership with Aha, a division of automotive supplier Harman. Aha is currently available as a smartphone app. The integrated system for the car provides a number of features, such as Facebook, Twitter, music, and points of interest.

Instead of showing a list of tweets or Facebook updates on a screen, Aha is very audio-oriented, designed to read these sorts of updates aloud.

Not to say that the RLX won't have LCDs in the cabin. Acura says the car will have two, one a 7-inch touch screen and the other an 8-inch display. It would seem likely that the 8-inch display would be a virtual instrument cluster, while the touch screen would assume the usual position on the console.

Given the timing of auto shows and Acura's past concepts, the RLX should appear as a production car by the time of the 2012 Los Angeles auto show, which occurs from November 30 to December 9.

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