Acura seeks flagship status for new RLX model

Acura launched the RLX sedan at the 2012 Los Angeles Auto Show, a replacement for its outgoing RL model and a showcase for new tech.

Wayne Cunningham Managing Editor / Roadshow
Wayne Cunningham reviews cars and writes about automotive technology for CNET's Roadshow. Prior to the automotive beat, he covered spyware, Web building technologies, and computer hardware. He began covering technology and the Web in 1994 as an editor of The Net magazine.
Wayne Cunningham
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LOS ANGELES -- Once upon a time, Acura pushed the cutting edge of cabin technology, pioneering such features as navigation and active noise cancellation. But times changed and Acura didn't, letting other automakers steal the high-tech mantle. Now Acura fights back with the RLX, a new high-end sedan with some odd quirks.

By and large, premium and luxury automakers use rear-wheel drive for their flagship sedans, an architecture maintained more out of tradition than real necessity. Acura has always bucked this trend, and continues to do so with the RLX. This model will launch as a front-wheel-drive car sporting a 3.5-liter direct injection engine.

By current standards, that specification is nothing to write home about, as even economy car makers go to direct injection. However, later next year, Acura promises a much higher-tech drivetrain, this one incorporating a hybrid system and all-wheel drive. The 3.5-liter V-6 will remain, and get added power from an electric drive system at the rear wheels. As with other hybrids, the battery pack will recapture energy that would have been lost from braking.

The hybrid version should not only add significant power, but Acura estimates it will get 6 mpg better for average fuel economy than the front-wheel-drive V-6 version.

Acura makes RLX its technology flagship (pictures)

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Acura boasts a few intriguing technologies for the new sedan. For one, it will come with LED headlights standard, wide arrays that bookend the Acura shield grille. LED headlights use much less power than current bi-xenon lamps, and should last much longer, as well. In addition, LED headlights allow for a more tightly defined throw pattern.

The front-wheel-drive model will also get an innovative handling technology: four-wheel steering. Acura calls this system Precision All-Wheel Steer. It is designed to work in concert with traction control and stability technologies to allow for fast, stable cornering. The all-wheel-drive hybrid version will not feature this technology, but should offer torque vectoring at the rear wheels.

The exterior of the RLX looks unremarkable, a long, smooth-sided sedan with little ornamentation. Its most distinguishing features are its grille and headlights. However, what could be seen as lack of flair becomes understatement when you sit in the cabin, which exudes a sense of luxury through its materials and design.

Most telling for the luxury experience is an optional 14-speaker Krell audio system, a step up from the standard 10-speaker ELS system. During an in-car demo on the show floor, the system delivered an incredibly dynamic audio experience. Playing tracks with traditional instruments on an Acura demo CD, the entire range of a single note from a bass guitar came through clearly, while the vocal reproduction made it sound like the singers were in the car. For those who appreciate music, this system will offer plenty of satisfaction.

Krell is not a generally familiar name, playing in the high-end audio world. The company spent four years during the development of the RLX, coming up with speaker technologies and placement, and refining the system's output. Beyond its sound quality, the system announces its presence with nice, metal grilles on the door speakers.

The dashboard of the RLX on display in Los Angeles had two LCDs in the center stack, which was reminiscent of the 2013 Accord model recently launched by Honda. In the Accord, the screen arrangement is an inelegant solution to building cars with and without a navigation option. For the RLX, Acura should have either made navigation standard, and consolidated infotainment on one screen. Alternatively, the company could have just made a single screen host only phone and audio information when the navigation option was not present. The two-screen system is a little strange.

The RLX will also offer a host of driver assistance features, from blind-spot monitoring to adaptive cruise control, helping it compete with other luxury flagships.

The front-wheel-drive RLX model should go on sale in the first half of 2013, with the hybrid model following in the second half.