On the road: 2014 Acura RLXIn 2005, Acura's RL was the first car we gave an Editor's Choice to, mainly thanks to the car's forward-thinking tech. Now eight years later, can Acura recapture the magic?
-May 2005 and CNET begins covering cars. The Acura RL was the first time we gave an editor's choice to a product that didn't fit through the door. It had futuristic tech like Bluetooth, voice command, and GPS navigation. We wrote, Acura has staked out technology as its territory, and the 2005 RL is the company's deed of ownership. Well that house got foreclosed on. Today you get that technology when you rent a KIA. That's why we've got this guy. The all new descendant, the RLX-- let's drive this 2014 that's loaded to the gills. See if they've caught up and check the tech. The Main Styling Fuse are the standard LED headlights-- you don't see those very often, and just kind of kicks down beltline and this body line that gets you there. That's unusual and creates a little taller greenhouse than you normally expect. But other than that, it tends to make the front end look kind of bulky, and the rest of the car just looks like 2013 car from ACURA. Okay, first thing you notice in the RLX is something that no other car has, not to this degree, 2 LCDs both roughly in the midsize class, navigation is what you see right now on the top. This is what's new, where you would normally have this forest of ACURA button, they've cleaned it up and giving you a constantly-morphing, contextually sensitive control panel on the second one. But that's where things start to get little wandery and weird, the relationship between this screen and the one above it will change in ways that aren't consistent to my mind. Right now I've got audio controls and some audio information here with climate at the bottom, an awful lot like the same physical climate buttons just below it, that seems a little redundant. But if I go to the audio mode, now I've got audio taking up the upper screen as well as the lower screen and again quite a bit of redundant information going on between here and here. Where this does succeed is a couple places, first of all, only having contextually sensitive buttons means that you can have larger ones, 'cause you only have the ones you need at a time, instead of these little fiddly ones that ACURA was known for. I also like this-- this is a shortcuts menu here that is sort of a clipboard. You can shortcut any number of vehicle settings or menus into this area. I will say that these two screens are beautiful looking now, ACURA has completely redesigned what they do on LCDs except when you go here, that's the same map basically we've been seeing for 7 or 8 years in ACURA Honda products, which brings us to entering an address. Now here's where things get goofy. I go to Nav, I go to menu, I hit the Address and you can see, I still have to enter things by bucket-- tell it the city, then tell it the street, then tell it the house number and this is madness. Two alphabetic displays to enter the address. One's qwerty, one's rolly scrolly. This is absurd. Which brings us to our audio settings, now just about all the major hits of current audio technology are in here, AM and FM was really clear indication of HD radio XM satellite radio, Bluetooth audio streaming, Pandora support is built-in, works real sleekly. A Haas built-in as well, I could never get it to invoke well off my Motorola Droid phone. Now you'd got 3 audio output system to choose from. The base is ELS audio which use to be a premium rig, then you can go up to ELS studio audio which takes you to 588 watts and 14 speakers up from 10. But the really interesting thing is to go all the way to Krell Audio which we have here and is a brand new offering. You still have 14 speakers around the cabin, but they're made of exotic material, some kind of fiber that's stronger then Kevlar. You got these metal grills on the actual speakers. They say they buzz less than plastic and what maybe the hottest looking triple driver cabin that I've ever seen in the production car, living back there on the back shelf. Never mind what it looks like, it sounds tremendous. Now telling you, we have a 3-1/2 liter of V6 in ACURA's hardly new, but this one is all new, 3-1/2 liter of V6 sitting side saddle driving front wheels only for now, we'll talk about all wheel drive in a minute. Direct injection technology but normally aspirated. The numbers are 310 horse, 272 foot pounds of torque, gets this roughly 3,900-pound car up to 60 in a pretty spritely 6-1/2 seconds while delivering 2031 MPG-- not bad. The transmission is hardly a star though. It's a 6-speed automatic, that's garden variety stuff these days. What's interesting about this engine as well, is that it's got active cylinder management, so it can-- through electronic and mechanical means, go from 6 to 4 to even 3 cylinders and in between those configurations on the fly, depending on how much power it needs. So when you're cruising on the highway, you're not driving a V6, you could be driving a-- what, a V3. Now what this car does have at all four wheels that you may have noticed on that badge on the rear is Four-Wheel Steering. Honda's been into that for a long time, but this is different. They can point the same direction as the front wheels for lane changes or opposite direction of the front wheels for cornering. When you jam on the brakes, the rear wheels go pigeon toed. So you're basically dragging the rear end instead of rolling it to help scrub off speed. And finally, there's also Agile Handling Assist which uses braking, not steering on an inside wheel to help vector you in around a turn. And the first thing I notice about the RLX is-- well it's not overwhelming in any way on paper. I love that it's Powertrain. This engine comes on with power when you step on the gas. I can't tell you how many cars instead choosing to set up a committee of sensors, and servos and, semi-conductors to think about it for a moment. I also think part what makes this car nice to drive is the effortless nature of it. I attribute a lot about to this all wheel steering technology. No matter what you do, whether it's a short turn like this or whether you're parking, you're doing a lane change, it's pretty effortless, but it gets there without being over-assisted. It gets there by being fleet of foot. Handling's a little tubby-- I mean here in this corner, I got too much lean as I come back around, little bit of slop going this way. You hit the sport button and you do not sport highs the suspension. All you do is re-curve the Powertrain response, it doesn't do anything for a body roll intersection. Now let's go on the freeway and get a little taste of one of the most self driving cars, you can buy today, this guy. I've got Adaptive Cruise enabled here and that brings on Lane-Keep Assist. I'm gonna set my Adaptive Cruise speed and now the car is handling the throttle, maintaining speed, maintaining distance, operating the brakes, and it's also steering. That just read the curve on the road, left, now right-- it is maintaining the lane, it is not straight, not mead. Now by the way, if you keep your hands off the wheel, even though I was at an inch away for too long, it blast a big ole warning up there on the dash. It knows you're not driving by the lack of input on the wheel. So it's not encouraging you to do that. Now pricing the 2014 RLX starts off at around 4093, but don't get too excited, you don't know hit CNET style 'till you pack another $12,000 on top of that, 2,500 for Nav which is obviously Navigation ACURA link, 3,500 for the Tech package that brings you studio audio, a Line Spot technology, 19-inch low noise wheels and fancy your leather, 2,500 bucks for the Krell package, that's that great Krell Audio System and oddly rear sunshades. Finally, at 3, 500 on top of all of that for the advanced package, and that's gonna bring you the Adaptive Cruise, Lane-Keep Assist, and Collision Mitigating Braking System, basically all the self driving stuff. But that's also the way that you get into heated and cooled seats and parking sensors. There's a lot of bundling going on here to bristle that. In the end, you're gonna get a car that has a lot of technology, it's very ambitious, but it's not cutting edge across the stack. You also have a very interesting drive trim on this vehicle, but unfortunately, I can't say the same about the styling.