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2014 Acura RLX

Honda

Overall Rating
7
Overall
Competent, but somehow doesn’t stir the blood.
Looks Rating
7
Looks
Better than the previous RL, but still no knockout.
Interior Rating
7
Interior
Comfortable, but too much “stuff.”
Ride Rating
8
Ride
Not specifically a sports sedan, but surprisingly nimble and stable.
Safety Rating
8.5
Safety
Comes loaded with active/passive safety features.
Green Rating
7
Green
Somewhere in the middle – surprisingly thrifty on the highway thanks to VCM.

When Mazda introduced its new 6 earlier this year, it described its manufacturing concept as "jinba-ittai," which translates as "rider and horse as one" – whatever that means. And when Infiniti introduced its FX45 crossover a few years before that, it called it a "bionic cheetah." Both Nissan and Mazda are hard to top when it comes to quirky little nuggets of descriptive fluff.

But Acura isn't far behind and is describing the theme of the new RLX sedan as "inomama," which means "at the will of the driver." If you say so.

The made-in-Japan RLX replaces the RL and, like its predecessor, is loaded with engineering gizmos and electronic convenience features. Among other things, it has a comprehensive safety system that prevents you from wandering out of your lane on the highway or from getting too close to the car in front of you, and that prepares the vehicle in the event of an unavoidable front-ender. This latter feature "visually alerts the driver when it determines that a collision with a detected vehicle is imminent." Mercedes has a similar system on its new E-Class.

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Acura has also toned down on the front grille treatment. The controversial chrome beak that drove a lot of buyers away has been integrated into a freer-flowing front-end design and it's less off-putting than before. And I have to mention the new "Jewel Eye" LED headlights that look positively feline – this type of headlight seems to identify upscale cars at a glance and gives the RLX a definite presence. It's still not a beauty queen, but definitely better than its predecessor.

For audiophiles, the RLX has a Krell sound system that includes 14 speakers, magnesium tweeters and bipolar power transistors. Manufacturers seem to be in love with designer audio systems these days – Rockford/Fosgate, Bose, Fender, Harman Kardon, etc. – and the Krell system marks the first time this company has designed an automotive application.

Power is up, too. A revamped V-6 engine delivers 310 horsepower mated to a six-speed automatic with an all-wheel steering aid that allows the rear wheels to "tilt" while powering out of a corner, for example – up to 1.8 degrees. Described by the company as "Precision All Wheel Steer," strictly speaking, this is a handling enhancement and not an AWD system. Under way, it's undetectable, but this is still not a car that compels you to fling it through the corners. This engine also has Honda/Acura's variable cylinder management system (VCM), which shuts down up to half of the cylinders during low engine demand – on the highway, for example.

2014 Acura RLX Honda Honda

How does all this come together? Aside from offering too many choices, the RLX is a pleasure to drive. By too many choices, I mean that Acura has incorporated so many modcons and comfort goodies into this one, it's distracting. A small example: when you go through a tunnel or turn the headlights on, the display monitor automatically dims so that you can't see anything. Yes, you can fiddle with it to change the brightness setting, but a couple of steps are required, and this takes your attention away from the road. I am getting concerned about these systems – from all the car makers. As well as being annoying, they are probably dangerous.

Another example: there are two automatic seat settings that you can pre-set using door-mounted buttons. But if you don't set them, the seat defaults to a position that would accommodate Shaquille O'Neal. The problem is that the key fob has either a "1" or "2" stamped on it, and if you don't hit the appropriate button, it won't take. Of course, you'll figure this out quickly if you live with the car for any length of time, but the point is this: do we really need this extravagance? Does it help the driving experience? No and no.

Elsewhere, my Elite Package tester featured a parking-assist alert, a power rear window sunshade, rear side window shades, heated rear seats, ventilated front seats, larger 19-inch wheels and tires, and a heated steering wheel. All the things a proper upscale four-door sedan should have. By the time the dust settles, you're looking at more than $62,000 before taxes and assorted levies. So, by the time you drive it off the lot, seventy large for this one.

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Unless, of course, you opt for the "base" version, which is less than $50,000, and, really, has everything you need.

Tech specs

2014 Acura RLX

Type: Luxury sedan

Base Price: $49,990; as tested: $62,190

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

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Horsepower/torque: 310 hp/271lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: Front-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.5 city/6.4 highway; regular gas

Alternatives: Toyota Avalon, Ford Taurus, Buick Lacrosse, Volkswagen Passat, BMW 3-Series, Audi A4, Cadillac CTS, Hyundai Genesis, Infiniti M35, Mercedes-Benz C350, Volvo S60

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