Original mad man David Ogilvy once wrote that, when travelling at 60 miles per hour, the loudest thing about a 1959 Rolls-Royce is its electric clock. It’s a powerful line, saying so much with so few words that you don’t even need to see the ad to get an idea of what this brand of luxury was about.
And for years, car manufacturers chased this idea of luxury, crafting machines that isolated its occupants from the harshness of the outside world. Classic luxury cars floated along the road, soaking up the bumps of life, and trying their damndest to become a steel-bodied version of a cloud.
These days, however, the definition of luxury has changed — especially in the car world. Bragging rights are now tied to performance cred, so it’s not enough that a car has self-massaging seats; said car needs to be able to set a record-smashing Nurburgring time in order to be considered a contender. And yes, these cars are fast, freaky and fun — but they’re also firm, a bit twitchy, and can be incredibly loud.
As car fans, we truly do love those machines. But sometimes we simply want something comfortable. Something that will coddle us on our daily commute, all while giving us the technology we crave to make our dreary commute that much brighter. Something like the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sedan.
Compared to other luxury sedans with sporting pretentions, Acura’s RLX seems almost quaint. There are no pieces of carbon fiber trim, no aggressive grilles, and a surprising lack of wings and fins. To use the street vernacular, there’s nothing “boy racer” about it.
To be honest, the look is a bit sedate. Outside of the jeweled headlights, with 10-LEDs in each lens, there’s no real “wow” factor here. That’s not to say that this is a bad-looking car, though. The design is simple and clean, and given its clean lines, it will probably age a whole lot better than other vehicles in this space. As it stands, though, this will turn as many heads as a standard Accord.
In an era when luxury car interiors get wild interior colors, wilder stitching, and an assortment of tech-y (but difficult to use) electronic interfaces, it’s nice to get inside and appreciate the simplicity of the RLX’s cabin. And inside this cabin is where the RLX lets its luxury credentials shine.
The traditional, large greenhouse keeps things feeling open and airy inside. All major touch points, including the seats, dash, and steering wheel are trimmed with soft, premium leather. And speaking of touch, the infotainment system is controlled by a large, bright touchscreen that’s actually intuitive, meaning there’s no learning curve when it comes time to adjust things like the satellite radio station. Sound quality is exceptional; the ELS Studio Premium Audio System features 14 high-end speakers sure to please audiophiles. Being young at heart, our playlists cover everything from punk to hip-hop to EDM, and we couldn’t find a genre that sounded bad here. Even our podcast list sounded great.
In terms of more traditional luxury, the RLX Sport Hybrid offers heated and ventilated seats, tons of legroom for rear passengers, and a trick push-button transmission. Real trick features include the GPS-linked tri-zone climate control, which goes so far as to track sun position and adjust the settings inside the car for maximum comfort.
As cool as that climate control system is, the most impressive thing about the RLX Sport Hybrid is its powertrain. Yes, the marketing materials suggest that it shares parts with the new NSX supercar. No, this car isn’t a 4-door NSX. But it sure does drive nice.
Providing the power is a unique hybrid powertrain that sends its 377 net horsepower to all four wheels. A 3.5-liter V6 and electric generator power the front wheels; two additional electric motors power the rear wheels.
Now, we’ve driven a large number of hybrids in our day, but we have yet to find another as smooth as the RLX. Its electric motors offer plenty of torque at low speeds, and the car’s shift over to the gas engine is nigh imperceptible. Better yet, with the sport mode engaged, all power sources combine to help the RLX Sport Hybrid accelerate as if it was fired from a rail gun. Speed builds at an exponential rate, yet without the harshness or vibration one would expect when, say, the gas engine turns on, or when the car shifts through any of its seven forward gears. And it does all this while returning 30 mpg on the highway.
But while it feels quick in a straight line, this car won’t win any awards on a racetrack — and that’s okay. Its complex Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is able to accurately deliver just the right amount of power to each individual wheel, ensuring that the RLX feels stable in the corners. But this is all done on a chassis tuned for comfort, not sport. So while that Cadillac CTS-V may scream by you in the corners, you’ll be taking that corner in a lot more comfort, and will arrive at your destination feeling way more refreshed, than the Caddy driver. And sometimes, that’s okay.
In a market focused on making a bold statement, Acura’s RLX Sport Hybrid can’t help but come up short. Its styling falls under the radar, and its overall performance capabilities are lacking. But for those who want a “grown-up” car, one that doesn’t need to shout its presence while providing a super-comfortable ride from point A to point B, the RLX Sport Hybrid is worth a look.