By on February 2, 2015

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid frontEverything you see here is painfully normal. Much of what you can’t see is charmingly whimsical.

Turning the easily forgotten and forgettable Acura RLX into an RLX Sport Hybrid involves the employment of a cooperative seven-speed dual-clutch transmission, a front-mounted electric motor, and an unorthodox all-wheel-drive system that takes advantage of two more electric motors, one at each rear wheel.


• USD As-Tested Price: $66,870

• Total System Horsepower: 377 @ 6400 rpm

• Observed Fuel Economy: 21.8 mpg


It’s unlikely that you’re entranced by the RLX’s conservative exterior or in love with its dual-screen infotainment unit or in favour of the way it slowly engages reverse or thrilled with its shrunken trunk and cramped middle seating position.

But the RLX Sport Hybrid showcases Honda engineering prowess, and it does so in a way that’s not emulated by any other Honda product. The RLX Sport Hybrid doesn’t feature the new eight and nine-speed transmissions from the TLX, this is not a de-tuned 2016 NSX powertrain, and it’s not hiding the unique transmission-less hybrid kit fitted to the latest Accord Hybrid. This is a whole ‘nuther thing. This is Honda being Honda.

Unfortunately, the 2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid is not a big sports sedan, it’s not very good at serving big car duties, and it fell far short of our fuel economy expectations. The RLX Sport Hybrid is strangely fun, strangely disappointing, and strangely unpopular. Maybe the RLX Sport Hybrid is simply strange. In and of itself, I’m not sure that’s such a bad thing.

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid rearHowever, it’s clear that from a marketplace perspective, this just isn’t the way to do business. See, to make a point, we’re prone to saying things that don’t remotely correspond to reality: “There ain’t nobody buying Dodge Darts.” Well, actually, there are 7000 Dart buyers in America every month. In the case of the RLX lineup, the same statement lands much closer to the truth. Chronically unpopular, the RLX’s 32.5% year-over-year U.S. sales decline translated to fewer than 300 monthly sales in 2014. Those are Porsche Cayman-like numbers from a car which competes in a category where even mid-pack cars like the Audi A6 generate 2000 sales per month.

Of course, it could be argued that the RLX Sport Hybrid’s exclusivity adds a cool factor to the equation. It’s a rare version of a rejected car that observers won’t understand. (Or likely even notice.)

The rear electric motors add power to an already swift car and provide a form of four-wheel steering that causes the RLX to be tossed understeer-free into a corner with immediacy. All-wheel-drive cars which suffer from torque steer, like this Sport Hybrid, engender a measure of uneasiness in my RWD-loving soul – torque steer is for Saturn Ion Red Lines, not refined luxury sedans – and the sensation is worsened because the RLX isn’t a bastion of total traction in the snow. Nevertheless, with judicious use of heavy throttle, the RLX Sport Hybrid reveals itself to be a capable back-road burner, allowing a surprising degree of extra throttle application as it makes its way through a corner, feeling more and more like a much smaller car than it is.

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid sideBrake feel isn’t as predictable as you’d like, something we’ve come to expect in most hybrids. And in the RLX Sport Hybrid, the lifeless steering is the usual tell-tale sign that, regardless of its tricks, you are still driving a 4354-pound car. Yet viewed as a large car with sporting credentials, the RLX offers quite a bit of fun when called upon to do so, just not the level of aggression one would encounter in, for example, the latest Cadillac CTS Vsport.

From a refinement perspective, the RLX is disarmingly quiet but not as serene on rough roads as you assumed a heavy car with a 112-inch wheelbase would be. Perhaps the low-profile Michelin X-Ice (245/40R19) winter rubber is to blame for the marginal loss of tranquility.

Compared with the TLX we reviewed at Christmastime, there’s greater tranquility inside the car, as the heated seats are controlled by a conventional button just ahead of the different-for-the-sake-of-difference shifter. Rather than operating the frustrating screens – the lower one with fingers; the higher one with controls mounted below the lower screen – to call up basic controls, the RLX allowed me to turn on the cold car and press a button with no waiting period for a computer to come to life. Ah, winter’s pleasures.

2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid interiorEven the driver who forgives the RLX its modern Acura dashboard layout won’t enjoy the benefits of big-car living. At 196.1 inches long, the RLX is only five inches shorter than a Chevrolet Impala; it’s six inches longer than Acura’s own TLX. But the rear seat is built for two, as the centre floor hump is nearly as high as the seat cushion itself, and the middle seat cushion is perched up too high above the outboard positions for any kind of comfort. Window seat occupants are blessed with bountiful space, but the Sport Hybrid feels like a four-seater. The trunk, meanwhile, has been chopped down from the regular RLX’s decent 14.9 cubic feet to a tiny 11.6 cubic feet, 6% less than the capacity in the trunk of Acura’s small ILX sedan. Cross-country journey for five? No way. For four? Perhaps, but don’t pack too many extra pairs of underwear.

Of less importance to the well-heeled buyer of Acura’s most expensive current car (but surely of some interest to hybrid buyers?) was the disappointing mileage returned by our RLX Sport Hybrid tester over its week-long stay. The car, supplied to us by Honda Canada, is rated by the EPA at 28 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway. With bitterly cold weather, winter tires, and a mix of city/highway driving, we measured 21.8 mpg. Not bad for a genuinely quick car, but well below expectations.

Acura RLX backup cameraWith Acura’s disdain for actually designing its flagship sedan with some semblance of style being the worst of the RLX Sport Hybrid’s drawbacks, I progressively enjoyed driving the car more and more as the week wore on. But with supremely comfortable seats, 377 horsepower, keen turn-in inspired by the Integra Type-R, high equipment levels, and no questions from nosey neighbours who surely didn’t even notice the car parked in our driveway, why wouldn’t I?

Then again, I didn’t pay the USD $66,870 asking price, which is surely too much for a wallflower in a class full of attention grabbers. Acura needs to allow its designers to exercise their artistic talent the same way their R&D staff is permitted to concoct powertrain compositions. Marry the best of those two departments, especially if the car is truly capable of producing this much power with the stated fuel efficiency ratings, and they’d sell far more than a handful each month.

As it stands, there ain’t nobody buying this thing right now.

Timothy Cain is the founder of GoodCarBadCar.net, which obsesses over the free and frequent publication of U.S. and Canadian auto sales figures.

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53 Comments on “Capsule Review: 2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid...”


  • avatar
    Hummer

    $67,000
    V6
    Hybrid
    22MPG
    You can’t tell me a V8 with cylinder deactivation, and a stop-start system couldn’t do better MPG at a lower price with similar HP.

    No wonder it doesn’t sell.

  • avatar

    You lost me at $67,000 for a car that gets 2MPG worse than what I’m averaging from the $20,000 ’12 MKS EcoBoost I’m demo’ing…

    And my car doesn’t look like an Accord with eyeglasses.

    Didn’t Honda learn from the Accord Hybrid that ‘Sport Hybrid that sees no improvement in economy’ is a worthless pursuit?

    Finally, how many cars is Acura going to field for customers who are ‘smarter’ than the rest of us who don’t ‘get it’? ‘Cause ain’t nobody buying non-MDX Acuras right now…

  • avatar
    MK

    Wow, $66,000 ?

    I’m sure it’s a competent vehicle but oh my gosh I must be really out of touch with the auto market because that sounds insane to me.

  • avatar
    jmo

    It starts at $48k – which seems reasonable. I assume this is the price with every option.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    “torque steer is for Saturn Ion Red Lines”

    Side note: I never found the IRL/Cobalt SS torque-steered that much. It did so, but my Protege5 (with about half the power) was worse, and the Saab 9-3 (NG900) was pretty rough, too.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    As the resident Acura fan, even I don’t get this car. I will suggest my mom go look at an RLX (non-hybrid) when the time comes in a year or two to replace her Lexus ES, but she probably won’t bite. H/A just has some kind of mental block when it comes to being able to play in the $50k+ market (uplevel versions of the MDX aside).

  • avatar
    jmo

    Tim,

    You might have mentioned that Acura has $6,250 on the hood for this bad boy. And, that $6,250 can be combined with 0.9% for 60 months.

    http://www.edmunds.com/acura/rlx/2015/car-incentives.html?style=200706527&irr_section=marketing_support_irr

  • avatar
    Steinweg

    I know a man of means who only buys RLXs. Buys a new one every couple years. They’re not very inspiring but I guess for someone with other things on his mind who just wants to get around in comfort, it’s the ticket. It’s true rival is the S80. Boring cars that are a lot less aggravating than tech-laden, ‘ring-tested German cars.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      I’m sure it’s personal preference and it is afterall his money. My neighbor just sold his RLX and he said he couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. He never liked it and his wife was fed up with it. He said she hated the electronics and the nav and they were having continual troubles with the injectors. He also drives a 911. Bought a BMW X3 and his wife seems much happier. I know it’s only anecdotal, but everyone has their preferences.

    • 0 avatar
      30-mile fetch

      His restraint is admirable, but I don’t understand why anyone would cycle through a new RLX every few years. If long-term durability is an Acura strong point over the Germans, you aren’t getting the benefit of it by trading after two years. Resale doesn’t seem to be a strong point with the RLX either, and even so the worst two years of depreciation of any vehicle are the first two years.

      I get bored with my boring vehicle and therefore go buy another boring one so I can soon be bored with it.

  • avatar
    Pch101

    I suspect that this car is made for China, not for us. (The main virtue of the car seems to be its rear passenger seat.)

    Compounded with Honda’s inability to figure out what to do with Acura, and you end up with this. It doesn’t seem to be in Honda’s DNA to understand luxury branding; its four-cylinder practical car heritage seems to get in the way.

  • avatar
    ceipower

    After 15 years of building products that miss the mark , it’s hard to feel anything positive about the Acura brand. Should the positive glow of the Civic,Accord and CR-V start to wane Honda will be in real trouble. The smart thing to do would be to take Hondas top management , put them in a HondaJet and send it out to sea.

    • 0 avatar
      energetik9

      Hey, but at least they still have lawnmowers and generators!

    • 0 avatar

      Umm, “15 years of products that miss the mark”

      Tell that to…
      1. The 2004 TL (or the 1998 TL)
      2. Any generation of the MDX
      3. The 2004 TSX
      4. The current RDX

      Acura has done well with plenty of models, they just have never done with the larger sedans.

    • 0 avatar
      Sigivald

      “Should the positive glow of the Civic,Accord and CR-V start to wane Honda will be in real trouble”

      So, Honda will be in trouble if its three most popular – and enduringly so – cars stop being popular?

      True, but … you can say that of every carmaker, no?

      (“Toyota’s in a lot of trouble if nobody buys a Corolla or Camry or Tacoma/RAV/whatever!”)

  • avatar
    nickoo

    Wow, what a let down. They need to build an accord hybrid and plug in hybrid model flagship. 50 mpg would turn more heads than 377 hp!

  • avatar
    John R

    I wish Honda would get heads out of their butts and make a RWD car. I don’t know the numbers, but I’m sure Hyundai’s Genesis is eating their lunch.

  • avatar
    energetik9

    This is Honda’s Phaeton.

  • avatar
    carguy

    You know for less than $60K the 528i provides similar fuel consumption and one feature the RLX will never have: Resale value.

  • avatar
    calmaro

    Author’s comment ‘Acura needs to allow its designers to exercise their artistic talent…’ caught my attention. I’m curious if previous-gen TX with its somehow off-putting style (fastback/ rear end/ ‘beak’ grille, etc.) was an ungainly result of Acura allowing just that? Or was its target audience being too conservative?
    I realize this story is about the ‘forgettable’ RLX (I actually think this car looks OK from a distance). New TLX seems to be more in the (three box) sweet spot, looks-wise. than previous-gen. Also sportier look than RLX.

    • 0 avatar
      AnotherMillenial

      I think that’s just it. Late-2000s Acura had aggressive concept cars and even the MDX of the time was radically styled. The harsh reaction to the last-gen TL styling really must’ve scared the heck out Honda America because Acura’s entire line-up is conservative.

      The TLX looks fine because it’s smaller than the RLX and IMO is supposed to be the spiritual successor the the iconic ’04-’08 TL. Acura wishes you forgot the TL in between. The RLX, as it stands, looks too much like Honda’s own Accord and being FWD/AWD only solidifies the “nicest Accord money can buy” argument. At $60K well-equipped, it just doesn’t like a smart buy; unless you’re in the market for an XTS or MKS.

  • avatar
    Fred

    As an Acura driver I’d like to defend my brand. I thought the RLX looked nice in the show room and I imagine it drives pretty smooth. I find the Acura/Honda hybrid technically interesting. That’s the best I can do.

  • avatar
    akatsuki

    Acura is more delusional than FCA. And that is saying a lot.

    They are smart enough not to mess with the MDX.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    I just pulled this up on the Acura website and it looks like you can get one with all the performance goodies and nav for about $52,000 (that’s if you can deal with “leatherette,” of course).

    I have to say, it looks a lot more attractive at that price point, particularly with all the incentives. Pushing $67,000, this is ridiculously overpriced.

  • avatar
    TMA1

    At that price the K900 would eat its lunch. The Genesis is also a much nicer vehicle, RWD, costs $17,000 less, and gets similar mediocre mileage.

    And that shifter is just bizarre. I was playing around in the Acuras at the DC auto show this weekend. Predictably, I didn’t even sort the RLX in the crowd. But that looks like the same shifter sitting in the TLX V6, and it’s awful in appearance, execution, and functionality.

    • 0 avatar
      superchan7

      To me, the Kia K900 has a huge weak point–it looks like a giant Kia Forte from the front. It also attempted to crib the previous Maserati Quattroporte’s profile and the Lexus ES’ rear end, but those are still aspirational cars.

      The RLX has much more street presence front and rear. The profile gently whispers “fattened Accord,” but at least it’s that and not “Honda City.”

      • 0 avatar
        TMA1

        OK, an Equus then. Or the Genesis, and spend the extra cash on a toy car/bike.

      • 0 avatar
        John R

        “The RLX has much more street presence front and rear.”

        I’m sorry that’s arguable.

        The RLX can’t hide its FWD genes. In motion you can see it. With RWD cars there is a stride that is nigh impossible to imitate using a different drivetrain. Audi, or VAG in general, may be the only ones to be able to find a way past it. (Perhaps it’s because their dearer Audi offerings are RWD based AWD.)

        “…the Kia K900 has a huge weak point–it looks like a giant Kia Forte from the front.”

        It’s called sticking to a design language. When the Germans do the same sausage different lengths routine no one bats an eye, anyone else – conniption. The K900’s real weak point are its wheels, they are, if I am kind, questionable. Those wheels would be the first things to go if I were to buy one.

        We can bemoan a badge, depending on how conceited we are, but physics are physics and both the K900 and Genesis move the way a luxury car is supposed to move and have the proportions a luxury car are supposed to have in the eyes of the casual observer. There is no merit in masking it.

      • 0 avatar
        Wodehouse

        Looks more like a big, fat-arsed, crossed-eyed Subaru Legacy.

  • avatar
    wmba

    Traditional AWD shares powertrain torque between front and rear wheels, tending to reduce torque steer by reducing the power each front wheel has to put to the ground, compared to the front wheel drive alternative.

    The brainiacs at Honda short circuit this approach by stuffing an electric motor on each rear wheel with no torque connection to the front. They just do the SH fandango of varying torque side to side.

    Then, to exacerbate the situation, they stuff a third electric motor up front to aid the engine in completely overpowering the front wheels. How? Because the only time the front electric motor shows up for work is at or near full throttle. The rest of the time it acts as a generator.

    Nice one.

    To aid in sales, the body is clothed in stealth-like anonymity, and the whole underdeveloped, underthought, over-engineered package is presented to the world as some kind of wonder-car.

    The only amazing thing is that 300 people a month buy this foolishness, mostly the FWD version to be sure. This hybrid version is without doubt the very worst top of the line car made by any major manufacturer. I mean, who else makes anything this weird just for the sake of it? Pathetic fuel economy and torque steer for $66K. And a quick scan of acurazine doesn’t show them to be the paragons of reliability you would expect.

    Dear oh dear. Isn’t it normal to design a car that actually appeals broadly to consumers thus providing return on investment? There probably isn’t a single soul dreaming in anticipation of buying one of these brutes. It’s a freak show.

    Honda should put the 7 speed DCT in the V6 versions of the TLX and get rid of the nasty ZF 9 speed. At least that way, they could recoup some of the development money spent on the RLX. I suppose there’s not much point – it’ll all be 2 liter turbos in a couple of years anyway.

  • avatar
    blueflame6

    This inspired me to take a look at prices for a used Acura RL and, I must say, they look like a screaming deal for an awful lot of comfortable and doubtlessly reliable car. If you can find one of the few they sold, of course. The RLX will probably meet the same fate. Right now, in 2019, somebody is buying a lightly used RLX for practically nothing.

  • avatar
    swester

    RLX? More like WHY?

    So sad to see Honda keep dragging the Acura brand into such pathetic territory. How many of these are they going to sell a month? 20? Maybe 30?

    On a broader note, what is with Japanese brands and fumbling their most promising winners? (I’m looking at you TSX and G35.)

  • avatar
    Wodehouse

    If I were forced to spend this kind of money on a huge, silly car I’d buy the XTS V sport. Though the Cadillac fuel mileage numbers are worse, it makes up for that by having a ton more presence, style (including 2 black plastic triangles, SEAT Ibiza be damned!!), power, and will never be mistaken as a Subaru.

  • avatar
    05lgt

    I don’t like he car, but this was a brilliant review. Thanks.

  • avatar
    burgersandbeer

    This car sounds like a complete disaster. The packing is something even Ford would be embarrassed by. How do you get a sedan this big that is effectively a four seater that has a trunk smaller than many compact sedans? A Challenger, which is everyone’s favorite punching bag for automotive obesity, is only 2″ longer, 1.3″ wider and about 100 lbs lighter (and that’s with the scat pack).

    And why give design engineers the same freedom as powertrain engineers? The powertrain group gave you hybrid powertrain that only manages 21mpg. Acura’s design team previously came up with the Acura beak. After that, it’s no wonder they are on a tight leash.

    I’m not sure how anyone ends up with this in their driveway, cons1dering everything you could buy for $66k or less. A huge, heavy sedan that struggles carrying passengers and luggage fails at its primary purpose. It’s no style statement either. And apparently with AWD and snow tires, it still isn’t a “bastion of traction.” This is not strangely unpopular; the only strange thing is anyone buys it.

  • avatar
    DrGastro997

    This is really what Honda is and does when it comes to their high tech engineering. You can’t see it but you can definitely feel it. The RLX sells well in Japan, especially to those that are enthusiastic about Honda engineering. I don’t think Honda expects to sell the RLX in the US at large volumes. Americans don’t want a 65K+ car that doesn’t LOOK like a 65K car, regardless of its hidden tech. For those complaining about the RLX not having a V8- Honda is all about efficiency so manufacturing a V8 is completely unnecessary. Their V6 engines are good enough, but I’d love to see what Honda can do with a V8. In any case, Honda isn’t a luxury car manufacturer and never was. If you talk to a Honda engineer, they’ll remind you of that.

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