Acura Freshens RLX's Face, Upgrades Tech for 2018

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Acura is changing its flagship sedan for 2018 with a short list of important electronic upgrades and a much-needed makeover. Most evident is the absence of the chrome break the brand tried to make synonymous with its lineup for a decade. The RLX’s new hallmark is a diamond pentagon grille, already seen on the TLX and MDX.

It still looks like a bird of prey, but maybe one better suited for swooping down and plucking Acura’s tanking sales from the water like a fresh salmon — or perhaps a slightly smaller fish.

Mechanical improvements are limited to a new 10-speed automatic fitted onto the 310-horsepower front-wheel drive model. Acura claims the new transmission delivers a more refined driving experience, as well as improved acceleration and passing times. The RLX now comes in just two trims: the previously mentioned base model and the Sport Hybrid, which adds all-wheel drive and a trio of electric motors to increase the standard 3.5-liter V6 powertrain’s output to 377 horsepower.

The base model now comes with four-wheel steering, but neither model represents much of an upgrade in power from the previous year. Acura’s 310 horsepower 3.5-liter could rush the car to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds in 2017, and the addition of a new transmission is unlikely to stray it too far from that benchmark. The automaker claims the Sport Hybrid’s Super Handling all-wheel drive system has been “further optimized based on NSX learnings” but didn’t specify how the electronic torque-vectoring differs from the previous model year.

Still, handling should be more than competent with both models, and the RLX does offer some of the best entry level power in its segment — but that advantage disappears the second you start shelling out extra money on its competitors. However, if you’re looking to set impressive quarter mile times, you probably aren’t in the market for an Acura. The RLX is more about understated luxury and tech, which is where the company spent most of its money.

AcuraWatch now comes standard, outfitting each RLX with a suite of safety features — including automatic emergency braking, adaptive cruise control, and lane assist. It also adds traffic jam assist to expand its adaptive cruise control function to low-speed driving scenarios. The new RLX keeps the dual-stack center console but appears to be lacking an updated infotainment system with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, which could prove a deal-breaker for some.

Standard equipment grows on the Sport Hybrid to include a premium Krell sound system, surround-view camera system, fog lamps, parking sensors, remote start, heated and ventilated front seats, and heated rear seats.

New front seats get contrasting piping and stitching, while the automaker promises cabin materials and touch points are nicer than before. There’s also a new “Espresso” interior color option, if you want something less bright than “Seacoast” (pictured) without losing its earthy charm. Of course, black and gray persist — neither of which will make the inside of the vehicle even remotely claustrophobic, as the RLX has always been quite roomy.

Expect greater choice in exterior color options. Previously, Acura provided the sedan with an array of off-whites, a fairly expansive list of gray, and “Pomegranate.” Three new colors join that list, including an exceptionally vibrant red. Most of the noticeable changes, of course, are visible on the outside of the vehicle. The new grille and hood makes the sedan appear far more aggressive, while the new wheel designs, LED taillights, dual exhaust finishers, and a black rear diffuser are decent finishing touches.

Whether this all adds up to improved sales remains to be seen, but the company seems to think revising the brand’s image problem is essential to boosting volume. “This redesign of the 2018 Acura RLX is transformational, creating road presence and styling that better reflect underlying performance capabilities of the vehicle,” said Acura vice president and general manager John Ikeda in a statement.

The RLX has seen significantly weaker sales every year since it came out in 2013 and only sold 1,585 units in 2016.

Going on sale in November, the 2018 Acura RLX’s pricing has yet to be announced. For comparison, a 2017 base RLX starts at $54,450, whereas the hybrid comes in at $59,950. Acura says it will make its debut at Monterey Automotive Week on August 15th.

[Images: Acura]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • Jalop1991 Jalop1991 on Aug 11, 2017

    One wonders what this would sell like if they gave it the Outback treatment--bulk it up, lift it up, and give it some cladding. Ten bucks worth of materials and they have an all-new premium SUV above the MDX.

    • JohnTaurus JohnTaurus on Aug 12, 2017

      It costs only $10.00 to change a sedan to a CUV? Wow. I didn't know a full redesign of everything behind the doors costs only ten bucks. Or would it be a Sport Utility Sedan? Not even Subaru made that concept work.

  • Tele Vision Tele Vision on Aug 12, 2017

    That's not a diffuser.

  • Probert A few mega packs would probably have served as decent backup.
  • Lou_BC Lead sleds. Now-a-days GM would just use Bondo.
  • Jrhurren This is a great series. Thanks Corey
  • Tane94 Not as stylish as the Soul which it is replacing but a practical shape and bonus points for EV only.
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