2013 Acura RLX

Let’s get this out of the way up front: the Acura RLX doesn’t ride as well as a luxury car should. There, now that we’ve covered that, we can discuss how good an automobile it is otherwise.

I had low expectations for this new model. It didn’t look good under the lights at the big auto shows, and some of Acura’s other recent products have been disappointing. But on the road the RLX shines much brighter, with the amount of presence a prestige machine needs; it is bold, modern and refined looking. Inside this continues, with butterly leather slathered across the dash, doors and center console (on this Advance model) bolstering a compelling aesthetic. The front chairs are supportive and allow for a proper driving position, the armrests are large and well padded, and the rear seat is finally big enough for the car’s price point (the predecessor RL was tighter inside than less expensive TL). Trunk space is decent, and the infotainment system is easily fathomed. And Acura has finally reduced the button count in the center stack, meaning not only a cleaner look, but more intuitive operation. Finally, the mighty 450-watt Krell audio system, available on the two top trim levels, is excellent but ruthlessly revealing.

Dynamically—except for the ride—the RLX is very enjoyable. Acura’s decision to forgo V8 power now seems quite prescient, with even BMW offering its midsize 5-series with a four cylinder to Americans these days. The Acura’s sewing-machine smooth 3.5-liter mill is sweet sounding and fast revving, delivering its 310 horses and 272lb-ft of twist with commendable verve. 0-60 takes just under six seconds, in part thanks to the slick six-speed auto. Its EPA numbers are good too, though my real-world average of 20mpg doesn’t match the rated figures.

The RLX’s unique selling proposition might very well be its Precision All-wheel Steer system, that can tweak the toe angle of each rear wheel independently, so it can turn sharper at low speeds and be more stable at higher ones, just like the latest Porsche 911 GT3. In practice, it feels like Acura’s excellent “Super Handling-All Wheel Drive,” imbuing this luxury sedan with the kind of moves almost never seen in a large front driver. Steering is accurate, though it offers no real feel, and braking performance is excellent. All-wheel drive (standard on the RL) is no longer offered.

Now, about the RLX’s ride: it is brittle (at least on the 19-inch wheels the Advance model wears—lesser trims get 18s), chattering away over typical urban pavement, transmitting much too much vibration and harshness to the otherwise hushed cabin, and almost never settling down on anything except the newest surfaces. Does that keep this Acura from being a nonstarter? No. And those who live where the roads are better may never even notice it.

The RLX starts at under $50,000, and the top model (tested) just cracks 60-large. That puts Acura’s flagship into contention with some very fine machinery, including the “Teutonic Trio” of Audi A6, BMW 5-series and Mercedes E-class—all fine machines. While I don’t think it is a mach for them dynamically, it does represent better value, and it is built the way a Lexus used to be, but no longer is. It comes across as a fine alternative to the GS350 (reviewed here) and Infiniti M37, and marks a welcome return to form for the first of the Asian luxury brands.

EPA ratings: 20/31; 24mpg combined

Price as tested: $61,345

Here is what Acura thinks of the RLX.

Compare it to the Lexus GS350 here