It was the 1986 model year when Honda launched an upscale division called Acura, a first for a Japanese brand. Premium cars with Honda’s reliability proved to be a good formula, and today the Acura brand is as strong as ever.
Just four years later, two other Japanese brands introduced separate high-end brands, Nissan with Infiniti and Toyota with Lexus. Right out of the box, both of them created large, luxurious sedans with smooth V8 engines and tons of luxury.
For Lexus in particular, that big car at the top of the model line suggested that the brand was serious about offering a car that could compete with the best in the business. To this day, as in 1990, the Lexus LS is seen as a flagship for the Lexus model lineup.
But Honda played it conservative for decades. After the Legend (their large-ish car from the early years), the RL led the charge as the “big Acura.” The problem was, it was never seen as big nor as world-class as the Lexus LS.
Now, Acura has revised and renamed the RL to create the RLX. Bigger, nicer, and much more stylish, the RLX is finally the car that can be called a flagship sedan. It’s not really all that much larger than the RL on the outside, but it carries the look and presence of a larger car.
While its exterior dimensions put it up against mid-size sedans in the luxury arena, its interior measurements (especially rear legroom) move it into the realm of full-size cars. It is truly roomy, in both the front and rear seats. It’s also extremely quiet, and full of high-grade materials.
The ingredients are all in place for (finally) a top-of-the-line car that makes no apologies when cross-shopped with the likes of Lexus, Infiniti, Audi, and BMW. Acura likely had the misfortune of seeing some of their loyal customers trade “up and out” when they were looking for a luxury sedan to replace their TL or RL models in the past. Now, those potential buyers can stay within the brand with the RLX.
Another place the RLX makes no apologies is under the hood. For many years, critics in the automotive press declared that Acura couldn’t have a true flagship car unless it had a V8 engine, like pretty much all the competitors offer. But Acura, under Honda’s umbrella of conservative efficiency, stuck with using a V6 in even its largest models.
Guess who’s getting the last laugh now? Acura was either able to see the future or perhaps just got lucky. Other luxury brands are now scrambling to engineer smaller engines into their sedans to meet increasingly strict consumption and emissions standards. There are even four cylinder engines offered in several of the RLX’s competitors.
The big Acura gets down the road just fine with a new direct-injected 3.5 liter V6 (actually smaller in size than the V6 in the old RL) making just over 300 horsepower in a very smooth fashion. Power gets to the wheels via all wheel drive, which has also been standard in the RL.
Not only are all four of the RLX’s wheels driven, but they’re all steering as well. Four wheel steering isn’t really anything new (you could get a Honda Prelude with it back in the late 1980s), but modern technology has perfected it for use in this big Acura. When driving through curves, the rear wheels steer just slightly to help bring the car through.
Technology abounds in the rest of the RLX too, especially in the upper-trim Advance model. Blind spot monitoring, lane departure warning, collision avoidance, and adaptive cruise control are all part of this new car. Further, the latest version of AcuraLink keeps you connected and informed.
Prices start out at just over $48,000 and top out at just over $60,000 for the Advanced model. Pretty reasonable for a car that can truly be called “flagship.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7 and can be heard on “The Car Show” Saturdays at 9 a.m. on KPFK, 90.7 FM. E-mail Dave at TVCarz @ pacbell.net Twitter: @dave_kunz, Facebook: ABC7Dave