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Lesson Learned

Acura attempts to rewrite history with its rebooted range-topping RLX sedan.

“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” This oft-quoted nugget from 20th-century philosopher George Santayana came to mind while mulling over my time with Acura’s all-new 2014 RLX, a competent and composed luxury sedan – bold only insomuch as it isn’t tempting fate; it’s outright taunting it.

To understand why, a very brief history lesson is an order. The RLX replaces the second-generation Acura RL. Introduced in 2005, the RL received critical plaudits for its well-executed technical innovations. However, priced around $50,000, it failed to lure midsize luxury customers more enamored with its self-proclaimed competitors like the Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6. Soon, the fledgling RL had made history… as the worst-selling car of 2011.

Down but not out, Acura readied an all-new replacement for its range-topping bottom feeder: the RLX, a tech-ed out midsize luxury sedan priced around $50,000 (and up) targeting the likes of the Mercedes-Benz E-class, BMW 5 Series, and Audi A6. Hmmm, sounds familiar…

Cue up the funeral dirge. Maybe. First, let’s consider the RLX’s strengths. Its exterior style is clean, smooth, and inoffensive. Though this is somewhat of a backhanded compliment, it’s significant in that it signals the death of Acura’s unfortunate foray into angular, Tron-inspired exterior styling. The RLX’s striking two-by-five stacked cluster of Jewel Eye LED headlights are a promising step in the right design direction.

The RLX’s interior is bright, open, commodious, and well-appointed. Front passengers are treated to standard 12-way power heated seats and direct access to a gaggle of technology options like Bluetooth and USB connectivity, Pandora radio, premium Krell audio system, rearview cameras, and blind spot monitoring. The center console features an eight-inch navigation screen atop a user-friendly seven-inch touchscreen – a clever double shot of modernity amidst the old-world class of soft leather and high-gloss veneers. Rear passengers enjoy class-leading shoulder and legroom and optional rear window shades.  

The RLX’s 3.5-liter V-6 channels 310 hp and 272 lb-ft. of torque through a smooth six-speed automatic transmission. That’s more than ample pop for the task at hand. The problem is where it goes: The RLX is a front-drive car in a class of rear- and all-wheel options. Acura’s throwback all-wheel steering marginally enhances agility, and an all-wheel-drive RLX is reportedly on the way (as is a hybrid powertrain). However, my fully loaded, front-driving test car checked in at $61,345, so you do the math on those forth-coming variants. For that kind of dough, it’s clear why the comparably priced RL couldn’t compete with sexier offerings from Mercedes, BMW, Audi, Lexus, and Jaguar.

Thus, I make the following recommendations to Acura: Keep doing what you do well – namely, excellent entry-luxury sedans like the TL and SUVs like the MDX. Focus the rest of your resources on reviving the beloved NSX supercar. Concede the midsize luxury sedan segment. Continued battle in this formidable class seems only to be inviting history to repeat. In which case, the potential fate of the RLX brings to mind a less-cited Santayana quote: “Only the dead have seen the end of war.”

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