Acura Introduces RLX Hybrid

Acura has applied the hybrid treatment to its RLX luxury performance sedan launched earlier this year to increase the power, improve mpg, and create the “most powerful Acura ever built.”

Based around the RLX’s 310-horsepower V6, the new hybrid flagship combines power output from three motors to create a 377-horsepower all-wheel-drive sedan with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission.

Performance fans will also be gratified by four-wheel-steering and torque vectoring which essentially applies reverse thrust to the inside rear wheel while cornering, slowing its rate of speed to make turns crisper despite a front-heavy weight bias and suspension compromises made toward a comfortable ride.

Mileage for the new car is nothing to send the 50 mpg Accord Hybrid packing, as it’s 28 city, 32 highway, 30 combined, but the RLX Hybrid does exceed the 20 city, 31 highway, and 24 combined of the standard front-wheel drive RLX while being more athletic as well.

Techno Hybrid

Prices are not set for the car that’s otherwise based on the standard RLX, but projections are in the range of the $61,000-plus that the standard RLX commands. For that amount, Acura is packing the hybrid with new tech under the hood and other creature comfort features promise to be upper echelon as well.

The RLX Hybrid’s 3.5-liter V6 uses a version of the hybrid system to be utilized in the upcoming NSX sports hybrid, and is called “SH-AWD” (super handing all-wheel-drive).

Here, two traction motors power the rear wheels, and one resides in the dual clutch tranny with standard paddle shifters – a notable departure from CVT transmissions usually favored for efficiency, but not favored for their blender-like engine sounds and decrease in control for hard chargers.

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Acura says the result is “V8-like performance and 4-cylinder-like fuel efficiency” and the vehicle does actually feature cylinder deactivation to cut fuel consumption in low-torque requirement driving, such as while cruising.

Performance tests are not known to have been performed, but if the standard RLX is any indicator, it has been clocked to 60 in 6.5 seconds, and its quarter mile is around 14.6 at 97 mph.

In normal operation, when the hybrid takes off from a stop, the rear motors initiate first, and the power from the gas engine is fed in as needed upon acceleration. On highway drives, or when cruising, the engine power can drop away to enable rear-wheel electric thrust to save fuel and emissions.

If one stomps on the accelerator, all power is again instantly available.

On the other hand, EV mode is available up to 50 mph.

To make the start-stop function all the more imperceptible, Acura has incorporated active engine mounts and it changed the camshaft profile to further smooth things out.

As for the infotainment, it has no 17-inch monitor like Tesla uses, but it uses two display screens, including an ergonomically positioned seven-inch touch screen that does eliminate many physical buttons to reduce clutter.

A functional menu combined with audible and haptic feedback, Acura says, helps to keep the driver’s eyes on the road.

Customizable shortcuts let the driver set pre-sets for Places, Phone, Climate, Audio, and Valet functional categories.

The interior is otherwise all Acura RLX, a “flagship” swaddled in leather and replete with convenience features.

Driver and passenger room are ample in a cabin that makes good utilization of existing space.

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Other standard features include power moonroof, retracting mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, keyless entry, navigation with live traffic, 12-way power front seats, 14-speaker stereo with satellite radio and Pandora Internet radio

The RLX Hybrid comes with LED headlights said to outperform even HID lights, and rolls on 19-inch aluminum wheels with in-wheel resonators that reduce noise by 7 decibels. A head-up display shows speed, turn-by-turn navigation and other info.

The car also has seven airbags, hill-holding brakes, blind-spot warning and wide-view backup camera.

An optional safety package includes lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control with “low speed follow” and a collision warning system with automatic brake activation.

We have not driven the car yet, but Automotive News reported its 57/43 front/rear weight bias still makes for oversteer despite the torque vectoring and double wishbone suspension.

On-center feel is also not so clear with 15 degrees of steering wheel play, said AN, “before any real reaction occurs,” and the brakes are “oddly numb” at high speeds, yet choppy at low speeds.

Or at least that is one review, and for anyone really interested, a test drive may be worthwhile to see whether the balance between luxury and performance is right for them.

And who is the intended customer? Naturally, Acura will sell the car to anyone, but the ideal demographic is a male buyer in his later 40s with household income of $200,000 or more.

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Competitors include the Lexus GS 450h, Mercedes-Benz E400h, Infiniti M35h, Audi A6, and BMW ActiveHybrid5, among others.

Of the car, Acura said last week at a launch event in San Francisco that it combined “takaburi” which means “smart exhilarating luxury,” and Inomama, meaning “handling at the will of the driver.”

Its DCT transmission, AWS, and AWD look compelling for a performace driver, only ho-hum for the energy conservative and eco-minded, and its price is within distance of a base Tesla Model S after subsidies.

Undoubtedly it’s a fantastic ride with several unique features, but competition is fierce also, so we shall see what the market bears after the RLX Hybrid’s dealer launch some time in Spring 2014, with pricing TBD.