Pity the premium luxury buyer. A quick search based on the manufacturer’s suggested retail price for late model 2013 and 2014 vehicles suggests more than 150 vehicles of varying trim levels from which to choose. A Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 2500 Extended Cargo Van High Roof at $52,600, competes on price with a Mercedes-Benz C350 4MATIC Sedan + Premium Package + Convenience Package at $52,950. How about a Nissan 370Z Touring Roadster + Sport Package at $52,978 or a Nissan Titan Crew Cab SL 4×4 SWB 6.6’ Box + DVD & Navi Package at $53,648. You get the idea.
The purchaser in the $50K-60K range has a lot of choice in vehicles, ranging from sports cars to full size vans, luxury cars to working trucks. So, where does that leave a manufacturer struggling to find its place in the premium mid-luxury sedan market segment?
The answer, for Acura, is their new RLX, debuting late last fall in Los Angeles. Its predecessor, the RL, never seemed to catch the imagination of the premium luxury customer, lacking the history of Mercedes-Benz and the sporting demeanor of BMW.
The RLX has a very aggressive front end, with a unique array of LED lights. Many manufacturers have jumped on the LED bandwagon, with Audi leading the way. The rear of the RLX also enjoys the framing of the LED tail lights with a rim of light surrounding the cluster, similar to the Audi A6. Front headroom is almost the same as the A6 at 954mm vs. 946mm and the interior passenger volume is very close at 2891L vs 2752 for the A6.
Sense a theme here?
Acura has targeted the sweet spot in the premium luxury sedan market with the A6, acknowledged as having excellent interiors and impeccable road manners, and Acura has clearly modelled the new RLX to match. There are some differences. The A6’s interior has an expansive front dashboard, whereas the RLX is more cockpit focussed. With a standard moonroof, the RLX’s front headroom is a bit pinched at 954mm, but still acceptable. Double-stitched upholstery similar to the A6 gives a bespoke feel to the interior, but the wide seat cushions and lack of adjustable side bolsters position the RLX for grand touring rather than grand cornering. Three information screens keep the driver informed, and one wonders if the entire dash one day might become a touch screen. The Technology package adds the head up display, so the RLX actually has four information points for the driver. This may be where the term ‘driven to distraction’ is well defined.
The mid-size Audi is in the same price range as the RLX, with a comparable Mercedes-Benz E Class or BMW 5 Series costing thousands more, similarly equipped.
How does the RLX fare? Very well.
The cost of entry in this class is very high. Automatic headlights, heated and reverse tilting outside mirrors with memory, a power moonroof, chrome exhaust finishers, leather seating surfaces, power seats with driver’s memory, dual zone, climate controlled air conditioning, heated steering wheel and seats, navigation, Bluetooth with music streaming and the full complement of safety features are just the start of the features found on these vehicles.
But, as usual, there’s more. Except, in this class, there is much, much more. Kind of like my good friend Jeff, who believes that chocolate ice cream is best served with chocolate sauce and chocolate sprinkles.
Here is where vehicle philosophies divide. They’d better, or we’d still be purchasing Henry’s Model T, which, of course, came in any colour you wanted as long as it was black. The A6 features its venerable Quattro all-wheel drive system, with an engine that delivers 211 horsepower over a variable valve timing range of 4,300 rpm to 6,000 rpm. The RLX has a somewhat different story, being front-wheel drive with 310 horsepower at 6,500 rpm. Even though, on the surface, the A6 gives up 99 horsepower to the RLX, there are two things to keep in mind. First, the RLX makes that maximum horsepower at 6,500 rpm, and that means it has to wind out in each gear to even approach that maximum rpm. In every day driving, this would rarely happen. Secondly, the A6 produces maximum engine torque of 258 ft-lbs starting at 1,500 rpm and continuing to 4,200 rpm. The RLX doesn’t hit peak torque of 272 ft-lbs until 4,500 rpm, again, an rpm number that appears in the Fast and the Furious, not the Sedate and Stately. The A6 will zip to 100 km/h in 6.9 seconds, according to Audi. Road and Track estimates a 0-60 mph time of 6.6 seconds. If we extrapolate the 6.6 second time to match kilometers per hour, the time is 6.8 seconds, if my math skills haven’t failed me. There is not much to tell between the two vehicles in acceleration, even though the Audi appears outmatched in the horsepower department.
I’ll leave it to you to decide whether or not $1,400 in value difference is important to a purchaser in this price range. It’s about 3% of the price of either of these two vehicles.
And, the rest of the story:
The RLX is narrower than the A6, but manages to squeeze more interior volume from its footprint. At 196mm wider than the RLX, the A6 appears more substantial, but its girth not likely appreciated while parking. Interestingly, the A6’s turning circle is smaller than the RLX, even with a longer wheelbase. Otherwise, the RLX is a study in packaging, returning more front headroom, front legroom and front shoulder room than the A6.
There is no clear choice here. Front-wheel drive versus all-wheel drive. Six cylinder engine versus turbocharged four. Larger interior room versus exterior styling that is the benchmark in the class. LED headlights versus high intensity discharge headlights. Has Acura achieved with the RLX what was missing in the already forgotten RL? Is the RLX a worthy competitor to the best of the mid-luxury sedans currently on the market, at a price point that will give a Mercedes-Benz or BMW shopper pause for thought? Time will tell, but, on paper, the RLX should be put on the shopping list.