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First drive: Bland Acura RLX is under equipped and outclassed

First drive: Bland Acura RLX is under equipped and outclassed

After more than 400 miles of driving the new Acura RLX, I can think of little good to say about it. Being neither luxurious nor sporty, the RLX fails to excite. And that’s putting it mildly.

The brand-new RLX—Acura’s flagship sedan and successor to the unsuccessful RL—is likely destined for deep levels of obscurity, aiding by bland styling. The RLX is slab-sided and devoid of any visual impact whatsoever. In contrast, when I was driving the new Lincoln MKZ weeks ago, onlookers actually approached me with comments like, “This car looks dynamite.” The RLX has yet to garner a single “ooh” or “ah,” nor so much as a second glance. As my coworker Michelle Tsai Podlaha said in a previous video, the RLX is well suited to drivers in a witness protection program.

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The RLX is primarily a front-wheel-drive car. All-wheel drive, increasingly common in the luxury-car sector, is available only if you buy the $60,000-plus hybrid version. Fewer than 10 percent of RLX buyers will go for the hybrid, though, according to Honda.

We bought a FWD model with the optional Technology Package (with navigation and expanded communication system). Price as tested: $55,345. That’s right smack in the heart of the hottest midsized luxury competition. About 60 percent of RLX buyers will configure theirs as we did ours, according to Honda. (Read our initial impressions in “2014 Acura RLX faces a tough challenge.”)

While the RLX is upscale, its lacks the true luxury feel common in the segment, as well as some equipment.

Heated steering wheel? Not available.
Heated rear seats? No.
Power rear sunshade? Absent.
Sunshades for the rear side windows? Non-existent.
Fog lights? Not here.
Back-up parking sensors? Nope.
Cross-traffic alert? Nada.

Surely, you think, it must drive nicely? After all, Honda is an accomplished company with some racing pedigree. But, alas, the car is neither coddles nor thrills. Abrupt short pitches mar the ride and undermine any sort of luxury experience. Suspension noise further detracts. Handling lacks agility and the steering is numb, sucking away any driving enjoyment. Controls are a convoluted mess of two screens and a sea of buttons. At least the powertrain is smooth and refined.

If the RLX were Acura’s answer to the $38,000 Toyota Avalon, I’d say it hit the mark. It’s a large, roomy sedan that’s sort-of plush, even if it’s unexciting to look at or to drive. But Honda positions this car to compete against the Audi A6, Lexus GS, Mercedes-Benz E-Class, and the like… You’ve got to be kidding me.

And it’s not as if Honda has forgotten how to make good cars. Take, for example, the excellent Accord V6. That midsized sedan is quick, quiet, roomy, and capable and costs about $30,000. I don’t think the RLX is even as good as its mundane stable-mate, but it costs nearly twice as much.

With the RLX, Honda is either showing contempt for discerning luxury-car buyers, trying to rip off those who don’t know any better, or simply aiming at the wrong target.

Seriously Honda, you phoned this one in and you know it.

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