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3-Motor Flagship Sedan: Acura RLX Sport Hybrid

By Arv Voss, March 22nd, 2014

Acura's new flagship RLX sedan is now joined by a Sport Hybrid edition. This model introduces an innovative and unique powertrain concept that benefits from three electric motors.

Acura's new hybrid shares the RLX's 310-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 but integrates a 35 kilowatt (47-horsepower) electric motor into its seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission; shifting is controlled by an all-new fully electronic gear selector.

Park, Neutral, and Drive are selected with the push of a button. Reverse is selected by pulling back a dedicated switch. Indicator lights near the buttons indicate the mode selected, with Sport and Normal performance modes available.

In addition, the all-wheel-drive RLX Sport Hybrid with Torque Vectoring eliminates the conventional drive shaft and rear differential, replacing them with twin 27-kilowatt (36 hp) electric motors that independently drive the left and right rear wheels. Each motor can also capture regenerative braking energy and apply negative (regenerative braking) torque to further enhance cornering capability. In all, the entire system boosts performance output to 377 total horsepower.

The 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD uses those extra electric ponies to deliver the performance equivalent of a V-8, but the combined fuel economy efficiency of a four-cylinder engine (estimates predict 28/32/30 mpg city/highway/combined), while its SH-AWD provides exhilarating and precise handling attributes.

Pricing is expected to start around $55,000; my test vehicle was a pre-production model in the top-level Advance trim which could push pricing above $65,000.

The RLX Sport Hybrid blends a sleek overall shape, an "aero-fused" cabin silhouette, and close tolerances for the wheel wells and body-panel gaps for heightened elegance and aerodynamics. The styling begins with a dynamic and highly aerodynamic front-end featuring the RLX's signature Jewel Eye LED headlights. These lights are a substantial presence that also impart a look of power and confidence, while also providing powerful down-the-road illumination and even encompassing advanced pedestrian safety features.

The cabin is wide and aerodynamic, allowing for a roomy interior for five and a quiet ride quality as air slips smoothly over the cabin's flush-mounted available acoustic glass and other drag- and turbulence-reducing design details.

Acceleration is stellar, handling is superb, and the fit and finish are top-notch. The seats are highly supportive and comfortable, and the ride quality is firm but compliant, and the electrically assisted seven-speed DCT transmission is amazing, performing gear changes perfectly and smoothly, with downshift rev-matching that proved to be superior to the ability of most drivers. Shifting was spot-on, as was the electronic steering input and output. The new Electronic Gear Selector is a prime example of ergonomic simplicity and enhancement.

Until the Acura NSX debuts (next year we hope), the RLX Sport Hybrid is the most powerful, efficient, and well-equipped vehicle produced by Acura. The NSX will also feature three electric motors, but in a reversed format, with the two electric motors driving the front wheels rather than the rear.

Essentially, Acura's newest RLX is a spirited luxury hybrid sedan that performs well. Driving the RLX Sport Hybrid defines its place in the segment, with a much higher level of emotional response in terms of its performance. It's an attractive vehicle, but its flagship status would benefit from a greater styling differentiation.

Nevertheless, the RLX Sport Hybrid is so well outfitted and performs so well, it belongs on the list of anyone shopping for an impressive luxury performance sedan.

The Sport Hybrid SH-AWD in Advance trim is an ideal luxury performance sedan that delivers almost everything one could imagine or needs. In fact, if it's not there, you probably don't need it, as all of the state-of-the-art technologies and features are included.

Specifications

Base price $55,000 (as tested: Estimated $65,000)
Curb weight 4,354 lbs.
Displacement 3.5-liter
Epa mileage rating 28 mpg city, 32 mpg highway
Fuel capacity 15.1 gal.
Horsepower (net) 310 at 6500 rpm (377 total output)
Motor type V-6 w/DI and twin motors
Overall length 196.1 in.
Torque (lb.-ft.) 273 at 4700 rpm (377 total output)
Transmission 7-speed automatic
Vehicle type 5-passenger AWD sport sedan
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