By Mary Lowry
Don’t laugh at legislators for working now on regulations for driverless cars. Self-driving vehicles aren’t a futuristic fantasy. They’re practically here already.
Last week, while driving 60 mph on an open stretch of I-5 in southern Washington, I deliberately lifted both hands off the wheel for about 10 seconds and the car kept itself perfectly centered in the lane. And this was no Google concept robocar. It was the 2014 Acura RLX, which has been available at dealerships since March 15.
The mid-size, mid-luxury RLX is Acura’s new flagship sedan, taking over for the RL and surpassing it in power, technology, roominess, fuel economy and, Acura prays, sales.
The Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS) is what keeps the RLX between the lines even without driver input. It uses a camera to detect lane markings on the road and then actively helps the driver stay on track. The car issues a stern warning if hands are off the wheel for too long; so no, the idea isn’t for drivers to completely relinquish control. LKAS is turned on or off via a button located on the steering wheel. The camera doesn’t recognize road stripes that aren’t in tiptop condition. When I tested it on some rural Snohomish County roads matching that description, the car would have let me drive off the pavement. The RLX’s Lane Departure Warning system must also be a stripe snob, because it didn’t intervene either.
Uh-oh. I just now thought of something. Maybe the LKAS and LDW didn’t respond because the car’s front end was dirty and the camera couldn’t get a good look. Hmm. Well, it’s not like the front end was filthy or anything. Just some of the usual I-5 road spray. And the car’s gone now so I can’t test the theory. Look, if it turns out I should have wiped something off, like John Belushi with his sleeve on the windshield in “The Blues Brothers,” just pretend you never saw the above paragraph, OK?
Several other collision-prevention and driver-assist features making their way onto all upmarket cars have been added to the RLX, but it also claims a couple of world-firsts: Jewel-Eye LED headlights and Precision All-Wheel Steer (P-AWS). A Jewel-Eye consists of eight smallish squares divided into two horizontal rows, one above the other. Acura says they provide better light distribution and illumination, and from what I could see, literally, it’s true.
P-AWS gives the front-wheel-drive RLX added stability by adjusting the toe angle of the rear wheels individually – a driver’s technological co-pilot when taking twisty roads with gusto. The current RLX isn’t available with all-wheel drive, but a hybrid version slated for later this year will have it.
RLX gets its 310 horsepower from a 3.5-liter V6 with Acura’s first application of direct injection. Paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with SportShift, it propels the car with authority and delivers 24 mpg city, 31 mpg highway.
Though my test car with its gorgeously rich Crystal Black paint was stunning, Acura won’t be applauded for breaking new ground with the RLX’s exterior design. There’s quite a bit of dramatic flair in the nose, some in the rear, but not a lot going on profile-wise.
Interior design follows suit. Materials and fit-and-finish are of the very best, but nothing jumps out visually. To some people, that’s good. Others want more pizzazz in a luxury car.
Comfort is something everyone agrees is necessary for luxury, and the RLX is thick with it. The RLX irons out bumps and ruts in the road, and the passenger cabin is chapel quiet – all the better to enjoy the 14-speaker Krell premium audio system. In a do-over of the RL’s skimpy rear legroom, Acura has added so much to the RLX it borders on executive limo proportions.
Audio, climate and navigation controls are separated out onto two different screens, one above the other on the dash. At first blush it appears confusing, but the hang of it is quickly gotten.
My tester was the RLX Advance, the full-boat model in a lineup that includes the base RLX ($49,345), RLX with Navigation ($51,845), RLX with Technology Package ($55,345), and RLX with Krell Audio Package ($57,845).
2014 ACURA RLX ADVANCE
Base price, including destination charge: $61,345
Price as driven: $61,345
Mary Lowry is a free-lance automotive writer who has been reviewing cars for more than 20 years. She is a member of the Motor Press Guild and a board member of the Northwest Automotive Press Association. Vehicles are provided by the manufacturers as a one-week loan for review purposes only. In no way do the manufacturers control the content of the reviews.