Collingwood, Ont. – It had been almost exactly a year since I last drove the Acura RLX – the flagship in Honda’s upscale brand – and in getting back into the car you see featured here, I was quickly refreshed on the fleeting impressions it had made on me.
First off, it’s a handsome car, if somewhat forgettable save for the multi-lens LED headlights. In person, it commands more respect than it does in photos thanks to its solid proportions and imposing scale, letting observers know that this is no entry-level sedan.
Inside, one is reminded of an oversized Accord that has spent a few more classes in finishing school. The materials are all luxurious and supple where they need to be, with the appropriate applications of high-grade trim where warranted for visual appeal. The overall effect is lacking some of the artful design emerging in many of the best of the class competitors. The Krell sound system remains one of the highlights of the car with its sensational power and sound quality.
All of that applies to the front-wheel-drive RLX Elite that I drove last year with its P-AWS (active all-wheel steering) and its front-wheel drive, just as much as it applies to the new offering we’re examining here.
Befitting its place in the mid-size luxury sedan class, Acura Canada is now offering a version of the RLX with its SH-AWD (Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive) system. Canadian luxury car buyers have shown with their cheque books that it is their overwhelming preference to have four wheels dispensing the power rather than just two, so this move was an absolute necessity for Acura to be taken seriously in this segment.
But this is not like Acura’s usual SH-AWD system. This time, the rear wheels are motivated solely by electric power, as the RLX presents the first application of the new Sport Hybrid system.
In what is a world first, Acura has incorporated a three-motor hybrid system. The first motor is integrated into the seven-speed DCT transmission. It’s a low-speed unit that essentially replaces first gear. It provides up to 109 lb-ft of torque between 500-2,000 rpm and aids the gasoline engine powering the front wheels up to speed from a standstill.
2015 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD, dashboard. Click image to enlarge
The 3.5L direct-injected V6 is essentially carryover from the FWD RLX, providing the same 310-hp output and 273 lb-ft of torque. Vibrations have now been quelled in this 2015 car, with a camshaft valve timing change, for those keeping track of the minutiae.
Where things really get interesting, is toward the back of the car with a pair of higher-speed smaller motors each directing up to 54 lb-ft of torque to a single rear wheel. This Twin Motor Unit (TMU) enables a host of benefits including improved acceleration, efficiency and even handling.