By Derek Price
Hybrid cars are known for getting great gas mileage, not necessarily for being speedy.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Just like turbochargers can be used to get better fuel efficiency or to get better performance — think of the turbo on an 18-wheeler diesel as opposed to the one on a Porsche 911 — hybrid technology also can be used to go faster or to get great gas mileage. It all depends on how you design the vehicle.
That’s how we end up with a car that sounds like an oxymoron: the Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.
Instead of using its electric motors to supplement a wheezy four-cylinder engine like most hybrids do, this new version of the RLX adds them on top of a stout 3.5-liter V6 to deliver even more oomph when you press the gas pedal.
The result? Three electric motors and the V6 combine to make 377 horsepower, enough to make the RLX feel more like a rocketship than ever before.
Fuel economy isn’t bad, either, with an EPA rating of 28 mpg in the city and 32 on the highway. That’s not as thrifty as it would get if Acura had turned it into the wheezy, slow type of hybrid, but again, that’s not the point of this car. It’s more about the performance.
Handling on both slippery roads and at high speeds is spectacular thanks to the appropriately named Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that’s becoming an Acura hallmark. It uses today’s most sophisticated way of controlling traction, called torque vectoring, to independently control the amount of power routed to the wheels that are slipping versus those that still have grip.
The advantage on wet or icy roads is obvious, but it’s also useful when the RLX reaches the limits of its performance on dry pavement — either at the track or when drivers find themselves driving beyond their skill level on public streets, like when swerving to avoid an accident. Thus it becomes a safety feature as much as a performance enhancement in my mind.
No matter the reason, the SH-AWD system does a marvelous job of keeping the noise pointed in the same direction as the steering wheel. It can’t defy the laws of physics, but it can give you predictable, logical handling any time the tires start to slip and change direction.
Aside from its handling and high-tech hybrid drivetrain, Acura adds one more thing to make the RLX Sport Hybrid compelling. The AcuraWatch package of safety features is now standard equipment.
AcuraWatch includes the typical safety sensors and warnings that help today’s luxury cars avoid wrecks, including Collision Mitigation Braking, Forward Collision Warning, Cross Traffic Monitor when backing up and Blind Spot Information to help you change lanes.
It also includes two things that, as I see it, make the RLX as close to a self-driving vehicle as you can buy today: Adaptive Cruise Control and Lane Keeping Assist System. When you arm them both, in theory, you can let go of the steering wheel for a few seconds and let the car drive itself — although that’s clearly not a good idea for safety reasons. The technology hasn’t evolved enough to let the driver’s attention lapse.
Pricing for the RLX starts at $54,450 with the Technology Package or $60,450 with the Advance Package, which adds the Surround View Camera system that gives the driver a 360-degree view of the vehicle when parking. It also comes with a keyless remote engine starter and heated steering wheel.
If you want the Sport Hybrid variant, add exactly $5,000 to both those prices.
At a Glance
What was tested?
2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid Advance ($65,950). Options: None. Price as tested (including $940 destination charge): $66,890
Wheelbase: 112.2 in.
Length: 196.1 in.
Width: 74.4 in.
Height: 57.7 in.
Engine: 3.5-liter V6, plus three electric motors (377 combined system horsepower)
Transmission: 7-speed DCT
Estimated Mileage: 28 city, 32 highway
2016 Acura RLX
Why buy it?
It has a lot of power and fantastic all-wheel-drive handling, all without blowing up your fuel bills. It’s packed with standard features and priced attractively for a luxury flagship.