From Kia to Cadillac, every automaker needs a flagship. This is doubly true for luxury marques – and yet Acura still persists with the milquetoast RLX as its top offering (barring the limited production halo-car NSX). While there's nothing wrong with the RLX per se, it has always lacked that something special; that je n'ais se quoi which makes a flagship not merely an expensive car, but an object of desire.

In an attempt to inject some persona into its big sedan, Acura has bequeathed to the RLX some notable updates, including ditching the controversial beaked front end and using a new ten-speed automatic for the non-hybrid model. Is it enough to transcend the stigma of being a nice, expensive Honda?

Best Value

For the most part, the RLX eschews trim levels and option packages, and instead is a what-you-see-is-what-you-get deal. While the Sport Hybrid does come with a few additional creature comforts as well as the notable NSX-derived mechanical tech, the standard model is stuffed with nearly every gizmo and gadget expected in a car of this caliber. Even the brand's AcuraWatch suite of active-safety features is standard on the "base" model – unusual indeed, but wholly welcomed. Because of how well-equipped a non-hybrid RLX is, we wouldn't bother paying the $7,000 surcharge required for Sport Hybrid privileges. Here's our RLX on delivery day:

  • Model: Acura RLX P-AWS
  • Engine: 3.5-liter V6
  • Output: 310 horsepower / 272 lb-ft of torque
  • Transmission: Ten-speed automatic
  • Drivetrain: Front-wheel-drive
  • MPG: 20 City / 29 Hwy
  • Options: N/A
  • Base Price: $55,865 (including $965 destination charge)
  • Best Value Price:$55,685

Performance

Acura RLX

Some luxury sedans tout how adept they are in spirited driving - the regular RLX does not. Rather than a corner-carver or track star, it is a pleasantly competent and smooth-riding machine. The soft and supple underpinnings smooth out any bumps in the road, yet the ride isn't floaty like a 1980s land yacht. Impressively, it pulls this off without resorting to pricey air suspension, something many competitors offer as an extra charge.

Some buyers may find the base RLX's cornering and acceleration lacking – both traits are unhurried and casual. While more power and handling prowess would be welcomed, the RLX is adequate considering its unsporting pretensions.

As for the Sport Hybrid, the three electric motors – one up front and two out back, the rearward duo turning the RLX into an all-wheel-driver – manage to speed things up but don't change the car's intrinsic character. It's more responsive than the regular version, owing to the 377 horsepower and 341 lb-ft of torque put out by the hybrid setup. Because of the grip afforded by all-wheel-drive and the system's ability to send power to the wheels with the most traction, driving in inclement conditions is not as difficult an endeavor as it might otherwise be in cars with lesser technology. Despite its all-wheel-drive and torque-vectoring talents, the Sport Hybrid is still not one for enthusiastic driving.

Style

Oh boy. Where to begin? The biggest foible of the RLX is the sheetmetal. It's vanilla ice cream or store-brand shredded-wheat cereal. It's plain, pure and simple. And in the RLX's segment, the only thing worse than a bad design is no design at all.

One redeeming point is that for this year the front-end has lost the much-maligned beak which has been around for about a decade or so. In its stead is a black diamond-pattern grille, which brings it in line with the de-beaked MDX and TLX. There are also new LED taillights and more character lines stamped into the hood, all of which try to bring a bit of flair to the otherwise staid RLX.

Unfortunately, it hasn't really done the trick. The RLX still has all the character of a roll of paper towel. There's no elegance, or sportiness, or allusion to heritage, or anything else that might bestow it with distinct design. It is just too inoffensive, and for a $55,000 car, that's a problem.

Inside, the same trend of generically nice continues. If you're willing to look past that, there is a fairly impressive list of standard features. These includes navigation, heated and 12-way power front seats, tri-zone climate control, and voice recognition for the infotainment and climate controls. Sport Hybrid models add to that a heated steering wheel and rear seats, head-up display, and a surround-view camera. Notably, all models include the AcuraWatch suite of active-safety features. It bundles adaptive cruise control, emergency braking, lane-keep assist, road-departure mitigation, and traffic-jam assist.

The front seats are quite comfortable, and there's plenty of room for legs and elbows. However, the back seat headroom was disappointing; the scalps of taller rear-seat passengers will be rubbing the headliner. Also underwhelming is the dual-screen infotainment setup, which isn't intuitive or as easy to use as typical single-screen systems. A final nitpick of ours is that there's no Apple CarPlay or Android Auto - a surprising omission for a 2018 luxury car.

The Best and Worst Things

With a smooth and supple ride, the RLX floats serenely along. That it can deliver this nice a ride without resorting to expensive active dampers or air suspension is a pleasant surprise.

The salesman's tie has a more impressive design than the RLX. Considering its position as Acura's flagship sedan, this is unsuitable and lamentable.

Right For? Wrong For?

Acura RLX

For those who want conservative and quiet luxury, and prioritize features over flash, the RLX would do the trick. It is well-equipped and has a luxury-car ride, and should please buyers whose demands don't go further than that.

Those who appreciate performance or aesthetics won't find much of either in the RLX. If those traits are on the shortlist, look elsewhere.

The Bottom Line

With tepid performance and no distinctive style, the RLX comes off as an uninspiring and anemic caricature of a luxury automobile. It has the price tag of a flagship and it has the features of one – but it doesn't have the emotion so crucial to what inspires people to plunk down money on a top-tier vehicle. Being wholly average might sell a Camry or Accord, but it won't move a $60,000 sedan. Until Acura puts in serious effort with the RLX rather than dismissively phoning it in, it will continue to collect dust on dealer lots, forever mediocre.