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Acura’s flagship sedan restores faith in brand

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Acura’s flagship sedan restores faith in brand

The re-engineered Acura RLX is a large midsize sedan with contemporary luxury. Starting prices range from $49,345 to $61,000.

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POSTED June 5, 2013 6:26 p.m.

Acura has redoubled its ante to the entry-luxury sedan segment with a blue-chip redesign to its flagship RLX.

The new nameplate is an update from the old RL and in line with the company’s X nomenclature, including the ILX compact sedan and RDX and MDX crossovers.

RLX may not be not an image-defining nameplate, but this car now makes a defining statement of guts, back seat room and obsessive detail.

Sold in five trim levels, starting prices range from $49,345 to $61,000, including the $895 freight charge from Japan. All models are front-wheel drive with a 310-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6, six-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel steering. The AWD Sport Hybrid goes on sale later this year, using electric motors to drive the rear wheels. There is no mechanical driveline connection front to rear.

If luxury buyers have been ambivalent about this brand, there is new direction from the work that went into RLX. After a week testing the uplevel RLX Advance ($61,345), my exit interview is “ReLaX.”

As the luxury division of Honda, Acura has closed the door on comparisons to its mainstream partner -- at least with the RLX, which is separate from the Accord.

By dimensions, RLX is a midsize car, it just feels full size. The redesign is about the same length but a couple inches wider on a longer wheelbase. The width is welcome throughout the cabin but felt in the wide, 40.5-foot turning circle.

At 3,997 pounds, fuel economy on premium is 20 mpg city, 31 highway and 24 combined. According to the onboard computer, my heavy-footed driving was returning an average of 24.3 mpg combined.

Acceleration in standard mode is completely mundane. But punch the Sport button on the console and the RLX sloughs off pounds and tucks into position. Steering is linear in how the wheel unwinds smoothly through the fingertips. Brake force is reassuring from 12.3-inch front ventilated rotors and 12.2-inch solid rear discs. Both sets of binders have single-piston calipers.

Telescopic, gas-filled Amplitude Reactive Dampers (shock absorbers) and stabilizer bars front and rear deliver sport-class handling when needed, relaxing to supple control for the daily commute. The whole body construction filters harshness and noise. Even at highway speeds there is little wind noise. In cornering, the all-wheel steering actually gives that seat-of-the-pants push of rear-wheel-drive.

All models get 18- or 19-inch noise-reducing alloy wheels and all-season tires. The standard tire is a Michelin Pilot MXM4 P245/45 or a Michelin Primacy MXM4 245/40 on upevel models.

The interior design is harmonious in textures, touch and hues. The styling is contemporary, not aggressive, but tailored to compliment formal dress or denim getaways.

There is rich attention to detail in the intriguing wood grain, the velvety microfiber treatments, precise panel alignment and the rich, perforated leather with a mouth-watering aroma. The carpeted floor mats seem too neat for shoes.

The driver area is, at last, uncluttered. A touchscreen and simple controller access various cabin functions, all without an angry reaction from the driver. Navigation is simple to operate and connecting my iPhone took nanoseconds, quickly pulling up my Pandora channel. The 14-speaker Krell audio system seemed most dynamic at sound levels louder than I prefer.

Sightlines are open over the hood and over the shoulder. There is no glare from sunshine beaming on the rear camera screen or reflections in the windshield. The driver’s door panel is a blueprint of how to group window tabs, door locks, mirror controls and switches for trunk and gas door -- all in a space the size of a big hand print. So smart but so bungled by many others.

The available technologies are loaded onto the Advance model and all are stealth in function. An audible tone from the Lane Departure Assist works with Lane Keeping Assist to nudge the wheel back on course if the driver wanders. And that aid works with Forward Collision Warning as another set of eyes for the driver. The adaptive cruise control will maintain speed or slow to a stop if needed. But the adaptive element also can be switched off for simple cruise control. Not all systems offer that separation.

Step into the back seat and stretch out with nearly 39 inches of legroom. The door panels are concave for added elbow room in an already broad space. Still, it’s a more comfortable four-seater, with a narrow center position with feet spread by a broad transmission tunnel.

The 15-cubic-foot trunk has wide accessible space and some basement storage. But the somewhat shallow depth of the aperture will be limiting to a giant piece of luggage.

The exterior styling is neat, clean, accommodating to entry and exit -- but almost disappearing. The RLX has such a dynamic presence that I wanted this entire recipe morphed into a sex-jet body style. It deserves that kind of recognition.

Acura has been idling in the entry-luxury segment for years now, but the RLX shows that the brand is ready to change perceptions.

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