2018 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid First Drive: Gradual Improvement

– Los Angeles, California

Acura freely admits there were two solid reasons why the RLX Sport Hybrid luxury sedan hasn’t sold very well (it currently accounts for just 13 percent of RLX sales). The first is that the all-wheel-drive hybrid version was quite a bit more expensive than the entry RLX. And the second is that, well, it just didn’t look that great: “The styling and emotion just wasn’t there,” says Acura sedan product planner Jonathon Rivers. So the 2018 Acura RLX has a redesign on the outside, a simplified package structure, and a $4,050 price cut for the Sport Hybrid model. Will that be enough to boost the its popularity?

On looks alone, perhaps. The restyling was thorough, with everything ahead of the A-pillars redesigned, plus new wheels, a new rear fascia, and new side skirts. There’s a whole lot more to draw your eye to the 2018 Acura RLX, from a sharper implementation of the pentagonal grille to the dramatic full-LED taillights out back. Slathered in chrome as it is, the RLX Sport Hybrid still doesn’t exactly scream youthful, but it’s a whole lot less off-putting than the outgoing car, which had that big “beak” grille dominating up front.

The hybrid powertrain underhood is familiar from the MDX Sport Hybrid. Acura even hopes you’ll note the similarities to the hybrid setup in the NSX supercar; though there are a few shared parts, the two cars are very different. Regardless, the RLX mates a 310-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 engine with a 47-hp electric motor/generator...