2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid first drive review

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The 2014 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid offers all-weather traction and V-8-like performance, with the fuel-efficiency of a four-cylinder.

That's one way to sum up this tech-loaded luxury flagship, which will begin reaching Acura dealerships next spring. But after spending a few hours driving it, we can attest that's not this model's raison d'être.

What is that? To put it as simply as possible, the Sport Hybrid has fantastic handling. And it's the technology behind why it handles so phenomenally well that separates it from any other luxury hybrid—and any other sport sedan, really.

Like an overly modest Olympic athlete, the RLX Sport Hybrid doesn't freely flaunt its talents. Ease your speed up in a series of tight switchbacks, as we did, and you simply work up to a disconcerting shriek of the tires, as the front wheels plow and this big sedan understeers slightly.

It would be quite the shame if we had simply left our introduction to the RLX Sport Hybrid right there, and written this off as a quick but hardly athletic luxury sedan. But we'd gotten a taste of what this special hybrid all-wheel-drive system could do out on the track in Japan last year, so we pushed on for that.

Instead, drive it like you stole it, as they say, and what you think was a ragged edge wasn’t that at all; using what feels like physics-defying magic at the rear wheels, the RLX reads that as a sign to send power selectively to each of the rear wheels—the outside rear wheel especially—nudging your trajectory back right where it should be.

It's rather unsettling at first, because you feel that nudge from the driver's seat, but not through the steering wheel. But the novelty doesn't wear off. We can see the RLX's attributes being just as useful on a weather-slicked highway, making an emergency maneuver, as we can on the mostly empty backroads where we test-drove the RLX.

Nudges you back on course, doesn't scrub off speed

No, the system won't make the RLX feel like a rear-wheel-drive sport sedan, but that's not the intent; instead, it nearly instantly banishes all the understeer, and makes it neutral. You don't slow down; tires aren't howling; stability control isn't buzzing; it merely works its magic and you barrel through, dynamically confident and still at full boil.

At those moments it feels like the system is doing more than keeping you stay on track; it's actually nudging you faster. And it's fast. We'd venture to say that, by power to weight (even though the Hybrid is about 350 pounds heavier than the standard RLX, at just over 4,000 lb.), it's one of the fastest sedans through the curves, at any price.

Acura's so-called Super Handling All Wheel Drive system was already one of the best on the market—because it can essentially steer with its rear wheels, sending more power to the outer rear wheel in a corner. Now it's effectively taken that system a step further with strong electric motors at the rear wheels; between the rear wheels, one can deliver forward torque while the other can counter it by smartly engaging regenerative braking at the same time.

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