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RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD: Acura flagship hybrid is fast, efficient and surefooted

This review first appeared in The Spokesman-Review.

2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.

2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid.

You know that feeling you get, that cars are changing faster than you can keep up?

Get used to it; it will only get worse.

Just when you were getting your mind wrapped around conventional gas-electric hybrids, Acura’s RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD upsets the apple cart with a system that marries a six-cylinder gas engine with three electric motors.

It’s a four-ring circus of detonations and flying electrons.

The Sport Hybrid tops Acura’s RLX large-sedan lineup. The RLX is roomy, reliable and beautifully built. Its cabin blends fluid forms with crisp color displays and top-shelf materials. Rear-seat passengers get class-leading legroom. The cabin is extraordinarily quiet, thanks largely to such noise-reduction measures as the installation of noise-cancelling resonators in the wheels.

However, the RLX’s front-drive architecture is a liability in the luxury classes, where rear- and all-wheel-drive platforms prevail. And, though its 310-horsepower V-6 compares favorably to the competition’s base engines, the class also requires a more powerful, up-level option.

The SH SH-AWD ($60,870, including transportation) resolves both issues. The hybrid system boosts power to 377-hp, sufficient to propel the 4,300-pound four-door from zero-to-60 in just over 5 seconds. Combined EPA ratings are a remarkable 30 mpg (28 city/32 highway).

The torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system — it’s interwoven with the hybrid system — is ridiculously precise and sure, as it proactively labors to defeat skids.

It works like this:

A 310-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6 is mated to a seven-speed automated manual transmission and powers the front wheels.

Separately, a front-mounted electric motor is charged with making electricity and starting the engine. If the driver orders up full throttle, it can also throw extra torque into the mix.

In the rear, a pair of electric motors manage power delivery to the rear wheels. In a turn, the motor paired with the outside wheel sends it extra torque, causing it to turn faster. Meanwhile, its counterpart applies braking power to the inside wheel.

This torque-vectoring action pivots the car quickly through a corner and reduces the likelihood of a spin.

Aside from occasional mild roughness arising from multiple low-speed power transfers, the system’s operation is transparent.

This version of SH-AWD is entirely electric, with no mechanical connectivity to the rest of the power train, and is extremely quick and efficient. I expect the Sport Hybrid to be at least as stable in the snow as Acura’s MDX crossover, where SH-AWD debuted.

SH-AWD adds 357 pounds to the RLX, of which 198 are located at the rear axle, improving front/rear weight balance. The RLX is nose-heavy in fast corners but the SH SH-AWD is balanced and neutral. Steering is accurate and has good on-center feel, but it’s weighted too lightly and feels numb.

Acura answered earlier complaints of a too-stiff ride by softening the RLX’s suspension settings. Broken surfaces taken at speed can induce hints of residual bounciness but the overall experience is overwhelmingly serene.

Its complexity suggests the Sport Hybrid SH-AWD is a car of the future. It is, however, most assuredly, a car of the present. Good luck keeping up.

2016 Acura RLX Sport Hybrid SH-AWD
Vehicle base price: $50,590
Trim level base price: $65,950
As tested: $66,870
Options included navigation; AccuraLink Communications System; perforated-leather seats; rain-sensing wipers; blind-sport warning; adaptive cruise control; lane-keeping assist; Krell premium audio; Surround-view rearview camera; heated steering wheel; heated rear seats; more.
EPA ratings: 30 combined/28 city/32 highway
Premium fuel required

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