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Motoring: Comparing the Acura RLX and MDX

Nauman Farooq | Interrobang | Sports | October 21st, 2013

Not many people know this, but Honda was the first among the Japanese brands to come up with a luxury division, named Acura.

The brand got off to a great start with their initial models, the Integra and the Legend, being very well received by the buying public.

Sadly, the brand has struggled in the last decade. While some models have done well, like the MDX, some have done quite poorly in sales, like the last generation RL.

For 2014, Acura has come up with new versions of those vehicles. The question is, will the RLX become much more successful than the RL it replaces, and will the MDX continue to sell in huge numbers?

This week, I'm going to take a look at both these vehicles and tell you what the future might hold for these models.

Let's start with the RLX, the flagship model for the brand, until the new NSX arrives. The 2014 RLX is bigger and roomier than the RL it replaces, it offers a sixspeed automatic (the old RL had a five-speed auto) and while having more power, the new model is much more fuel efficient than the one it replaces — I averaged 9.6- litres/100km.

However, while it has gained in some areas, it has lost in others. For instance, the SH-AWD (Super Handling All Wheel Drive) system is not currently offered on this model, so the RLX is just a frontwheel drive car.

To compensate for the lack of all-wheel drive, Acura has given the RLX a system it calls PAWS (Precision All Wheel Steer). PAWS allows the rear wheels to turn a fraction, which lets this vehicle turn very sharply. This system takes a little getting used to. On off-ramps, when the system would kick in, it would feel a little nervous, and at first it caught me off guard. While I can appreciate the engineering behind it, I don't quite think it is necessary for a car like the RLX. I'd rather have a clever all-wheel drive system than active rear steer any day.

While I preferred the handling of the old RL over the new RLX, I do like the extra ponies on offer here. The 3.5-litre V6 motor produces 310 hp, which is plenty for moving this big car along. Along with its new six-speed automatic, the engine can spread its power more evenly across the range. While this is no road rocket, it is sufficiently fast enough for most of us. It certainly is much more efficient. Thanks to its extra gear and cylinder deactivation, the RLX can shut off half its cylinders and just cruise on the highway, where it can accomplish an incredible 6.4 litres/100km.

You get lots of room, front and back, and you get plenty of toys, which includes the new Krell sound system, which makes the car feel like a concert hall. I like that a lot.

I also like the technology offered in here, like its lane departure and lane assist feature, along with blind spot monitoring, forward collision warning, and an active cruise control system that works all the way down to a full stop. All these features take some of your stress away. However, I somehow was never quite comfortable in its driver's seat. I felt the seatback just didn't arch to the curvature of my back and I was never comfortable in it. I asked a few other journalists who had driven one, and they didn't recall having this issue, but no matter how I set my seat, I could never get it quite right. Go for a long enough test drive and test the seat out for yourself.

All in all, the new RLX is a fine automobile. It might not be to everyone's taste, and personally I don't think it'll do much better than the old RL, but if want the most prestigious Honda product, the RLX will do you just fine. Prices start at $49,990.

Personally, I'd rather spend my hard-earned on the new MDX.

The MDX has been a hit since it was first launched back in 2001. When the second generation model came out in 2006, it became even more popular, and Acura kept improving it with more and more technology. In 2010, it got a six-speed automatic, which made it more frugal, and now for 2014, there is a new model.

Well, it isn't quite all new. It is more of a facelift than an all-new model. Given how popular the MDX has been, Acura didn't want to mess with their winner.

So, while the shell and most of the interior is quite similar, there are a few changes. At first, it just seems to have a new bumper and headlights, but in detail, there are a few more things.

You now get keyless entry and go, plus you get lane departure and lane keeping assist, along with blind spot monitoring and forward collision warning, and an adaptive cruise control system that works all the way down to zero km/h. A special feature the MDX offers is the surround view camera system, which turns parking into a video game (I love that).

It is packed with features, and as always, there is plenty of room for seven passengers in here (although the back-row passengers need to be short). While I had an issue with the seat in the RLX, I did not have such an issue with the MDX. This is a comfortable place to be in.

It's not exactly fast. You get a 3.5-litre V6 motor that produces 290 hp. That is not a lot when pulling nearly two tons, but it will do the job just fine for most. What I really like is that Acura retained the SH-AWD system in the MDX and it really does help make this huge SUV handle like a much smaller vehicle. All-wheel drive should make this quite capable in the wet and in the snow also. However, due to its weight and all-wheel drive, I only managed 11.1 litres/100km in the MDX, which is still quite good for a vehicle of its size.

The MDX continues to improve and I do firmly believe that its sales numbers will stay on the up and up. With prices starting at $49,990, this is quite a vehicle for the money.
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