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June 4, 2013

New Acura RLX can steer, brake, accelerate on its own

A few months ago I wrote about how research is being done that will allow cars to drive themselves someday soon.

Little did I know how quickly autonomous cars would hit the market, though.

Recently, I drove the 2014 RLX, Acura's new flagship sedan that can, in the right situations, completely drive itself — braking, accelerating and even steering without human input.

Granted, it's limited in scope and thus not the driverless car of science fiction lore, but it's the closest thing I've experienced to date. And it's already reality, available at any Acura dealer to customers who can afford the $12,000 premium that the Advance Package adds to the base $48,450 RLX.

First, some background.

The RLX is the replacement for Acura's nearly irrelevant RL luxury sedan, which sold just a few hundred copies last year. While it was a good value by luxury-brand standards, the RL was seen as too small and too bland to get noticed by the end of its lifespan.

The new RLX is designed to fix all that. It starts with a much bigger footprint, making it significantly longer and wider than the RL was, along with more contemporary styling. What Acura calls a "Jewel Eye" headlight design makes it particularly distinctive on the front end.

While the look and size are big improvements, the overall driving feel still doesn't stand out in this class. Its V6 engine makes 310 horsepower — powerful, but not over-the-top powerful — and its suspension has a nice mix of sportiness and comfort. 

As a whole, it's got a middle-of-the-road driving feel, having neither the sumptuous smoothness of a Lexus nor the thrill of a BMW. It seems to be a safe, predictable choice for the Acura brand.

Where it really excels is in technology, though. You'd have to visit an Acura dealer to get the full rundown, but features like rear-wheel steering, in-car e-mail and a computerized dash layout with acres of high-resolution LCD displays make the car look like something out of a sci-fi movie set.

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