2013 Acura RLX Concept, Acura RLX Sales
2013 Acura RLX Concept

At this week’s New York Auto Show, Acura will unveil a new flagship sedan, the RLX, which, the company claims, will offer Acura drivers “an entirely new level of performance, sophistication and comfort.” But the question is, Is there room for another large luxury sedan?

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If asked to name a modern large luxury car, most folks familiar with what’s available in showrooms are going tell you the BMW 7-Series or Mercedes-Benz S-Class. If pushed, the Audi A8 or Lexus LS might—just might—be mentioned.

Sure, there are more cars playing in this category, but the truth is, there are not a lot of buyers playing here anymore. Moreover, it’s not nearly as clear that these big saloons, as the Brits like to call them, are still seen as prestige standard bearers for their respective marques.

I sometimes pine for the simplicity of BMW’s 3-Series, 5-Series, and 7-Series lineup as well as the predictability of Mercedes’ C-Class, E-Class, S-Class roster. But life, and selling cars, is more complicated now.

So, since the market has moved, sales have dwindled, and segment presence is now seemingly less important, why are makers so interested in peddling large luxury sedans? Perhaps a better question is, why does Acura want to play here?

Good question. I’ve always assumed that Acura, and other luxury makers, feel they need to have a recognizable flagship. But how much brand polishing is a car that doesn’t sell well really doing?

Last year, Acura’s biggest car, the RL, tallied just 1,100 sales. It had done better in the past, but never significantly better. Other makers have had more success in recent years, but not much. The Lexus brand was launched on the back of its LS large sedan, then the LS400, but in 2011 the LS found only 9,600 buyers, accounting for just 5 percent of all Lexus sales.

Jaguar, too, was once defined by its big (and often only) sedan, the XJ. But, despite a recent redesign, XJ sales barely broke the 5,000 barrier last year.

Even mighty Hyundai seems to have found a niche it can’t succeed in. Sales of the opulent Equus were limited to just over 3,000 units for 2011, or comfortably less than 1 percent of Hyundai’s total U.S. volume.

And what of Infiniti? Infiniti doesn’t even play in this category anymore, and who can blame them? How many luxury shoppers even remember the second or third generation of the brand’s Q45 sedan?

Including some fringe cars such as the now discontinued Cadillac DTS and Lincoln’s MKS, large luxury sedans as a group accounted for just over 72,000 sales in 2011. For comparison, Hyundai sold 74,000 Santa Fe crossovers during the same time period.

So, where did the large luxury sedan buyers go? The answer is: everywhere. At Mercedes, shoppers with a $100,000 budget can go with the traditional S-Class, but they may be seduced by the curvy CLS 4-door “coupe” or the extra-roomy GL large crossover.

At BMW, the striking X6 crossover and 5-Series GT offer similar levels of prestige with a less stoic attitude and more utility.

To that end, Jaguar will soon be sharing news about an upcoming crossover that will be added to the stable sometime in the not-to-distant future.

So what of the Acura RLX? Like the RL before it, it’s likely to be an excellent car and the answer to a question no one is asking anymore.

I don’t see how the RLX will do much for the brand’s image, especially since cushy, big-car luxury feels antithetical to Acura’s somewhat sporty identity. Now, the resurrection of the legendary RSX sports car—that is some brand-building, buzz-generating news.

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