- The Acura RDX is a critically important compact crossover for Honda’s luxury brand in the US.
- We borrowed a $US47,800 Advance trim-level RDX and put it through its paces.
- We came away just as impressed as we often are with Acura vehicles, whose price-to-quality ratio is hard to beat in the luxury space for most owners.
Luxury crossovers are a white-hot segment in the new-vehicle world. Screw up in this realm and you’ll pay.
Acura can’t afford to screw up because although Honda’s premium marque has its loyalists – they’re on par with BMW owners – the US-market crossover segment is a battlefield and new combatants are arriving all the time.
Lucky for Acura it has a solid compact SUV that, in its latest iteration, has gotten more solid.
The first-generation RDX landed in 2007, and the made-in-Ohio crossover came with a four-cylinder turbocharged engine, which was an oddity at the time for luxury vehicles. The second-gen hit in 2012, and the four-banger was replaced with a V6.
The all-important compact luxury crossover category demands that Acura keep pace, especially in the US, so for the 2019 model year we have an all-new RDX, tasked with maintaining the 50,000 in annual sales that the previous-gen enjoyed. Besides the engine change, the other major difference is that the RDX is now built on an Acura-only platform (the second-gen was based on the popular Honda CR-V).
For many, many Americans, the RDX is their version of a premium wagon and it’s dedicated to upscale family duty. But it also promises zesty performance and plenty of technology, given the typical needs and wants of an Acura enthusiast. This new-gen RDX is also taking some design cues from Acura halo supercar, the NSX, which took home Business Insider’s Car of the Year trophy in 2016.
The 2019 Acura RDX starts at about $US37,000 for the front-wheel-drive version, but our tester was a $US47,800 all-wheel-drive Advance trim level, fully loaded.
Here’s how it went.
The 2019 Acura RDX looks undeniably sharp in a “Performance Red” paint job. To my eye, the latest generation of this compact crossover is pushing toward midsize dimension.
The minimalist design of the second-gen RDX is going away, replaced by a more sleek and dynamic exterior. I rather like the fractured belt-line and the painterly slashes of chrome, but they aren’t going to be for everybody.
The RDX has good presence for an entry level luxury crossover. The space is very, very crowded these days as SUVs have supplanted sedans as the world’s go-to premium choice.
The controversial chrome beak is gone, and the Acura badge has gotten quite large.
The “A” — styled as a precision-instrument caliper — sits at the center of what Acura calls a “diamond pentagon” grill. It looks cool.
So do the jewel-eye LED headlights …
… Which bear more than a passing resemblance to those on the NSX supercar.
SUV rear ends are usually a weak point, aesthetically, and the RDX’s is no exception. There’s a lot going on back there, what with all the swoops and indents and those crab-pincer tail lights. Bonus: Dual exhaust!
Our RDX was of the “Super Handling” all-wheel-drive variety, with torque vectoring that sends traction to the wheel that needs it most. This helps the RDX with stable handling and in bad weather and on poor roads.
There’s no third row of seats, and thanks to the RDX’s larger overall dimensions relative to the previous gen, the cargo pace is now a considerable 30 cubic feet. There’s also a power liftgate.
Time to pop the hood and check out that turbocharged four-cylinder powerplant.
Well, yeah, like most four-bangers, it doesn’t look like much. But rest assured that the 272-horsepower motor is demonstrably torque-happy with 280 pound-feet of pull on tap. It is also not torque-steer-y in any way.
The RDX can serve up a 0-60 mph dash in about six seconds. Fuel economy is about what you’d expect: 21 mpg city/27 highway/23 combined. I drove around for a week on single tank.
Let’s jump inside real quick to talk about the 10-speed automatic transmission, which has four driving modes (Comfort, Snow, Sport + and a default Sport), along with paddle shifters behind the steering wheel.
Again, the configuration of controls will be eerily familiar to NSX owners and fans. The PRND buttons aren’t what I’d call ideal, but they do the job. The big drive-mode knob, so cool on a supercar, is possibly overkill on a luxury crossover.
OK, let’s hop inside for longer! The leather interior is “Parchment.”
I always find the Acura’s driver’s view to be soothing. That’s weird, because you’re presented with all kinds of buttons, thumbwheels, and a switch on the RDX’s steering wheel. And although the analogue instrument gauges are old-school, the somewhat complicated center display isn’t.”
The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels just right, and although purist won’t like the electric power steering, I found it to be exceptionally precise. Acura’s have always been, in my experience, easy to drive easy and easy to drive hard.
The RDX is no exception. It can’t feel as aggressive and BMW X3, but it doesn’t want to. And for average, everyday around-town motoring, the feel is impeccable.
To be honest, I gave up on the center display. It has a lot going in and can provide all sort of info and data, however. Anybody who wants to get in there and geek-out will get no argument from me.
Honda/Acura is famed for its interior ergonomics and design, but the brands have been tempted away from simplicity over the past decade. Thankfully, reason has returned. The RDX controls are simple and straightforward. Heated and cooled seats, as well as a heated steered wheel, are great features on the RDX Advance trim.
Personally, I also liked that the engine auto stop/start feature – intended to save fuel and cut down on emissions – can easily be deactivated by pressing a nice, big, easy-to-spot button.
That is some nice wood trim!
The ELS Studio 3D audio system is all Acura — specially designed for the brand and outfitted with 16 speakers in the RDX, including …
… Speakers in the roof! It sounds spectacular, among the best premium audio systems I’ve experienced in a vehicle in 2018.
Reminder: the 2019 RDX is bigger than its ancestors. The subtle size increase make the rear seats notably more comfy for passengers. On a side note, getting in and out of the RDX is a breeze — not something one can say about every luxe SUV.
The panoramic moon roof is vast.
Let’s talk about Acura’s new infotainment system. It’s called “True Touchpad” and it uses a high-res center screen that juts from the dashboard and displays a host of apps, along the map, which is nearly always on view.
The smaller right side info can be flipped with the larger left side.
Here’s where the magic happens. This touchpad can be used like a trackpad on a laptop, and there are several hard inputs. But you can also simply drop a fingertip to an area of the pad that corresponds to the screen.
It’s an improvement over previous versions of Acura infotainment. For example, here’s two-screen setup in a TLX A-Spec.
The changes are all about the user interface, which take a bit of getting used to. I got the hang of it in about 15 minutes and liked the system, in particular the comfortable padded wrist rest.
Business Insider’s Ben Zhang was less impressed. But he agreed that it’s an improvement over what Acura had been installing.
I found the voice-recognition feature to be satisfyingly accurate, and Bluetooth pairing, navigation, and USB/AUX inputs for devices were all successful. There are better infotainment options out there, but given Acura’s history, this new True Touchpad approach has promise. Best of all, once you learn it, you can keep your eyes on the road.
Apple CarPlay is available, but not Android Auto yet.
So what’s the verdict?
I’d buy one. Seriously, I enjoyed the RDX immensely in the week that I drove it around the Jersey ‘burbs and the mean streets of New York City. But I tend to respond quote favourably to Acuras. For whatever reason, I think they combine a high level of luxury and value with legendary reliability and fun motoring that isn’t too demanding.
If you just love to drive, something from BMW, Mercedes, or Audi might be more your bag. If you want absolutely bulletproof luxury, then look to Lexus (and be a bit less stimulated by exceptional engineering). If beauty is a must, turn to the Jaguar F-Pace.
But if you desire an excellent premium crossover SUV that will carry a family of four around in style, you’ll be hard-pressed to do better than the new RDX.
With my colleague Ben, I agree that the new infotainment system is a work in progress. But it’s a big improvement over the previous generation and a step in the right direction.
Acura has a way of being all things to all people, without causing that benefit to render its cars bland. Anybody who prefers to go Sport-Plus mode on the Dynamic selector will find that their luxury SUV can delivery more than a splash of snarl and attitude. (And maybe too much, as both Ben and I detected some harshness in the transmission’s friskier shifts.)
The steering isn’t mushy, and neither are the brakes. The torque-vectoring through the AWD drive system made the RDX feel genuinely sure-footed and composed when cornering, and the engine isn’t cranking so much power that you feel you have to lay off in the curves, to avoid losing control.
Of course, where Acura truly shines is in the quality-to-price ratio. It’s hard to obtain a better compact luxury SUV for this kind of scratch. Comparable German brands go for thousands more, similarly equipped. You’re buying Acura’s commitment to fine engineering and reliability, with just enough zip thrown in to remind you that you aren’t driving a Lexus.
Bottom line: the 2019 Acura RDX is a purchase I can recommend you consider – without hesitation.
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