Acura RDX — A big leap forward

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

While the outgoing RDX was a rather unexciting entry into the luxury crossover segment, it was long on practicality. But in a crowded luxury compact crossover segment that includes the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Lexus NX, Acura has sought to put more emotion and performance in its new edition.

The fully redesigned 2019 RDX is being heralded as a new beginning for Honda’s luxury division — the first to be designed and constructed in the United States without sharing a platform with the CR-V. It’s lighter and stiffer with what Acura claims is class-leading cabin and cargo space. It is larger than the outgoing RDX in every area — the wheelbase has grown to 108.3 inches from 105.7, the overall length has been stretched to 186.8 inches from 184.4 and height is up slightly to 65.7 inches from 65.

The all-new third generation Acura RDX crossover has a more athletic look than its predecessors — more aggressive ready-for-action persona, especially in A-Spec trim featuring larger 20-inch alloy wheels and black accents.

Perhaps the biggest change is the engine. Automakers are flocking to turbocharged 4-cylinder engines, and Acura joins the multitudes with the RDX. Gone is the workhorse 3.5-liter V-6 that made 279 horsepower, replaced by an inline 2.0-liter making 272 horsepower. Although horsepower is down slightly, the turbocharged engine makes 280 pound-feet of torque, 28 more than the V-6. The engine is mated to Honda's 10-speed automatic.
Although the RDX won't win any races against its German counterparts, the 4-cylinder/10-speed mashup proved to give our all-wheel drive test car ample merging plus passing performance measured in the mid 6-seconds. The RDX reaches maximum torque at just 1,600 rpm assuring quickness off the line and effortless around-town performance.

With Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD in Honda parlance) the compact SUV handles as well as most crossovers we've encountered. SH-AWD can move up to 70 percent of the engine's torque rearward, and from there a torque-vectoring differential can send 100 percent of the torque to either side creating stability in difficult twists and turns.

The interior has been completely redesigned. While the overall look and layout of the interior, instrument panel and center console felt somewhat premium, it did not look or feel as luxurious as competitors such as the Q5, X3, GLC or others.

A single 10.2-inch display replaces the previous RDX’s dual infotainment screens, and Acura has come up with a new way to control the revamped system. Just below the push-button shifter is what Acura calls the True Touchpad Interface. It includes two small touch pads on the center console for operating and negotiating the infotainment, navigation and phone functions. Nothing about the system is intuitive and there’s definitely a steep learning curve to adequately get the knack of the numerous swipes, pushes, double-clicking, taps and joystick that make the system operable. It was by far our biggest disappointment with the RDX.

The movements on the display screen are lightning fast as you slide/swipe your finger across the touchpad, rendering it nearly impossible to land on the intended area. We never acquired or mastered the desired pressure touch for the interface pad being either to light, to heavy, holding a finger down too long or lifting it when we should not have. The inclusion of a volume knob and tuning buttons is the system’s only saving grace.

The head-scratching touchpad aside, spending a week with the new RDX, we came away convinced it is not only a significant improvement over the previous generation, but also a solid contender in the premium/luxury compact crossover utility vehicle segment.

The RDX comes in just one trim level with four option packages — base, Technology, A-Spec and Advance starting at $38,295. Acura keeps it simple by limiting stand-alone options to all-wheel drive and a few dealer accessory items. The base is well equipped with 19-inch wheels, LED headlights, a panoramic sunroof, dual-zone climate control, power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, heated front seats, Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, and a nine-speaker sound system with satellite radio.

Technology adds navigation, leather upholstery, blindspot monitoring, two additional USB ports and an upgraded 12-speaker sound system. The A-Spec brings 20-inch wheels and wider tires, blacked-out trim inside, and a 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D surround-sound system. Move to the top trim Advance and get more noise reduction features such as acoustic front door glass and thicker carpet. Also, a neat customizable head-up display is part of the package.

Our Advance package test car with all-wheel drive carried a bottom line of $48,395.

Base price: $38,295; as driven, $48,395
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder
Horsepower: 272 @ 6,500 rpm
Torque: 280 foot-pounds @ 1,600 rpm
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Length: 186.8 inches
Curb weight: 4,068 pounds
Turning circle: 38.9 feet
Luggage capacity: 31.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 79.8 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Fuel capacity: 17.1 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 21 city, 27 highway, 23 combined
0-60: 6.5 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC

The Good
• Well-outfitted cabin
• Excellent handling and steering
• Roomy interior

The Bad
• Options bundled into packages

The Ugly
• New touchpad creates driver distraction