It’s taken some getting used to, but the 2019 Acura RDX’s Precision Concept design language has grown on me. All-new for the third-generation, this Ohio-built compact SUV is wider and longer, and rides atop a longer wheelbase. All of this makes the RDX look lower and more planted, despite its overall height being unchanged. The model’s front end balances large, seven-element “Jewel LED” headlamps with what must be the largest Acura badge in the brand’s history. It’s huge, but it works somehow.
The larger body and all-new platform open up a more spacious cabin, which Acura has trimmed with improved materials and a design that’s as attractive as the new exterior. I’m also pleased to see a new True Touchpad infotainment system interface replacing the brand’s very dated old tech.
Perhaps most importantly, I was most impressed with how much smaller and more nimble this SUV felt on the twisty and scenic Canadian mountain roads around Whistler, British Columbia. Thanks to its performance-oriented all-wheel drive system and well-sorted chassis, this bigger, more comfortable RDX still managed to be a very fun romp when chucked at fast sweeper or two.
Turbo power and SH-AWD
Behind that massive “A” badge spins a standard 2.0-liter turbocharged VTEC four-cylinder engine. Output is stated at 273 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That’s a pretty big torque bump over the old 3.5-liter V6, particularly at low engine speeds, where the RDX sees a 40-percent increase, helping it to feel significantly more responsive.
The engine and its 10-speed automatic transmission make a great pair with smooth and quiet operation around town and fuel economy that’s up a single combined mile per gallon over the V6. Base front-drive RDX models net 22 mpg city, 28 highway and 24 combined, standard AWD models take a single mpg hit in each category, and the new A-Spec styling package drops a further single mpg on the highway due to its more aggressive aerodynamics.
In Sport mode, the gearbox is not shy about downshifting when passing and cornering, which makes for really strong, responsive acceleration. The shift logic is so good, I found that I didn’t really need to use the paddle shifters in most situations.
Front-wheel drive is standard, but you definitely want Acura’s fourth-generation Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) upgrade. SH-AWD can send up to 70 percent of the engine’s available torque to the rear wheels on demand (the old system could only manage a 50/50 split) and now features 100-percent torque vectoring on the rear axle to aid in cornering stability. This new generation can shuffle power around 30-percent quicker, which I noticed also makes the torque transfer feel more seamless on the road.
Normally, I only really recommend all-wheel drive for areas that get a lot of rain or snow, but SH-AWD is also a performance upgrade that makes it useful and fun even when the roads are dry most of the year. However, all-wheel drive is $500 more expensive this year, adding $2,000 to the bottom line.
Keeping the RDX planted is a new five-link rear suspension mated with sport-tuned dampers. I think that this standard fixed suspension is tuned well enough to keep most drivers happy with a good balance of responsiveness and planted feel in the corners with a smooth and comfortable ride over bumps and around town. Those looking for more refinement should consider the RDX Advance. This top-tier model features active dampers that adjust to be smoother or firmer depending on the drive mode selected.
All RDX models feature improved isolation and active sound management that cancels unwanted noise in the Comfort setting and adds a bit of “oomph” to the engine sound in sportier modes.
Drive modes are selected by an Integrated Dynamics knob similar to the one found on Acura’s NSX sports car. Twisting this knob toggles between Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Snow settings. Sport+, for example, sharpens the throttle response, weighs up the steering, livens the engine sound enhancement, biases SH-AWD power toward the rear end and firms up the adaptive suspension. Knocking the transmission into its own Sport mode is the cherry atop a very dynamic-feeling Sport Plus mode.
Standard AcuraWatch driver aid tech
For the 2019 model year, the AcuraWatch driver aid suite has moved to the standard equipment list for all RDX models. That means even base models with no options roll off of the lot with forward collision warning with collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control that works even in low-speed traffic, lane-keeping steering assist and road departure mitigation.
Blind-spot monitoring, rear cross-traffic monitoring and parking distance sensors join that safety suite at the midtier Tech trim level. Top Advance models replace the RDX’s standard rear camera with a surround-view camera system that displays a top-down view of the area around the SUV at very low speeds to aid parking.
AcuraLink with True Touchpad interface
For some time, dashboard tech has been a weak spot for Acura. This new RDX greatly improves in that regard with the all-new Acura True Touchpad interface.
The system consists of a 10.2-inch full-HD display mounted high on the dashboard, new Android-based software and the eponymous True Touchpad located on the center console. The menu structure is very smartphone-esque and is easy to understand. The interface makes use of a split-screen configuration that makes multitasking feel very natural.
Users interact with the system via the touchpad, which acts sort of like a laptop’s trackpad, but with absolutely positioned taps. To hit an icon on the upper-right corner of the screen, just tap the upper-right corner of the trackpad. Boom, there’s no onscreen cursor to keep track of. It takes some getting used to, but unlike Lexus’ outwardly similar Remote Touch pad-based system, I picked it up quickly.
Overall, I’m very impressed with True Touchpad’s ease of use, high level of customization and emphasis on keeping eyes on the road. Apple CarPlay is standard across the board, but unfortunately, Android Auto is missing from the lineup at launch. I’m assured the latter is.
The RDX Advance also adds a large, full-color head-up display (HUD) that is controlled via buttons on the steering wheel and is customizable with infotainment shortcuts favorite contacts, radio stations or destinations. Lower trim levels can still access those shortcuts from the multi-information display in the instrument cluster.
There’s a lot to love, but I also ran into a number of cabin tech annoyances. My biggest hangup is True Touchpad’s slowness. The system takes a very long time to boot up, sometimes up to a full minute before even the safety disclaimer screen appears. Using the True Touchpad to write text when searching for destinations was also an arduously slow affair. After a few attempts, I usually just gave up and used the natural language voice search.
Pricing and competition
The 2019 Acura RDX starts at $37,300 before $995 destination charge and $2,000 upgrade for SH-AWD. That last bit is optional, but, trust me, you definitely want all-wheel drive. That price is in line with the 2018 base model with the AcuraWatch upgrade, which is now simply rolled in as standard equipment.
Fully loaded, an RDX Advance with SH-AWD tops out at $48,395. Acura points out that is about $10,000 less than comparably equipped German luxury competition — BMW’sX3 xDrive30i, the Audi Q5 Premium and Mercedes-Benz GLC300. No, the RDX isn’t as nimble as the Bimmer, as refined as the Benz or as high-tech as the Audi, but Acura has managed to deliver a balanced driving experience, safety technology and style that’s at least in the ballpark.
Drawing comparisons with German luxury is all good, but the RDX actually gets cross-shopped as often with Japanese and American premium compact SUVs — the Lexus NX, Infiniti QX50 and their ilk. Among this class, the 2019 Acura RDX will shine even brighter when it hits dealerships in June 2018.
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