Acura has rediscovered its performance side, starting with the return of the NSX and continuing with the reintroduction of the Integra and the brand’s Type S designation. The RDX, however, has mostly watched from the sidelines, despite being Acura’s bestseller. Our test vehicle, which combined all-wheel drive, the top Advance package, and the sporty A-Spec trim, proved to be a capable all-arounder, but it doesn’t reach as far as the performance-oriented compact crossovers available from German automakers.
The current RDX is now in its fourth model year, having been redesigned for 2019. The A-Spec is the sportiest-looking iteration, with blacked-out exterior trim, 20-inch wheels in dark gray, and large round dual exhaust outlets. Inside, it features two-tone red or white leather with black suede accents (or, for the terminally boring, all black decor). Combine it with Apex Blue Pearl paint, as in our test car, for maximum visual impact in the supermarket parking lot.
RDX Ride and Handling
A-Spec styling can be had with the mid-grade Technology package or—new this year—with the Advance package. While the high-level Advance trim brings many niceties including a head-up display, a surround-view camera, heated front and rear seats, plus a heated steering wheel, its chief dynamic advantage is adaptive dampers, which are reserved for this trim. Our test rig was so equipped, and the newly retuned dampers provide a much more tolerable ride than the stiff-legged standard setup. And yet, with the ability to toggle into Sport mode, they maintain the RDX’s cornering acumen. So, too, does the available all-wheel-drive system, which sends 70 percent of the engine’s torque rearward and can further shunt 100 percent of that total to either rear wheel. The chassis is responsive, and body roll is not much of an issue, even if the 0.83 g of grip is less than we measured in the Audi Q5 45 and the Volvo XC60 B6.
The steering is rather light and easy but firms up when the car is switched into Sport mode. The trouble with Sport mode, though, is that it effectively locks out the transmission’s top gears, so you often find yourself waiting for upshifts that never come. Unfortunately, there’s no custom mode to mix and match the parameters to your liking.
Turbo-Four Fuel Economy and Performance
The original RDX had a high-strung turbo four that was replaced by a naturally aspirated V-6 in the second-generation model. Today’s RDX again sports a turbocharged four-cylinder, although it’s not as peaky as that early engine. Compared to similarly configured rivals, its 272 horsepower is more than some (Audi, Infiniti), less than others (Alfa, Genesis). Same with its 280 pound-feet of torque. Call it midpack for compact luxury SUVs.
Midpack could also describe the Acura’s 6.2-second sprint to 60 mph, though it is better than the 6.6 seconds we measured when this model first came out. That number puts the RDX ahead of the Cadillac XT5 and the Volvo XC60 B6 but behind the Audi Q5 45 (5.5 seconds) and the Genesis GV70 2.5T (5.6)—not to mention brawnier six-cylinder machines like the BMW X3 M40i and the Mercedes-AMG GLC43. Stops from 70 mph took 180 feet, a bit more than in competitors shod with similar all-season footwear.
The RDX’s engine pairs with a 10-speed automatic. Ten forward speeds are a lot, and under gentle acceleration, the programming sometimes seems overly concerned with giving each gear a turn, although the shifts are smooth enough that most drivers probably won’t notice. Still, the transmission’s downshifts could be snappier. The turbo four’s engine sound is electronically enhanced, with opinions divided on how pleasing was the result, which rang our interior sound meter with 73 decibels at wide-open throttle.
We saw 26 mpg on our 75-mph highway fuel-economy test, exactly matching the EPA estimate for the RDX with all-wheel drive and the A-Spec package. (Skipping the A-Spec package raises the EPA highway estimate to 27 mpg, and front-wheel drive bumps it up to 28 mpg.) The RDX A-Spec’s EPA ratings of 23 mpg combined (21 city/26 highway) are just behind those of all-wheel-drive competitors such as the BMW X3’s 24 combined (21 city/28 highway), Infiniti QX50’s 25 combined (22/28), and Audi Q5 S line’s 25 combined (23/28).
Interior Space and Infotainment Technology
Stretching 187.4 inches in length and sitting astride a 108.3-inch wheelbase, the RDX is usefully sized without feeling bloated. Within that tidy footprint, however, the RDX is genuinely roomy. The front and rear can easily accommodate six-footers, and the flat floor in back makes three-abreast seating viable, at least for short trips. The RDX sits just high enough to afford easy ingress and egress, without wide door sills to step over. Luggage volume is 30 cubic feet, expandable to 80 cubes via convenient levers in the cargo area that drop the rear seatbacks.
The interior design is more contemporary tech than traditional luxury (only one of the six trim levels features wood trim), and fit and finish is solid. Befitting a member of the crowd it runs with, the RDX comes standard with a panoramic sunroof, heated front seats, 12-way power-adjustable front seats, and adaptive cruise control. Although this RDX is in its fourth model year, Acura hasn’t let the in-cabin technology get stale, as wireless Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are now on hand along with wireless charging. The main user interface for the 10.2-inch center display, however, remains a touchpad. Unlike the system that Lexus is beginning to move away from, it doesn’t use a cursor; instead, the geography of the touchpad corresponds to that of the screen, and the pad surface is curved to provide a sense of where your finger is just by feel. Touch the lower right corner of the pad, and you hit a button in the lower right portion of the screen—usually. The pad also allows finger-drawing of letters and numbers, such as for a navigation destination, but spelling those out is a slow, error-ridden process. Better to use the voice recognition for inputs. There’s a second, smaller pad alongside the main one that allows for swipe motions to control the right side of the split screen. We’re happy for the volume knob, at least, and the up/down audio tuning buttons, although a tuning knob would be better still.
We also like how the surround-view camera shows two views at once, but it would be more useful if there were a button to summon it. Blind-spot monitoring and rear cross-traffic alert are now standard, and both are welcome additions given the RDX’s large rear-quarter blind spots.
At a starting price of $41,795, the RDX comes in several thousand dollars less than its European competitors. The as-tested figure for our A-Spec Advance model, $54,295, puts it more in the thick of things with regard to the rest of the field. But that’s close to as much as you can spend on an RDX (only the hand-assembled PMC Edition is dearer at $55,295). Shop elsewhere and top trim levels will in most cases cost you more. So, while Acura is leaning into performance, value remains the RDX’s strength, even in its sportiest tune.
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