Automobiles

[REVIEW] 2019 Acura RDX Elite

The Acura RDX is among the most affordable compact-luxury crossovers. Mildly sporty and all-new for the 2019 model year, the RDX is a lot more stylized than its predecessor which was often overlooked in the world of compact SUVs.

As much as Honda would like to admit it, the Acura nameplate still lacks the respect that Audi, BMW, Mercedes, and even Lexus have. Arguably, the company has to have its products stand out even more so than its rivals, which means ensuring superb build quality and advanced technology at more affordable prices.

Is the latest RDX worthy of consideration? Does it have more charisma? That’s what we’re here to find out.

Third time’s the charm?

This third-generation RDX is all-new from the ground up. Based on an Acura-specific platform, the RDX is the first to be designed and engineered in America, with styling design conducted in Los Angeles, California at the Acura Design Studio. Moreover, the RDX’s manufacturing home is in East Liberty, Ohio, and development was conducted by the company’s North American engineering team also based in Ohio.

Acura says that the US team’s targets, from a design and performance perspective, were inspired by the Acura Precision Concept, the Precision Cockpit, as well as the NSX. In fact, the RDX is the first all-new design drawing from the Concept styling and the advanced Cockpit technology.

So what does this mean to you, the customer? Basically that the new RDX rides on an all-new Acura-exclusive platform with a more spacious, premium, and tech-savvy cabin. It is now also equipped a powerful, responsive, and efficient new powertrain.

With this longer and wider platform, the 2019 RDX actually boasts top-in-class cabin and cargo space.

There are also new Acura features and technologies being introduced for the first in the brand’s history. This includes Acura’s True Touchpad interface, which the company promises blends the advantages of a conventional touchscreen and a remote-based (i.e. Touchpad controlled) user input interface. More on this later.

Driving technology

Let’s start with the powertrain first of all. Gone is the thirsty and heavy 3.5L V6, shelved in favour of a new 272 horsepower 2.0-litre turbocharged four-cylinder engine. This littler engine has a meaty torque band that peaks right when you want it to in traffic, at a low 1,600 rpms.

A new ten-speed transmission also makes an appearance.I’m delighted at Acura’s decision to leave out a CVTs (such as in the Honda CR-V) as they are not conducive to sportier driving which this latest RDX purports to have been endowed with. The ten-speed auto gearbox should also be more fuel efficient than the old six-speed auto.

To conclude the tri-factor is the return of Acura’s Super-Handling-All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system. SH-AWD was cut from the previous gen-RDX in favour of a less complicated, cheaper, but also more basic all-wheel-drive system. It’s nice to see that Acura is really making some efforts to make the RDX a lot more competitive in the handling department.

This third generation SH-AWD system can send up to 70 per cent of torque to the rear wheels, and as before, it can vector the aft-biased torque side-to-side by up to 100 per cent to either rear wheel. For snowy situations, there is a “snow” mode which further alters the powertrain and stability control characteristics to maximise winter performance on slippery surfaces.

Tech-forward interior

Acura’s parent company, Honda, has always been one to embrace technology. This certainly applies to the new RDX with its connected driving experience and interior accoutrements.

Tall doors and low step-in height makes it easy to get into the RDX. Behind the wheel, the driver feels as if he/she is in a cockpit. Not only does the cabin feel futuristic due to the use of high-grade materials such as brushed aluminum, stainless steel, Ultrasuede, and open pore Olive Ash wood, but the high-deck floating centre console also looks somewhat like that which is found in the latest Acura NSX.

Build quality also seems to be superior to some competitors, with tight panel gaps all around.

Yes, there is a new ultra-wide panoramic moonroof which is standard on all trim levels, and nappa leather is available. However, the RDX’s cabin still feels more techy than it is luxurious.

Special mention goes to the latest-generation Acura sports seats. They’re fantastically supportive and have 16 ways of adjustability to find that perfect spot. Acura says that at each seat’s core is a light-weight ultra-high-strength steel frame with improved lateral supported for sporty driving.

But the real technology story on the inside is Acura’s new “Intuitive True Touchpad Interface”. The company says that it’s “the world’s first application of absolute positioning in the driving environment. In non-marketing speak, this basically means that a touch on any location on the touchpad corresponds directly with the same location on the 10.2-inch HD centrally mounted display.

This is perhaps not a new concept as far as electronics are concerned, but certainly it is the first time that it has been used in an automotive application and beats other systems, such as that from Lexus, where one must actually locate a cursor and drag it to one’s desired icon.

Acura’s system is superior in that when on the move, it is much more difficult to accurately locate the function one is trying to get to. Literally think of the touchpad as a physical representation of the screen and Bob’s your uncle.

To further improve the odds of you hitting an icon correctly, Acura also integrated a padded wrist rest within the high-deck floating centre console to provide for a comfortable and stable platform for operating. The touchpad’s surface itself is slightly concave so as to allow the user to quickly identify the centre without looking down.

The infotainment Android-based operating system has two zones. A primary that is larger, and a secondary split screen to the side, which is smaller and allows for functions such as navigation and music to be displayed. Acura has clearly been learning from BMW and Lexus, as both have something similar or their systems. Where Acura’s True Touchpad Interface also differs from others is that there are clean graphics and accompanying menu structures that correspond with the touchpad zones.

Also new to the RDX is a massive 10.5-inch full-colour Heads-Up-Display, which includes audio, phone, turn-by-turn navigation instructions, and AcuraWatch alerts. There is also a new natural language voice command system which recognises real world English for more intuitive voice control of major features and functions.

Think of it as Acura’s version of Siri. The system worked well enough, but most controls were so easy to access, after the initial learning curve, that it was quicker to access them via the hard buttons versus using voice control.

If you’re an audiophile, the RDX Touring is sure to please with. In yet another first, the RDX features Acura’s ELS Studio 3D premium audio, a 16-channel, 710-watt system. Developed by Acura and Panasonic and tuned by Grammy-winning music producer, Elliot Scheiner, the system has four ultra-slim Highline ceiling mounted speakers which produce more dimensionality to the sound. Believe me, it works as advertised on the tin.

All models and grades come standard with AcuraWatch safety and driver assist technologies, including Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS) with Forward Collision Warning (FCW), Road Departure Mitigation (RDM) with Lane Departure Warning (LDW), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) with Low-Speed Follow and Lane Keeping Assist (LKAS).

I also particularly appreciated the rear camera washer system which cleaned the rear camera lens in conjunction with the rear wiper washer function.

How does it drive?

The new RDX has a lot going for it as long as driving dynamics are your top priority. The redesigned compact luxury SUV was impressive on the road, whether it was on highways or on crowded city streets.

The agile handling, new powertrain, and advanced safety gear make a great case for the RDX. The combo provides a healthy dose of power, though more responsive on the highway than around town. The 10 speed transmission works well for the most part, but there were a couple of times where the transmission seemed slightly uncoordinated with a couple of clumsy shifts.

Unfortunately, fuel economy from the turbocharged four is not anything to write home about. As is the nature of turbocharged engines, the more you dip into the turbos, the more fuel they use.

Quick steering and firm suspension are strong suits as well, making the RDX eager to dive into corners. The firm suspension keeps the vehicle flat at speed, though it can be a bit jittery on rougher surfaces.

Final thoughts

The new RDX offers a more luxurious and spacious interior, top-of-class power-to-weight ratio, and a long list of standard luxury features and technologies.

At the end of the day, Acura’s new, third-generation RDX impressed me overall with the sum of all its parts. It has agile handling, a powerful turbocharged engine, a modern interior, and standard advanced safety features.

While younger more tech-savvy owners may feel right at home with the new infotainment system and its controls, it may miss the mark slightly with older buyers who may find the learning curve quite steep initially.

Nonetheless, if you’re looking for a more affordable and bold-looking alternative to the typical compact-luxury crossovers, don’t miss out on adding the RDX to your short-list.

Andrew Ling
Andrew is a proud car and tech geek who has worked in Surrey for over the last 10 years. He comes from a communications/marketing background and has worked for automotive-related companies such as Edmunds.com, BenzWorld.org since 1999. From track driving, to rally driving to autocross, he has done it all! When he’s not reading about the latest automotive news, he can be found outdoors snapping pictures at various events around town.
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