RDX a great driver with smart price
First Drive: 2019 Acura RDX
TOFINO, B.C. — If you’re going to sell a luxury brand, it has to stand on its own feet. And that was often an issue for Acura: it shared too much of parent company Honda’s DNA. Not sharp enough for a performance brand, not luxe enough for luxury, its offerings could seem lost in limbo.
But, finally, the company has woken from its slumber with the all-new, third-generation RDX. Redesigned from the ground up, it has just about everything the company needs to make its mark, including excellent performance, sharp styling, and despite some overthought tech, a very well-done interior.
The compact sport-ute segment is among the hottest these days, and most automakers are upgrading regularly to stay relevant in it. Even so, I think the RDX is going to leave most of them behind.
“Compact” is a relative term, and as usually happens with redesigns, the RDX is longer and wider than before. The platform is also now unique to Acura, instead of shared with Honda. It’s roomy inside but doesn’t feel big or cumbersome to drive. The RDX is stiffer and a bit lighter than the last generation, and since every trim level comes standard with a large panoramic glass sunroof, it’s built with a “ring frame” around its doors and rear body to maintain structural rigidity.
Five models are available, starting at $43,990 and running up to $54,990. Acura’s A- Spec trim package now makes its first appearance on the RDX, with such items as 20-inch wheels, gloss black trim, a heated steering wheel and a premium, 16-speaker stereo. At $50,290, the company expects the A-Spec to be the biggest seller.
The last-gen’s 3.5L V6 is shelved in favour of a 2.0-litre turbo-four, spinning out 272 horsepower along with 280 pound-feet of torque that peaks at just 1,600 rpm. The previous six-speed automatic is replaced with a 10-speed, and the all-wheel-drive system is upgraded with torque vectoring. Known as SH-AWD (for Super-Handling AllWheel Drive), it can send up to 70 per cent of torque to the rear axle, and from there, distribute up to 100 per cent to either rear wheel. There’s a drive mode setting for snowy conditions, too.
The engine is impressive; there’s simply no turbo lag, and it accelerates swiftly and smoothly. The creamy-smooth transmission can skip gears when downshifting — going straight from tenth to sixth, or seventh to third, for seamless deceleration, and it reacts quickly when you play with the wheelmounted paddle shifters.
My drive route involved a very winding stretch of the Pacific Rim Highway. The RDX is agile and handles hard curves very well, and the SH-AWD keeps it tucked into the corners. The Sport and Sport Plus drive modes adjust throttle and transmission, and steering weight and response. Some manufacturers make their sport modes harsh and aggressive; by contrast, the RDX keeps its cool, tightening everything up but still staying smooth. One isn’t better or worse; it just appeals to different crowds, and the RDX should satisfy those who want road-trip comfort they can also toss around when desired.
The interior is handsome ly styled, and on the top-line Platinum Elite model I piloted, includes 16-way ventilated seats clad in perforated leather, heated rear seats, and real wood trim.
The floating centre console contains a lower storage floor that, unlike many, is actually easy to access, and there’s another big bin under the cargo floor. The cabin is also extremely quiet, thanks to a whack of seals and insulation, plus an acoustic windshield.
Unlike the super-smooth look some automakers prefer, the RDX is cluttered with buttons. Hear me out on this: It’s a good thing. The climate controls, seat heaters and stereo volume, all things you frequently adjust while driving, are not hidden in layers of menus and screens, but right up front. Tap ’em and go. Even the Platinum Elite’s head-up display has a button to adjust the height, as all of them should. The voice activation now understands natural speech, rather than a list of pre-set commands, and does a great job of it.
Still, not everything is perfect. In place of a gearshift lever, you get buttons for Park and Drive, and a toggle for Reverse. Rather than simple and intuitive pull-into-gear, you have to look down to find the right one.
The tablet-style infotainment screen is perched atop the dash. It can’t be touchscreen because it’s too far to reach, and so Acura has a new system it calls True Touchpad Interface. There’s a pad on the console where you slide your finger, tap the pad, or trace letters or numbers to work the system. “True touch” means the pad is aligned with the screen: if an icon’s in the screen’s upper left corner, touching the pad’s upper left activates it. It’s far better than Lexus’ Remote Touch system, which requires you to move a cursor around the screen (great fun on a bumpy road). But even with Acura’s positions aligned on screen and pad, it still feels disconnected. If one must find things behind the glass, touching it is still the most intuitive way.
For the first time, the RDX comes with 4G LTE Wi-Fi in all trim levels, as well as Apple CarPlay. Android Auto will be added as soon as Google sorts through some red tape on it, and it’ll be an over-theair retrofit when available.
Acura says the RDX is the first model designed and engineered in its new corporate direction, and judging by my drive, it’s going the right way. It’s well-done, intelligently priced, and a great driver. It lost its bearings for a while, but it looks like Acura’s now back on track.