RDX a great driver with smart price

First Drive: 2019 Acura RDX

The Recorder & Times (Brockville) - - DRIVING - JIL MCINTOSH

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.

JIL MCINTOSH/dRiV­inG

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