When we first drove the 2019 Acura RDX in Whistler, British Columbia, we immediately fell in love with its bold exterior styling, tech laden interior, as well as its potent performance hardware.
But could the love affair last? and does the RDX finally have what it takes to truly take its bat and swing with the established players in the segment?
To find out, we went behind the wheel of a second RDX in Wisconsin, to see if it could indeed handle U.S. roads. Like before, the exterior styling is undoubtedly Acura, but since the 2019 RDX is one of the first offerings that aim to reinvent Acura's "Precision Crafted Performance Philosophy" the motif here is one that leans towards futuristic cues, as well as a healthy dose of curves, creases, and a bold muscular stance.
Acura designers were quick to point out the dragon tail inspired taillights, and there is plenty of influence from the TLX, and even the NSX in some of its basic DNA. The lone blemish here is the lower air vents in the front bumper, a trait obviously picked up from the Acura NSX.
Wheras they look stunning on the supercar, on the RDX, they look tacked on and the dividing trim of plastic that runs along the middle does not help matters much.
Thankfully the side profile as well as our testers beefy wheels did help make up for this flaw somewhat, and also allows the RDX to stand out in a very crowded segment, especially against blander entries like the Buick Envision, Audi Q3, and the Mercedes-Benz GLA.
We especially remain enchanted with the front grille, which meshes nicely with the elegant headlights for a truly distinctive appearance especially at night.
Overall, the exterior design is a vast improvement over the old model, and whereas that model looked a bit too brash and crude for its target audience, the 2019 version we tested is classy, like a boldly accented suit with pin stripes, and a strategically placed gold pin.
The interior of the 2019 RDX continues this sleek focus on sophistication, and is a wonderful place to spend time in. There are plenty of soft materials, wood, and metal present, and Acura claims that everything you see and feel is the real deal (no wood from plastic trees, or faux metal accents from Fischer Price's dumpsters here.)
We believe them, and having authentic materials like this allows the RDX to distinctively stand out from a few of its rivals and their decidedly less realistic trimmings. Like the NSX, the RDX features a comically huge drive selector dial that is responsible for tailoring the RDX to specific driver tastes, as well as a logical layout for many of the buttons and switches.
However, the big story here is what lies underneath the PRNDL buttons, Acura's all new touchpad system. On the surface, it may seem that Acura's offering is like every other touch based interface that has come and gone over the years. Look closer, and it reveals a completely different user experience.
The pad is split into two sections, with one large area and a slightly smaller area. The upper section uses absolute positioning for control, which means that the upper right corner of the pad corresponds with the upper right corner of the screen.
This is novel stuff, and it gets even more brilliant when you discover that you can actually press the pad itself.
Yes, in an age where haptic feedback units such as Cadillac's CUE system are annoyingly becoming more abundant, Acura's unit is a welcome breath of relieving fresh air and does indeed offer occupants something different.
Playing with the system on our drive revealed that while the touchpad does make using the system easier, it also required a brief period of familiarization, with our brain struggling to undo years of muscle memory to get used to the Acura's quirks. After that was achieved, it proved to work very well, and we even liked that when we selected one item, the system did not go somewhere else or pull up an unwanted feature. Take notes Lexus and Cadillac engineers.
Performance for the 2019 Acura RDX comes from the same 2.0 liter turbocharged four cylinder engine that also sees duty in the Civic Type R and the Honda Accord.
It serves well in those two, and also does a respectable job in the RDX. While the RDX will not set the world on fire with cheetah like acceleration, the 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque that are present still allow the RDX to scoot with reasonable authority.
Our tester came bundled with plenty of personality, which was noticeable during our time with it on winding country roads. We recommend leaving the RDX in Sport + mode to maximize the handling and acceleration potential that is otherwise hidden deep in this spunky SUV with Comfort being reserved for urban commuting.
For comparison, the Audi Q5 feels more reserved, and is more reluctant to step out of its comfort zone when pushed hard. A more compelling alternative is the BMW X3, the RDX feels very close to the confident German in many driving maneuvers, however, the BMW still holds an edge in both poise as well as precision in other aspects, including freeway handling.
That's not to say that the RDX is chopped liver, with our tester's 57/43 weight distribution and super sticky A-Spec exclusive Goodyear 255/45R-20 Eagle RS-A tires working together to deliver plenty of grip in twistier sections of tarmac, with the sporty shoes giving ample audible warnings when they had enough.
All RDX's come equipped with the corporate 10-speed automatic transmission, and the unit did a good job delivering crisp shifts. This transmission has been making the rounds in select Honda and Acura products since it first appeared in the 2018 Honda Odyssey, and it also brings the familiar buttons for gear selection, which are logically mounted and easy to use, with the exception of reverse.
While we are still getting used to the idea of having the same amount of gears as an eighteen wheeler in some of the cars we have driven, Its nice to see that the RDX's gearbox can still deliver solid performance without some of the hunting seen in other gear packed transmission offerings.
With the sublime goodness of Acura's SH-AWD and the buttery smooth transmission, it was a pity that the lone weak point turned out to be the brake pedal. While the RDX did deliver smooth and steady stops, the brake pedal action itself did not inspire much confidence, with the pedal in our tester requiring an unnerving amount of travel before the brakes sprung into action.
This is in stark contrast to the BMW X3 which has a much more confident brake pedal that has less travel to overcome before the festivities come to a stable halt.
Pricing for the 2019 Acura RDX starts at $37,300 for the Base model, with A-Spec variants like our tester boasting a slightly higher $43,500 base MSRP. This package focused pricing ladder allows the RDX to maintain a considerable cost advantage over rivals with many of them often surpassing even a range topping RDX with both the Technology and Advance Packages equipped.
With Acura's strong emphasis on being a brand that brings affordable indulgence to its customer base, its comforting to know that the brand has not lost sight of its most important virtue, value.