2020 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-SPEC – Review by Ben Lewis

Acura has been on the move lately.

We’ve been continuously impressed with vehicles like the fun and agile ILX, the luxurious and swift RLX, and the MDX Hybrid, which was a tech tour de force.

But of all the nice products, the best may be the all-new RDX.

The RDX has had an interesting life. The original model was ahead of its time, coming in   2007 with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine and a very sporty chassis. For the second gen, the 2013 model featured a V6 engine, and was much more of a scaled down MDX. A very nice mainstream vehicle.

But Mojo? Not so much.

How RDX Got Her Groove Back

The RDX starts right out of the box with a bold look that is anything but boxy. The first all-new model designed from the brand’s new Evocative Design Language, it starts with a sharp, aggressive front end, featuring a large diamond pentagon grille and crisp LED headlights.

The side is full of cut-ins and angles that look terrific and sporty in person, reinforcing snug dimensions and a real sense of personality. This is no shrunken MDX!

Our tester was the high-excitement A-Spec trim, (the first A-Spec SUV!) and it adds another layer of aggression, with a unique front fascia, gloss black accents on the front grille, LED fogs, side sills, massive 20-inch Shark Gray alloy wheels, and a unique rear fascia sitting on top of meaty, large-diameter dual exhaust finishers.

The finishing touch, – our 2020 tester was covered in the all-new Platinum White Pearl, and it sets up a nice contrast to the spec-tacular A-Spec exterior trim.

Sport in Front, Comfort in Back

Get inside, and you quickly sense Acura’s sporty intentions. A large center console separates the front buckets and creates an intimate driver’s space. A large analogue tach and speedo great the driver from behind an extra-thick leather-wrapped steering wheel.

A guided tour of the center console starts at the top with a 10.2-inch info-tainment screen, that splits to give you a wide view of your navi, and extra info. We’re happy to report that Apple CarPlay is standard, and we happily used our WAZE app, although if you don’t, the Tech Package includes Acura’s excellent Navigation system.

Below that, are easy to read climate controls, and switches for the heated and cooled seats. There’s even an AUTO setting for the seats, and your RDX will determine the ideal temp for your buns and keep it there. Fancy!

Under the dual-zone climate controls is a large circular knob that makes it easy to dial up the 4-mode integrated Dynamic system.

Below that, things fall apart a little for us. We’re still not big fans of Acura’s pushbutton controls for the transmission – it’s just not intuitive – and below that is Acura’s touchpad controller that suffers the same problem as the Lexus touchpad – it’s fidgety, and frustrating to use. While we’re also not fans of that, we must say the quality of materials is excellent throughout the cabin and is easily the match of BMW or Audi.

Our tester had real brushed aluminum trim, while if you go for the non A-Spec model, open-pore Olive Ash wood accents are available, and they are stunning.

The front sport seats are ultra-comfy, 12-way adjustable with plenty of lumbar support and nice bolsters to hold you in place. Being an A-Spec, you also get some eye candy here with red leather seating with black ultra-suede inserts, contrasting stitching, and a tasteful black headliner. While you’re soaking in the atmosphere, you’re surrounded with fine sound, courtesy of the A-Spec’s 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D Premium Audio System.

There’s plenty of room for all in the RDX, with best-in-class interior volume and cargo space, and those in back will really appreciate that the RDX boasts 24 percent more knee space than its nearest competitor. Flipping the rear seats down is easy, and there’s even a new 1.7 cubic foot underfloor storage compartment to tuck away valuables.

Performance Artist

All of this has been nice so far. But the RDX party trick is really in how it drives. It’s wonderful! Under the hood is a 4-cylinder turbo, and it’s a powerhouse, kicking out a strong 272 horsepower and 280 lb.-ft of torque that likes to show up for work early, at just 1,800 rpm.

It’s a great sounding engine too – a very VW like throaty exhaust. Now, you’ll find some controversy here, because extra engine sound is piped in through the audio speakers when you’re in Sport or Sport + mode. We say, try before you dis it. We liked the sound – it enhanced the experience.

You get a lot to enjoy, too, because the 2.0-liter turbo revs quickly and the 10-speed automatic really keeps things on the boil, with a nice little bark from the exhaust as it shifts through the gears. We kept it in S mode for fun and games, as it keeps the rpm’s up and responds with a little more attitude.

Steering is especially noteworthy – direct and feelsome – the way BMW’s used to be.

Our tester had the SH-AWD torque-vectoring all-wheel drive, that not only helps off the line, but really gives added agility and digs and dives into turns when you push it. We expect the A-Spec’s large 20-inch wheels and tires give some added grip here.

What they don’t give surprisingly is a harsh ride. Even with the 20’s, it’s an excellent blend of responsive and composed. The A-Spec excellent supportive sport seats probably help to cushion impacts as well. Just another (of many) reasons to justify getting the A-Spec.

It’s an impressively balanced performer, that reminds us of two things. One, when we tested the new VW Tiguan, while we loved the luxury, we bemoaned the loss of the GTI-like performance the old Tig had. If you’re looking for the GTI of small crossovers, it’s now at your Acura Dealer.

The other vehicle the RDX reminded us of was the BMW X2 M35i we tested, a frenetic autobahn missile that was silly fast. If you notice that both of these are serious European sport machines with long pedigrees, you realize the excellent company the Acura keeps.

It will also keep you safe. RDX standards include Collision Mitigation Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Lane Keep Assist and Lane Departure Warning, and Road Departure Mitigation. Our tester also had the Tech Package, which, along with Navigation, also includes Blind Spot Info and Rear Cross Traffic Alert.

Bavarian Bargain

While the RDX kept whispering BMW and Audi to us, it’s an Acura, and that makes it an excellent value. You can get a basic RDX with front-wheel drive starting at $37,600. Add $2,000 for all-wheel drive. For a Tech Package equipped model, you start at $40,800.

Our A-Spec tester with SH-AWD carried a base price of $45,800. Fully loaded, it only added $995 destination for a grand total of $46,795. A comparable BMW X3 come in at $53,170, while a similar Audi Q5 rang the bell at $55,195. So, it’s a relative bargain in the premium compact SUV segment.

We loved our time with the Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec.

Great looks, great comfort and a thrilling drive. The RDX is not only our favorite Acura, it’s our favorite premium compact SUV!