Like anything else, an automobile can evoke mixed feelings. This is especially true for the 2019 Acura RDX, which marks the third generation of Acura’s midsize SUV. The luxury automaker offers a pair of SUVs, and the RDX is the first to get a makeover. This is a good thing, because the previous generation of Acura SUVs and crossovers feel dated compared to those from the likes of BMW, Audi, and Volvo.
With the RDX, Acura has largely succeeded in making a stylish vehicle that is genuinely fun to drive. At the same time, it has the feeling of a new, first-generation Apple product with unexpected bugs hitting at strange times.
Driving the current generation of Acuras, Infinitis, and Lexuses (Acurae, Infiniti, et Lexi?) has largely left me feeling cold. By and large, they are fine SUVs, but for a few thousand dollars more, European carmakers offer a better all-around experience—especially with the infotainment and driver-assist features. The Acura RDX really has the potential to change that. It’s the first vehicle from one of the Japanese-owned luxury carmakers that I felt could hold its own against a BMW X3, Volvo XC60, Alfa Romeo Stelvio, or Audi Q5—at least until the bugs started popping up.
The RDX is the smaller of Acura’s two SUVs, and this year’s refresh sees a number of substantive changes from the second-generation model. Gone is the 3.5-liter V6, replaced by a2.0L, direct-injected, inline-four turbocharged engine common to compact crossovers. In the case of the RDX, it translates to 272hp (200kW) at 6,500rpm—trailing only the Stelvio from the previous paragraph—and 280lb-ft (380Nm) of torque at anywhere from 1,600rpm to 4,500rpm. Acura accomplishes this in part with a mono scroll IHI turbocharger with a small-diameter and low-inertia turbine, which enables the turbo to build boost at lower RPMs. For the driver, that translates into quick throttle response at most speeds.
Gone is the six-speed automatic transmission, replaced with a lightweight, compact 10-speed transmission. Shifting through the gears is quicker with the new setup, which is able to downshift by up to four gears at a time for greater responsiveness. If you want to wrest control from the automatic transmission, there are a pair of paddle shifters in the usual spot behind the steering wheel.
The RDX comes in both front-wheel drive and all-wheel drive options. We tested the SH-AWD Advance, with a sticker price of $47,500. The base model starts at $37,400 for FWD and $39,400 for AWD. The SH-AWD Advance—that’s “SH” for “Super Handling”—includes an adaptive damper system and 19-inch alloy wheels (if you like 20-inchers, go with the A-Spec). The Advance package also includes a smartly done heads-up display, 16-way adjustable front sport seats, a leather-wrapped heated steering wheel, and really well done olive ash burl wood trim.
Meet the touchpad
When I reviewed the MDX last year, I was critical of its two-screen infotainment system and a gimmicky button shift setup. Acura has remedied both—the former by dropping in an all-new infotainment system and the latter by redesigning the center console so that the shift buttons make aesthetic and ergonomic sense. Let’s look first at the infotainment system, which we are sure will eventually make its way into all new Acuras and Hondas.
The previous-generation dual-screen infotainment system was controlled by a combination of direct touch, buttons, and a dial. That’s all gone in the RDX, replaced by a single HD 10.2-inch display controlled by a touchpad. I actually shuddered when reading about the touchpad—my previous experience with a touchpad infotainment interface was in the Lexus NX 300h, which uses haptic feedback to let you know when you’ve overshot your target on the display. (It was horrible and deserves to be banished to whatever motoring purgatory is reserved for truck nutz and in-dash record players.)
Acura has smartly taken a different approach. The idea is to replicate the touchscreen experience without actually touching the screen, so each area of the trackpad is mapped to specific points on the display. In other words, there’s a 1:1 relationship between the screen and the pad. If you like, you can swipe across the trackpad to highlight the desired UI element. The better choice is to touch the pad at the approximate position of the display. So if you want to change radio stations to the first preset, just depress the lower-left corner of the touchpad. To scroll up and down, depress the appropriate corners of the touchpad. The right one-third of the display can either show media information, a clock, or GPS. You can scroll through those options via a small secondary touch pad immediately to the right of the main pad. Pressing down on it will swap the info on the right one-third of the display with whatever is in the main part of the display.
The UI looks sharp, and Acura’s system is well-thought-out, although it is not as good as what’s on offer from Audi and Volvo. Unfortunately, it is also very buggy in my test car—I ran into persistent issues with it throughout my time with the Acura. The most common problem was the radio not working after starting the car up. Instead of Underground Garage on Sirius XM, I was treated to an error message that said “Radio unavailable” or “Check tuner.” This happened on seven or eight separate occasions. Sometimes changing to FM or AM would solve the problem. Other times it would sort itself out after a couple of minutes.
Another issue came in the form of contradictory turn-by-turn instructions. I realize we live in an age where Waze and Google Maps reign supreme, but there are times when it’s just easier to use a car’s built-in GPS. In my case, I had just dropped my son off at rugby practice and was craving a spicy Chick-Fil-A sandwich. I knew there was a Chick-Fil-A within a couple of miles of where I was but was unsure of which road I should take to get there. Using the voice activation, I said “Navigate to Chick-Fil-A in Schaumburg.” The car thought about my request for about 10 seconds and then the directions popped onto the infotainment system—and the heads-up display my RDX was equipped with. Unfortunately, after the first turn, the HUD and the infotainment system diverged and showed different instructions. To compound the issue, the voice commands would say “turn left at the next light” when the next light was an entrance into a shopping center parking lot; I actually needed to turn at the light.
According to Matt Slouster, manager of public relations for Acura, the radio and GPS woes are both known issues with the RDX. Since the vehicle hit dealerships last year, Acura has already pushed out two over-the-air updates to fix other issues and improve functionality, and the automaker is planning a third update. Slouster told me there was just a “small number” of RDX models affected by this particular bug. Another OTA update will bring Android Auto functionality to the RDX; Apple CarPlay is already supported and works nicely with the trackpad.
Acura’s redesign of the RDX interior was well-thought-out. The center console now flows up from the center storage compartment to the dashboard. Immediately north of and above the cup holders is the touchpad. Above and beyond that is a row of gear-shift buttons that make perfect sense in this context. There’s a drive-select dial immediately above the shift buttons for moving between Snow, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ settings; climate controls are perched above the dial. Underneath the touchpad and shift buttons is a storage area perfect for a purse or handbag, along with a pair of USB ports.
As I mentioned above, the SH-AWD Advance trim package includes 16-way adjustable power seats in front, including lumbar and thigh support. The usual buttons control seat height, distance from the pedals, and tilt. To adjust everything else, there’s a dedicated button that allows you to make other adjustments with visual feedback on the infotainment display.
The instrument cluster contains an analog tach and speedo, with a small HD display in between. Controls on the left of the steering wheel are for the radio and infotainment system. You can tweak the small display via controls on the right side of the steering wheel. Acura uses a combination dial and rocker; move the dial up and down for volume and rock it left and right to change radio stations.
Stitched leather, chrome accents, and the aforementioned wood trim give the cabin a pleasing, sporty, upscale look. Backseat passengers—even adults—ride in comfort, with their own set of climate controls, heated seats, and USB charging ports.
The RDX will also do a fine job hauling all of your stuff, with 30 cubic feet (850L) of cargo space in the rear. Drop the second row down and you have nearly 80 cubic feet (2,265L) of cargo space. That includes a hidden compartment under the floor of the cargo area to hide whatever it is you may not want your kids/the cops to easily find. [Assuming they don’t read Ars, since you’ve just given the game away—Ed.]
Fun on the road
The RDX looks sporty enough, with wide LED headlights giving an impression of flow towards the rear of the vehicle. The pentagonal grill draws the eyes towards the familiar Acura logo in the center, and the chrome accents are tastefully done. The impression is one of a well-crafted, sporty crossover—an impression that held true behind the wheel.
Behind the wheel, what you’ll notice first is the acceleration. The 10-speed transmission moves swiftly through the gears, and the drive-by-wire throttle system makes the RDX responsive to the lightest pressure on the gas pedal. In Sport+ mode, it gets even better—steering and throttle response are tighter and it feels every bit as quick as any other sporty, luxury crossover.
Handling is also excellent. As mentioned earlier, the “SH” in SH-AWD stands for “Super Handling,” and it’s great on winding roads. SH-AWD can send 100 percent of the torque to either side of the car, given the crossover the ability to corner much more aggressively than would otherwise be possible. In cruddy winter driving conditions, that torque can be sent to the front or rear of the vehicle as needed. The RDX also makes all of the right sounds, although it’s not all natural—like BMW, Acura sends a bit of happy engine noise through the speakers. Steering is very smooth, almost to the point of feeling synthetic. My only complaint was an excess amount of pedal travel when braking.
Acura has included the full suite of advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) in the RDX. Driver-assist features are activated by the “Main” button on the steering wheel. The HUD and instrument cluster display show the status of the lane-keep assist and adaptive cruise control, with an outlined icon of a car filling in when the adaptive cruise control locks on to the car in front of you. Adaptive cruise works well in stop-and-go traffic, although sometimes it took a couple taps of the gas pedal to get the car moving if it came to complete stop in traffic. Lane-keep assist does an adequate job of correction if you start to drift into another lane—provided the RDX can discern the lane markings. In my experience, the RDX struggled more at night and with faded lane markings than did other cars in its class.
I would describe Acura’s safety approach as “overly cautious.” In just over a week with the car, I got more “BRAKE!” warnings flashing on the HUD display than the last five cars I’d driven combined. I also got obstacle alerts every time I pulled out of the alley because the curb is apparently a few inches too high. Again, that is something I didn’t experience in other cars I’ve reviewed. I tried dialing back the safety features as much as possible without turning them off, but I still found them to be overly intrusive.
In addition to the usual backup camera, the RDX has a 360° camera view. You can turn the camera on with a button at the end of the windshield wiper lever and use the touchpad to cycle through camera display options.
The RDX is rated at 23mpg (21mpg city, 27mpg highway) and I got 19.9mpg during my time with the car. I should disclose that I spent a lot of time in Sport and Sport+ mode just because it was so damn fun.
By the end of my time with the RDX, I had developed a love-hate relationship with it. Out on the highway or on country roads, the crossover is pure joy with its excellent handling and precise throttle response. On the other hand, the infotainment system bugs were a massive buzzkill for me. It almost felt like a highly anticipated AAA video game with excellent graphics and gameplay, but with some serious glitches that have you anxiously awaiting post-launch patches from the developer.
My photographer is an Acura fan, and the first words out of his mouth when he got into the car was “this is dangerous.” But once I showed him the above pictures of infotainment and GPS glitches, his enthusiasm waned. And that seems like a fair reflection on the 2019 RDX—it’s a very good car in many of the important ways, but would-be buyers need to be aware of the known issues with the software and must trust Acura to deliver fixes. Until the promised OTA updates arrive, .