Acura got all emotional for the redesign of its compact RDX SUV — and it’s about time.
This premium division of Honda has always done well with its marketing focus of technology and performance, but its exterior body styling was Honda-centric and polarized by an unflattering grille treatment.
Now in its third generation, the 2019 Acura RDX is a breakout vehicle with the brand’s new diamond pentagon grille and speed-line styling that has some flinty elements from the evil stance of the NSX supercar.
It is also the first new Acura designed from the ground up — engineered in the U.S., designed at Acura’s L.A. studio and built in East Liberty, Ohio. And for the first time, it is not a shared platform with the Honda CR-V.
The new body is just 2.4 inches longer, a little taller and a little more than an inch wider on a wheelbase that is 2.6 inches longer. But the bigger picture creates ideal proportions for a five-seat SUV to grow with a family. The added size benefits back-seat legroom (with a flat floor), a tall 40 inches of front headroom (with the standard panoramic glass roof) and more cargo space that is flat with substantial basement storage.
Inside, the traffic-calmed cabin has yards more soundproofing and an acoustic windshield and side glass. And there is more of a “luxury” experience with more engaging materials and a new refinement to the engineering of the infotainment system.
There also is a new driving experience with a new a 10-speed automatic transmission and a new 272-horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine — a better performer than the V-6 it left at the curb.
Acura has updated its full-time Super Handling SH-AWD system, which can move up to 70 percent of power to the rear wheels and 100 percent of that torque to either rear wheel. The integration of dynamic torque vectoring sharpens cornering grip while helping the driver avoid an
over-correction and possible spin out.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave it a top rating of “Good” in all crashworthiness tests, earning it the title of Top Safety Pick
-Plus. Standard safety features include eight air bags and the suite of Acura Watch features, including collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning and road departure warning. All functioned without intrusion or annoyance to my driving experience.
The RDX has been a top-seller for the brand and a dominator in this luxury segment. Since the new model’s launch in June it has become the top retail-selling compact luxury SUV for 2018. September sales of 5,699 put in first in the brand’s lineup, ahead of the three-row MDX (4,643, down from 6,252 sales in August) and well ahead of No. 3, the TLX midsize sedan (2,064, up from 1,197 in August).
Competing SUVs include the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX50, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Lexus NX and Volvo XC60.
The RDX is sold in front- and all-wheel drive models with Tech, A-Spec and Advance trim levels. Starting prices range from $38,295 with front drive, to $49,390 for the loaded RDX AWD Advance.
The A-Spec tester was $46,895 with one option for red paint, $400. Styling treatments include gloss black trim, dark headlights and taillights, Ultrasuede seat inserts and dash pad, metal sport pedals, red sport gauges and 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D audio system. Standard features include smartkey locking with push-button ignition, panoramic roof with tilt-slide, Milano leather upholstery with perforated front sport seats and 20-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 high-performance all-season tires.
The AWD curb weight — 4,015 — is up by just 69 pounds (over the 2018 model) and fuel economy ratings are about the same. Front-drive models have mileage ratings of 22/28/27 mpg, just 1 mpg less than with AWD, on the recommended premium fuel. I was averaging almost 20 mpg with liberal use of Sport mode.
The 10-speed transmission rolls easily through the gears to maintain low rpms, but performance is tuned for fuel economy. Sometimes accelerator response can be resistant to foot-to-floor demand, but sport mode cuts the lag without being overly Ricky Racer.
The longer wheelbase improves the overall ride quality though it still might be too firm for some — but it’s not the rambunctious ride of the previous model. The turning circle stays the same at nearly 39 feet with inch taller 19-inch wheels. Braking is reassuring from 12.4-inch vented front discs and 12.2-inch solid rear discs.
The RDX was cleverly designed to give the ride height so enjoyed by SUV drivers but without the big step up and with a hip point almost parallel to make a graceful exit. The front seats were redesigned and built with high-strength steel and a seat frame that appears quite robust. The standard seats are 12-way power adjustable, including cushion tilt, but the Advance gets 16-ways seats.
Despite the fast roofline there is a remarkable 40 inches of headroom — with the standard panoramic roof. The entire instrument panel was rethought and restyled with an eyes-on-the-road directive. A 10.2-inch screen, with split views, sits high on the dashboard with what Acura calls an absolute-positioning touchpad on the shifter console to access eight primary functions. The 3 1/2-by-2 1/2-inch touchpad has a low border rim and a slightly curved base to help guide fingers to six touch points to click, swipe, drag or press and hold.
The action is not unlike a smartphone to access apps, audio, navigation and other functions. There are many similar infotainment systems, all of which are somewhat jerky to use, but it didn’t take me long to get somewhat comfortable using the system while driving, but mastery would be miles away. For other slow learners, there also are knobs and buttons for volume, fan speed and more.
The wide screen also has a split camera display, but the overhead graphic of the vehicle, with alerts for nearby obstructions, would be more informative as a birds-eye view camera image; ever so helpful in parking maneuvers.
The “floating” console, with open pass-through storage below, has plenty of room for phones, charging, cup holders and the armrest storage box. Door panels have good space for bottles and more.
The back-seat area, with raised bench, has adult legroom up to 38 inches. Amenities include two USBs, overhead reading lights and grab handles with coat hooks.
The cargo area is wide and flat with six feet of length with the seatbacks folded. And below the floor are a couple of deep storage bins — or just flip back the lid to corral grocery bags. A nifty storage feature is the six-pack sized well just to the left of the tailgate opening.
Acura has long shown emotionally styled concept-car sketches, but the final products looked like compromise by committee. Something changed in-house and it likely has to do with a wide field of very well-done and fashion-forward competitors.
For those who have wondered where Acura is going, the RDX will lead the way.
2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec
- Body style: 5-seat small SUV
- Engine: 272-hp, turbocharged and direct-injection 2.0-liter 4-cylinder; 280 lb.-ft. torque from 1,600-4,500 rpm
- Transmission: 10-speed automatic, with sequential SportShift paddle shifters, sport mode and shift-hold control
- Fuel economy: 21/26/23 mpg; premium recommended
- Fuel tank: 17.1 gal.
- Cargo space: 29.5-58.9 cu. ft.
- Front head/leg room: 40/42 in.
- Rear head/leg room: 38/38 in.
- Length/wheelbase: 186.8/108.3 in.
- Curb weight: 4,015 lbs.
- Turning circle: 38.9 ft.
- A-spec standard equipment includes: smartkey locking with push-button ignition, panoramic roof with tilt-slide, power tailgate, LED fog lights and headlights, LED daytime running lights, acoustic-glass windshield, 10.2-inch dual-content center multimedia display, navigation system with 3D view and real-time traffic rerouting, Milano leather upholstery with perforated front sport seats, 12-way power (heated and ventilated) front seats, 20-inch alloy wheels with 225/45 high-performance all-season tires, parking sensors (front and rear), automatic high beams, heated side mirrors, 2 USB ports (2.5 amp), 60/40 folding back seat, active sound control, capless fuel fill
- A–Spec treatment, includes: gloss black trim, dark headlights and taillights, Ultrasuede seat inserts and dash pad, metal sport pedals, red sport gauges, 16-speaker ELS Studio 3D audio system
- Safety features include: 8 air bags; hill-start assist, Acura Watch features, include collision-mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control, lane-keep assist, lane-departure warning, road departure warning
- Base price: $46,495, including $995 freight charge; price as tested $46,895
- Options on test vehicle: Red paint $400
- Where assembled: East Liberty, Ohio
- Warranty: 4-years/50,000-miles bumper to bumper