WHISTLER, BC, Canada – Acura got out of the gate early with a compact luxury CUV, debuting the RDX in the U.S. in 2006.
While just it and the BMW X3 were in the segment back then, today the RDX is one of a dozen vehicles in the group, which will number 13 when the Cadillac XT4 goes on sale this fall.
Why so many luxury CUVs? Because today a first-time luxury buyer is much more likely to skip a midsize sedan and go straight into a C-platform crossover, says Acura, noting one in four luxury vehicles sold in the U.S. today is a compact CUV.
For Acura, the RDX accounted for 34% of its January-April sales, Wards Intelligence data shows, underscoring how important the third-generation RDX, now on sale in the U.S., is to the brand’s bottom line.
We can report the new model lives up to Acura’s contention it is the best RDX yet.
It has a better engine than the laggy, unloved 2.3L turbocharged 4-cyl. in the first-gen RDX, and its interior, including its features and controls, is miles ahead of the second-gen model.
Like most new “compact” CUVs, the RDX is more akin to a midsize model. With an overall length of 186.8 ins. (4,745 mm), up 2.4 ins. (61 mm) from its second generation, the new RDX is just 1.7 ins. (43 mm) shorter than the first-gen Acura MDX. Width rises and, unlike most vehicles that are getting lower, height does as well. Acura explains this gives it the roominess for people and their stuff its engineers were after.
The brand is touting class-leading passenger and cargo capacity in the ’19 RDX, but with the asterisk it is using SAE’s J1100 cargo measurement standard. It appears Audi and BMW do not, as the Q5 and X3 have higher listed cargo volumes behind their first row of seats.
Acura also claims the most second-row knee space in the class and more than the outgoing model. Whatever the exact figures are vs. others, we can report the new RDX’s backseat fits a 5-ft.-8-in. female comfortably – no knees touching seatbacks.
Acura engineers say the RDX’s body-in-white is not a carbon copy of the Honda CR-V’s but instead has many unique features. A case in point is a Y-shaped structure to create an additional load path beyond the C- and D-pillars as the cargo area is larger and the rear dynamic needs are greater than the outgoing RDX’s and the CR-V’s.
Also unique to the new RDX are Acura-first, rigidity-boosting enhancements such as a double-ring rear body and frame structure and “high-performance” structural adhesive. The latter also limits noise intrusion into the cabin – NVH reduction being a key R&D goal for the third-gen CUV. Other NVH-limiting measures include acoustic spray foam in the base of all pillars and dual 360-degree molded door seals.
In what is claimed as a world-first, a 2-piece front door ring crafted of 1500 MPa ultra-high-strength steel with laser welds should help improve safety in a crash and cuts body weight.
Officially, Acura says the new RDX’s unibody is 41 lbs. (19 kg) lighter than the outgoing model’s, but rigidity is up 38.3%, limiting reliance on the suspension to control body motion.
A MacPherson-strut front end and 5-link rear setup still are used, although the latter is a new design which Acura claims gives it the same dynamics as “top European competitors.” A steel subframe, forged aluminum upper control arms and toe link, and high-strength steel lower control arms are a few of its features.
Two-piston Amplitude Reactive Dampers are on all RDX grades barring the Advance model, which gets an active damper system that – thanks to being fed wheel-sensor and yaw/G-sensor data, as well as engine rpm and torque – can adapt individual wheels to road surfaces, adjusting every 0.002 seconds.
As with most luxury vehicles today, the RDX offers selectable drive modes that adjust damper settings for snow and comfort (giving a “civilized balance of ride and handling”), sport (firmer damper settings, sharper steering and torque vectoring) and sport+ (more damping force, maximum steering response and torque vectoring).
In tests here of the A-Spec and Advance grades, with Acura’s torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive, Comfort and Sport have imperceptible differences. Firmer, more direct steering is noticeable and obvious in Sport+. Acura notes the reactive dampers should result in a noticeably smoother ride in comfort mode in the A-Spec grade, but relatively pothole-free roads around Whistler stymie any chance of detecting that.
Another Acura-claimed first, standard electric power steering with dual-pinion gears and a variable gear ratio, gives a just-right level of feedback and weight during our testing.
Because the Honda near-luxury brand has benchmarked and is targeting them, the best-selling German compact CUVs (the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLC), as well as the Volvo XC60, are available to drive here.
In a comparison test of the Audi Q5, that CUV feels less confident in its Dynamic mode on curving, mid-speed roads than the RDX. However, activating S gear had the side benefit of firming up the Q5’s steering.
The popularity of the Mercedes GLC is a mystery, as the GLC 300 4MATIC AWD grade available to drive here feels, even in Dynamic (aka Sport) mode, heavy and plodding. Acceleration is underwhelming, as is the fact at nearly $63,000 the trim level lacks any advanced safety features, including something as basic for the luxury sector as adaptive cruise control. We’ve also noticed the lack of ACC on similarly priced BMW X3s.
Gone is the ’18 RDX’s 3.5L naturally aspirated V-6. The ’19 RDX uses a version of the Civic Type-R’s 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl., winner of a 2018 Wards 10 Best Engines award. Despite a 34-hp reduction in horsepower vs. that car, the 272-hp mill is plenty powerful to motivate the heftier RDX. Especially nice is the engine’s 280 lb.-ft. (379 Nm) of torque arriving as early as 1,600 rpm, correcting a flaw of many Honda engines: weak passing power at higher speeds.
The switch back to a turbocharged 4-cyl. is in keeping with powertrain trends in the segment. The German three and the Volvo XC60 all use 2.0L turbo-4s. Acura bests the output of all, although the lesser torque in the X3 and GLC peak slightly sooner than 1,600 rpm.
The RDX engine is mated to Honda’s 10-speed automatic transmission, debuting last year in the Odyssey minivan and also used in the refreshed Acura RLX sedan. Remarkably, unlike some other high-end automatics, it exhibits no shift busy-ness. To quicken highway passing, the 10AT downshifts to its passing gear of fourth a claimed 750 milliseconds faster than the outgoing RDX’s 6-speed auto goes from sixth to fourth to its passing gear of third.
Kudos to the RDX’s nearly imperceptible stop-start system. Engine startup is heard, but never felt.
While the interior has a nice look and above-average materials, the RDX (as well as the German trio for that matter) lacks the more progressive design of the new (more expensive) Range Rover Velar, a 2018 Wards 10 Best Interiors winner that has artfully perforated seats and speaker grilles that draw the eye immediately upon opening the door. While the RDX has unique perforation in the form of tiny squares instead of round holes down the center back front seats, the little squares are spaced evenly apart and from a distance look standard-issue round.
We love the red-and-black leather seats available on the A-Spec grade of the new RDX, which by the way can be paired with blue exterior paint for those Superman fans in the market for a compact luxury CUV.
Almost as alluring as that color combo is Acura’s new True Touchpad interface, controlling a single (yes!) large display screen. Unlike Lexus’ Remote Touch Controller, where you put your finger on the RDX’s touchpad is where the pointer lands on screen. Want the app tile in the upper left corner of the screen? Touch the upper left corner of the touchpad. Like the Lexus pad, tablet-like swiping and scrolling are possible.
We aren’t 100% in love with the Acura system (trying to zoom out and in on a map took some practice finding the right touch pressure, and we didn’t quite achieve the level of zoom-out desired), but it is a clear improvement over the Lexus system and the outgoing RDX’s confusing dual screens. Still, we think dial controllers, such as BMW’s iDrive and Audi’s MMI systems use, are the best, least-fussy way to access reams of features and information available in today’s infotainment systems.
Even better than the touchpad is the RDX’s chock-full-of-information, crisp-and-clear head-up display. You seemingly can access all the same features of the display screen without having to look away from the road.
Acura’s voice-recognition technology is much improved, allowing us to say, for instance, “Tune to 80s on 8” minus first saying “Audio” or prefacing the station name with “SiriusXM.” Only once does it trip up on our test commands because we don’t first say “Tune.” It also once says it changes a channel when it doesn’t.
The styling of the RDX is handsome, a step up from the “Power Plenum” beak years of previous Acuras and the polarizing Lexus NX, traditionally a top cross-shop of the RDX.
The RDX is a great choice in its segment, especially considering the higher-priced German competitors. Looking at the top RDX trim level, Advance with SH-AWD, the three German CUVs and Volvo XC60 similarly equipped sticker $7,000-$11,000 higher.
The RDX also offers a lot of standard ADAS technology, even on its base model, including ACC, automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and road-departure mitigation.
As with every luxury purchase, be it a car or handbag, brand cachet matters. Acura still needs to work on boosting theirs. The NSX supercar helps, but a key audience for the compact luxury CUVs – upper-middle-class moms with small children – may not know or care about the dynamically exciting but low-volume model.
'19 Acura RDX Advance AWD Specifications
|Vehicle Type||5-door, 5-passenger, all-wheel-drive CUV|
|Engine||2.0L turbocharged DOHC 4-cyl. w/ direct injection, all-aluminum|
|Power||272 hp @ 6,500 rpm|
|Torque||280 lb.-ft. (379 Nm) @ 1,600-4,500 rpm|
|Bore & Stroke (mm)||86 x 85.9|
|Wheelbase||108.3 ins. (2,751 mm)|
|Overall length||186.8 ins. (4,745 mm)|
|Overall width||74.8 ins. (1,900 mm)|
|Overall height||65.7 ins. (1,669 mm)|
|Curb weight||4,068 lbs. (1,845 kg)|
|Price as tested||$47,400, not incl. $995 destination and handling|
|Fuel economy||21/27 mpg (11.2-8.7 L/100 km) city/highway (using 91 Octane unleaded gasoline)|
|Competition||Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3, Buick Envision, Cadillac XT4, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Range Rover Velar, Lexus NX, Lincoln MKC, Mercedes GLC, Porsche Macan, Volvo XC60|
|Pros||Good touchpad & HMI; Nice interior look and feel; Meets or beats Germans on power, handling|
|Cons||Dials less fussy than touchpads; Lacks daring design of Velar; You may have to explain what an Acura is|