The new RDX manages to check off all of the important boxes for its class. (LC Media photos)
2019 marks a significant change for Honda’s luxury brand, with the introduction of the third-generation RDX. This is no longer just a nicer Honda CR-V; the new model marks a return to a more performance-oriented Acura in its entry-level crossover.
This is welcome news for fans of Acura’s “Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive" (SH-AWD), which was dropped back in 2013 when the second-gen model was introduced and was, indeed, based on Honda’s mainstream CUV.
SH-AWD is a big deal, particularly in this age when the capabilities of AWD systems are so varied among brands and models. This latest version uses torque-vectoring technology to actively improve handling while cornering. Up to 70 per cent of the RDX’s power can be distributed to the rear axle, and that power can go completely to the left or right rear tire as conditions require.
It’s just the tip of the iceberg in what is a remarkably driver-oriented entry-luxury CUV.
Acura has dropped the V-6 in favour of a new direct-injected (DI) 2.0-litre turbocharged four-banger. There’s nothing unusual about that in this class; pretty much every manufacturer sports a DI turbo four of the same displacement. They’ve found the sweet spot between power and efficiency and everybody’s doing it.
In this installation, the mill produces 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque over a broad rev range, and consumes 11 L/100 km in the city and 8.6 on the highway, according to official figures.
All of that grunt gets distributed through a segment-first 10-speed automatic transmission with wheel-mounted paddle shifters.
The new RDX earns points on the design side, too, with a sporty profile, slick lighting and effective but restrained use of body creasing. I especially like the taillight and dual-exhaust treatment, which give the RDX a muscular vibe that is consistent with its driving dynamics.
The inside of our Platinum Elite tester was an inviting place as well, with equal parts performance and luxury. Our tester had tasteful open-grain wood trim and saddle-brown leather mixed in with satin-metallic trim for a truly premium-feeling atmosphere. Acura’s space-saving gear selector buttons make an appearance here; they are intuitive and unobtrusive.
But what is given way too much premium real estate is the drive selector knob that very well might remain untouched by owners. It feels unrefined when used and the system’s reaction is delayed. A simple toggle or rotating dial on the console would be a more appropriate placement for something like this.
That’s not to say the various drive modes aren’t effective; on the contrary, there is a palpable change in responsiveness as one navigates through the snow, comfort, sport and sport+ modes. Shift programming, accelerator response and even turn-in from the variable-ratio steering change as the modes get more aggressive. I found plenty to like about all modes — they function as advertised.
I was initially less pleased about the synthetically enhanced engine noises that become more apparent in the sport modes. While not bothersome, there’s something disingenuous about manufactured engine noises. Then I remembered what virtually every direct-injected four banger sounds like without enhancement, and this one began to bother me less.
Suffice to say, for someone who enjoys driving but needs to drive an all-weather family hauler, the RDX checks many boxes, and from that perspective I would welcome this as my daily driver.
So, all of the important bits for this class are there: powertrain, looks, luxury and performance. It’s a bit frustrating, then, that the RDX design team went and made some very questionable decisions. The most glaring of these is the user interface. Acura makes much of its new True Touchpad system, which includes a high-mounted display and a console-mounted touchpad control. I’ve always maintained that a touch screen is the most direct — and therefore safest — way to operate the vehicle’s systems, but premium brands in general disagree with that approach as they try to fix something that ain’t broke.
The premise is that the display is closer to a driver’s line of sight if it is mounted higher on the dash, and such a placement doesn’t lend itself well to touchscreen systems. There also seems to be a general trend that says control knobs and touchpads are more desirable than touchscreens.
The reality is that anything other than a direct touchscreen requires a full additional cognitive step that takes concentration away from driving. The system became easier to use after a week with the RDX, but there is still much more focus required to operate this type of system as compared to a more intuitive touchscreen.
Another annoyance was that XM radio was unresponsive on several occasions during my week, resulting in an error message not unlike one I’d see on my phone when an app crashes. Forgive me, but I need my car to be more reliable than my smartphone.
Increasingly, integration of technology has a profound effect on a driver’s daily interaction with their vehicles. The RDX is a fantastic new vehicle with a few shortcomings related to its user interface. Whether this is enough to sway a purchase decision can only be determined with a good, long test drive.
Acura’s True Touchpad system boasts a high-mounted display and a console-mounted control.
The 2019 Acura RDX is a fantastic new vehicle with only a few shortcomings related to its user interface. The new RDX earns extra points on the design side with its sporty profile.