With new crossover SUVs arriving on the scene on what seems like a daily basis, it’s getting increasingly difficult for any new entry to stand out. At least the Acura showroom keeps things relatively simple. There are just two SUVs in its lineup: the midsize MDX and compact RDX. Several competing luxury brands offer four, five, a half-dozen or more variations on the SUV theme.
The new 2019 RDX loses the chrome beak look of prior years in favor of a bigger, bolder diamond pentagon grille now also affixed to the nose of the MDX, RLX, and TLX. Wraparound “Jewel Eye” headlamps with 14 individual LEDs make a big statement as do a pair of air curtain cutouts in the bumper that smooth the passage of air over the front wheels for improved aerodynamic efficiency.
Viewed in profile, the new RDX’s silhouette gains more prominent wheel arches, the better to showcase wheel sizes that increase to 19 or 20 inches in diameter. There is also an in-vogue “floating roof” design with coupe-like rear roof pillars. The mission: turn up the RDX’s design wick to have greater pull with younger buyers transitioning out of sport sedans.
The 2019 RDX is longer overall than its 2018 predecessor, not so much for greater passenger and cargo space but for a sleeker look. A 2.6-inch longer wheelbase with shorter overhangs and a wider track creates a more planted stance. The visual mass is moved rearward to better compare with rear-drive-based competitors such as the Alfa Romeo Stelvio, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC. That’s accompanied by an improvement in weight distribution, moving from 61:39 front-to-rear for front-drive versions of the 2018 model to 59:41 with the 2019. Upgrade to the Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system to further improve 57:43.
Stretching the 2019 RDX does improve cargo space. There’s now 29.5 cubic feet of it behind the split-folding rear seat and 58.9 cubic feet with the rear seat folded flat. The rear liftgate is power operated and features hands-free operation on higher trims.
The RDX’s cargo space is enhanced with a hidden storage compartment under the floor. It’s 6 inches deep, measures 16 x 30 inches, and includes handy segmented bins. The additional 1.7 cubic feet of stash space is perfect for stowing laptops, tablets, cameras, purses, and other valuables out of the sight of larcenous eyes.
Storage solutions inside the cabin include a pair of cup holders and a keyfob-size bin under a tamboured door, and a reasonably sized covered compartment beneath the center armrest (which slides fore and aft to improve comfort). More space is available for a purse or tablet on an open shelf under the forward part of the console, complete with 12-volt power and USB charging outlets nearby at ankle height (if not convenient to your line of sight).
The only oversight here is the lack of a wireless phone charger. A popular option on some competing SUVs, this feature is unavailable at any price for the RDX.
Acura paid special design attention to the RDX’s cabin, where Precision Concept and NSX influence is clearly in evidence. Central to the interior design theme is a high-deck center console that segues into the dashboard in a single flowing sweep. It bisects the NSX-inspired front bucket seats that offer an extendable driver’s thigh support and power adjustable torso wings.
Ever since BMW shocked the ergonomic universe with its innovative (and often confusing) many-menu-deep iDrive infotainment controls, interior designers have been looking for new and improved ways to integrate the avalanche of technology features appearing in new vehicles. Ironically, just as BMW has begun adopting touchscreens in its latest products, Acura is moving away from them with the debut of True Touchpad control.
With the new RDX, Acura goes old school with a bank of traditional switches for the climate controls and keeps a simple audio system volume and power knob. This allows the driver to easily access and use commonly adjusted functions. Meanwhile, the True Touchpad control pad, which is about as big as the palm of your hand, is located atop the center console right where your fingers want to be (when they’re not on the steering wheel!).
True Touchpad features something called “absolute positioning,” which Acura says makes its approach to this solution better than some competitors. Translated, the touch pad mimics the just-out-of-reach 10.2-inch high-definition infotainment screen atop the center of the dash. Want to select the icon at the upper left part of the display screen? Just touch or tap the exact same portion of the Mini-Me console touchpad. Pretty cool.
There are two corresponding parts to the screen display and the touchpad’s real estate. On the left, a large section is big enough to accommodate eight main menu icons. A smaller section on the right displays secondary information. For example, you can use the left side of the display to show the optional navigation system’s map, and the right side to show the current music playing on the stereo system.
You can customize screen content by moving icons from one screen to the other, and you can even import your own icons to provide personalized shortcuts to frequently used functions. The screen also serves as the display for the standard multi-view backup camera and detailed seat controls for higher trims. Apple CarPlay is integrated into the system but Android Auto remains a ways off – Acura says Google is still working on a touchpad interface for Android Auto. Acura also equips the RDX with a 4G LTE Wi-Fi hotspot.
In addition to the True Touchpad interface, the center console features an oversized Integrated Dynamics system drive mode selector knob. Using it, drivers can choose between Comfort, Snow, Sport, and Sport+ driving modes (interestingly, Sport is the default mode). It’s as large as the twist-knob shifters in some Fiat Chrysler, Jaguar and Ford vehicles.
Speaking of which, there is no shift lever in the new RDX in the traditional sense, giving way to a row of prominent buttons atop the console similar to what is found in Acura’s larger MDX SUV. The shift buttons still require too much eyes-off-the-road time to find and select—particularly when you’re trying to do a quick three-point turn with traffic closing fast—but they operate pretty well once you get used to them.
For 2019, the RDX trades the previous version’s 279-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 and 6-speed automatic transmission for a 272-hp, 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder and a 10-speed automatic. Front-wheel drive remains standard, but the optional all-wheel-drive system is, once again, Acura’s torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) setup.
Although the turbocharged 4-cylinder engine’s horsepower rating is roughly equivalent to last year’s V6, the big upside with the new power plant is a jump in torque, from 252 lb.-ft. from the V6 to 280 lb.-ft. from the turbo four. Moreover, the four-banger makes about 40 percent more torque than the V6 did at just 1,400 rpm, so low-rpm and midrange throttle response is dramatically improved. An active sound system pumps an appropriately sporty engine sound through the vehicle’s speakers when the Sport or Sport+ drive modes are selected.
The new 10-speed automatic has much wider ratio spread than the old 6-speed, with a 15 percent lower first gear for improved acceleration and 7 percent taller top gear for more relaxed cruising and improved fuel economy. Acura claims 750-millisecond faster downshifts as well.
Fuel economy improves, too, according to the EPA. In combined driving, it goes from 23 mpg for front-drive 2018 models to 24 mpg in the new 2019s. Versions with SH-AWD see a similar 1-mpg improvement from 22 mpg to 23 mpg combined.
Acura has officially divorced the RDX from the CR-V – for now, anyway. The 2019 RDX is perched atop an all-new platform featuring a new 5-link rear suspension designed to improve handling response. Front and rear anti-roll bar diameters are up and ride motions are well controlled with the standard amplitude-reactive shocks. The RDX Advance models upgrade to an adaptive damping system that further controls ride and handling motions, automatically adjusting for variability in road surfaces.
Acura also switched to a new dual-pinion, variable-ratio electric-steering system to give the helm a more natural feel. Slower coming off center to enhance straight-line highway stability and faster, as steering lock is increased for improved low-speed maneuverability, the steering features just about perfect weighting, not too heavy or light and darty.
The brakes have a firm feel and plenty of stopping power, but initial application takes more pedal force than one might otherwise expect. Models with SH-AWD feature torque vectoring, which reduces understeer in corners by varying the amount of power distributed to one or the other of the RDX’s rear wheels.
One clue to Acura’s direction with the new RDX is the default setting in the Integrated Dynamics system—it’s Sport mode. Choose the Sport+ mode to quicken throttle response, hold lower gears longer, and to firm up the steering and adaptive shocks (if so equipped) even more. This mode also turns up the voice of the turbo four. Naturally, Comfort mode is designed for greater calm, while Snow mode slows down throttle response, upshifts the transmission sooner and rejiggers the front/rear proportioning on SH-AWD system for maximum traction.
Although it’s largely an appearance package, the new A-Spec version gives the RDX a bad boy look with gloss black trim, a blackout grille and more aggressive lower bumper design, dark headlamp and tail lamp treatments, LED fog lamps, larger-diameter dual exhaust outlets, a rear bumper garnish and diffuser, and meaty-looking black 20-inch alloy wheels wrapped with 255/40 R20 high-performance all-season rubber.
Inside, there’s even more differentiation with A-Spec leather-and-suede ventilated front seats, a black headliner, aluminum trim, more suede on the dash, a perforated leather steering wheel, larger chromed shift paddles, metal pedal moldings, red-accented gauges and the top Acura-ELS Studio 3D 16-speaker audio system (including four speakers in the roof) with 16 channels and 710 watts of power engineered by Grammy Award winning producer Elliot Scheiner.
Acura projects that one in five new RDX models sold will be the A-Spec, which by the way looks especially terrific in the exclusive Apex Blue Pearl paint seen in the photos above. If the A-Spec treatment isn’t for you, Acura offers the RDX in standard, Technology Package, and Advance Package specification, with prices ranging from $38,295 for a base front-drive model to $48,395 for an Advance with SH-AWD.
No matter which one you choose, this third-generation version of the RDX is aimed at delivering more emotional design and performance appeal to better compete with European rivals. It goes on sale June 1, 2018, so you can judge for yourself starting right now.
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