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2016 Acura RDX Test Drive Review
For 2016, Acura gives its 5-passenger crossover SUV, the RDX, a thorough update, upgrading the powertrain, enhancing vehicle safety, installing new infotainment technologies, and more. To make sure people know that the RDX is new and improved, it gets freshened styling, too. Does this revamped RDX deserve consideration? Yes, if you’re open-minded enough.
Look and Feel
In the simplest terms, what you see here is essentially a Honda CR-V with a V6 engine. Sure, there’s more to a 2016 Acura RDX than that, especially after this year’s refresh of the compact crossover SUV, but at its heart the RDX is a CR-V all fancied up, luxe-style.
Acura sure does its best to hide this fact, giving the RDX a distinct personality all its own. For 2016, the styling is sharpened for a more tailored appearance, and Acura adds its Jewel Eye LED headlights to the vehicle, but at the same time the standard aluminum wheel design changes to a delicate style resembling little pinwheels spinning in the breeze on a lovely spring day.
Those cute wheels are standard for all versions of the RDX, unless you upgrade from the base, AcuraWatch, or Technology option packages to the top-of-the-line Advance package, which has the 18-inch, machined-finish wheels seen on my test vehicle. Or you can opt for a great-looking set of polished, “diamond-cut” 18-inch wheels that are available through the Acura dealership. The price? A mere $2,248.
The premium to be paid for the Advance package is $6,650, but it adds every factory option to the RDX. Equipped with the available all-wheel-drive (AWD) system, my Fathom Blue Pearl test vehicle’s sticker price came to $44,340, including $920 for the destination charge. That’s quite a jump over a loaded Honda CR-V Touring with AWD, which tops out at $33,775.
In any case, the 2016 Acura RDX’s new styling definitely gives it more personality, but in my view doesn’t necessarily make this entry-luxury crossover more attractive than it was. Clearly, I miss the wheel designs from last year.
Inside, apart from the new touchscreen radio that dominates the center of most RDX dashboards, changes to the new RDX are not as obvious. The cabin is rendered in an appealing 2-tone treatment, with attractive detailing that lends just the right amount of upscale ambience. The materials are high in quality, too.
However, Acura limits choice when it comes to paint and interior color combinations, which is entirely out of step with what luxury buyers expect. For example, if you want Fathom Blue paint, you’d better like the Graystone interior, because Ebony and Parchment are not available with it.
Guess what? The other decision-maker in my household does not like the Graystone leather, but loves the Fathom Blue paint. She would put a big red “X” through the RDX if we were shopping in this segment.
One of the biggest reasons to choose an Acura RDX over a Honda CR-V, or even several direct competitors, is for the outstanding 3.5-liter V6 engine sitting under the hood.
Although the same size as the V6 used last year, this new 3.5-liter engine is more powerful and more fuel-efficient, making 279 horsepower and rated to return up to 29 mpg on the highway. Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) contributes to efficiency levels, shutting down some of the engine’s cylinders when the vehicle is coasting down a hill or traveling at a steady rate of speed on level ground.
A 6-speed automatic transmission is standard equipment and includes Grade Logic Control, which holds a lower gear for climbing or descending hills. Front-wheel drive (FWD) is standard, with an AWD system available as an option.
This is a rather simplistic AWD system, able to send up to 40 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels as driving conditions warrant. Unfortunately, Acura’s impressive Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) setup, complete with torque-vectoring capability, is not offered on this model. While the omission of SH-AWD is a genuine bummer, the RDX is nevertheless one speedy little SUV.
Delightfully eager to rev, the RDX’s 3.5-liter V6 produces ample power and displays plenty of refinement. Better, unlike the larger 2016 Acura MDX, the RDX’s 6-speed automatic transmission always seems to be in, or able to find and without delay, the correct gear for the task at hand. Kick-downs for passing happen fast, and the zippy RDX is able to take advantage of holes in traffic in order to sling around slower motorists.
On a twisty road, the transmission’s paddle shifters come in handy, featuring rev-matched downshifts as the RDX bends into corners. The powertrain’s genuine athleticism is why Acura’s omission of its torque-vectoring SH-AWD system is such a shame. More so than in the larger MDX, which does come with an optional SH-AWD system, the tidy RDX sure could benefit from it.
I’d also like to see a sport-suspension offering, one that reduces the amount of body roll and motion the RDX exhibits. Despite inclusion of what Acura calls amplitude reactive dampers, the ride quality is sometimes bouncy and choppy on uneven or undulating pavement, and the RDX displays more body roll than expected while slinging the SUV through sets of S-curves. These traits, combined with a tall seating position, serve to limit confidence when driving the RDX with zest.
Around town and on the highway, where most people are going to spend most of their time, the ride is fine, filtering sharper impacts yet making sure the driver is aware of what’s happening at the contact patches. Plus, the driver can easily toss the RDX around corners and around freeway ramps.
Perfect steering helps to make the RDX fun to drive, expertly weighted and responding exactly as the driver wishes regardless of speed or situation. The brakes work quite well, too, and perhaps with too much enthusiasm around town. They did fade to a small degree, however, when driving the RDX hard down a mountain road on a cloudy, 75-degree day.
As for fuel efficiency, I got 19.8 mpg on my test loop and 22.3 mpg over the course of a week that included plenty of highway driving. The EPA’s official estimates for the RDX with AWD are 19 mpg in the city, 28 on the highway, and 22 in combined driving.
Form and Function
For the most part, the Acura RDX’s interior meets quality expectations for this price point, and the controls are easy to understand and operate. My biggest complaint after a week of driving is that the infotainment system lacks a tuning knob to go along with the power/volume knob.
Acura might want to revisit the RDX’s driver’s seat design in order to improve comfort levels for people with longer legs. Based on my experience, the solution to a splay-legged driving position is a combination of more seat-track travel for the driver's seat combined with a greater range of height adjustment. Seat comfort itself is just fine, the RDX’s steering wheel is a pleasure to grip, and Acura supplies soft and plush places to rest your elbows while driving, but if you wear pants with more than a 32-inch inseam, you’re likely to suffer a distinct lack of thigh support.
Rear seat room is unexpectedly generous given the RDX’s exterior dimensions, supplying plenty of adult-grade legroom and space for feet. The bottom cushion sits high with excellent thigh support and provides a good view outside the vehicle. My kids had no complaints, either, though my 4-year-old likened the RDX’s new-car smell to “seafood.” (Y’know what? She’s right.)
If the rear seat is remarkably roomy, the cargo area is rather cramped. While there's more luggage space in the Acura RDX than there is in something like an Audi Q3 or Mercedes-Benz GLA250, there is no denying that the available 26.1 cubic feet of volume behind the rear seat could limit a family’s ability to road-trip in the RDX.
When you’re not carrying passengers and the rear seats are folded down, the RDX supplies 61.3 cubic feet of cargo space.
In the RDX, Acura employs a dual-screen infotainment system that is similar to the larger Acura MDX's, though it is not an exact match. The smaller Acura SUV’s setup distinctly separates the climate controls and the seat heating and ventilation buttons from the screens, meaning that the lower screen is exclusively used for radio and media functions, while the upper screen handles all remaining aspects of the system.
As a result, and for whatever reason, I’m able to keep better track of which screen handles what function and where the various controls for each one might be located, making the RDX more intuitive to use than the MDX.
Most of the time, I had the navigation map showing on the upper screen, complete with real-time traffic data to help me understand how problems on my planned route might impact my arrival time. Drivers use the large, silver knob sitting in the middle of the dashboard to zoom in and out on the map, a remarkably useful approach compared to systems that embed zoom functions on the touchscreen or place the zoom function on the center console.
Pairing and streaming my iPhone 6 to the system was easy, and making voice-activated phone calls proved fairly simple, though the system did not recognize commands from my 7-year-old, even when she was coached and spoke loudly. While I do wish that the radio offered a tuning knob, the virtual tuning buttons on the display screen are sizable and responsive, and the radio screen’s graphics are appealing.
Equipped with the Advance option package, my test vehicle included an adaptive cruise control system. When the system acquired a vehicle ahead, it beeped to let the driver know that it was going to start managing vehicle speed according to the selected following distance. Likewise, it also beeped when disengaging from a vehicle ahead, such as when switching lanes to pass. I like this detail, but I can understand why some people wouldn’t.
So can Acura, because you can turn this beeping thing off if you’d prefer.
Perhaps the most important changes to the 2016 Acura RDX are the ones you can’t easily see.
Under the sheetmetal, the RDX’s vehicle architecture has been strengthened for improved occupant crash protection. The result is an overall 5-star crash-test rating from the federal government, the RDX earning a 5-star rating in each collision assessment plus a 4-star rating for its ability to resist a rollover. As this review was written, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) had not performed crash tests on the new RDX.
Additionally, Acura is offering a new AcuraWatch Plus option package for the standard RDX and models with the Technology option package. AcuraWatch Plus is included with the Advance option package.
AcuraWatch Plus contains the adaptive cruise control system discussed previously, plus a forward-collision warning system with automatic emergency braking, and a lane-departure warning system with lane-keeping assist technology. During my driving, the forward-collision warning system did not issue false warnings, but the lane-departure warning system was less accurate.
Drivers can programmatically eliminate the lane-departure warning system’s aural alerts and can turn off the lane-keeping assist feature. By pressing and holding the button on the lower left portion of the dashboard, the driver can also shut off the forward-collision warning system.
Choose the Technology or the Advance package, and the RDX includes a blind-spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert. Personally, I far prefer this system to the LaneWatch technology used in the Honda CR-V.
For starters, the Acura’s blind-spot warning system works for both sides of the vehicle. It also places the visual warning within the same field of vision as the side mirrors, which the driver naturally uses to check for traffic before switching lanes. Acura’s approach results in less distraction, too, making the RDX easier to drive.
From an ownership perspective, the 2016 Acura RDX has several things going for it. It is expected to be reliable, it is expected to hold its value well, and it is expected to be relatively affordable to own over time. Plus, Acura is able to offer appealing lease deals for the RDX.
While premium fuel is recommended for the V6 engine, it isn’t required. And while my test results didn’t quite match the expectations set by the RDX’s official EPA fuel economy ratings, given how much power it generates, how often I enjoyed it, and how cheap gas is across America, this isn’t a significant downside to RDX ownership.
My skepticism about the RDX’s cost effectiveness is directly related to the value perceived by its owner. Americans aspire to own luxury vehicles, and the Acura RDX is a premium vehicle, like a Buick, or a Lincoln. With the Audi Q3, BMW X1, and Mercedes-Benz GLA250 starting at lower prices than the Acura RDX, the perceived value associated with owning one of those models is greater than that associated with owning the Acura.
Practically speaking, the Acura is the better value, especially when compared against equivalently optioned competitors. Convincing the typical small crossover SUV buyer, the person who is all excited to show off his new BMW or her new Mercedes, of that is no easy feat.
Christian Wardlaw has nearly two decades of experience reviewing cars, and has served in editorial leadership roles with Edmunds, Autobytel, and J.D. Power and Associates. Chris prefers to focus on the cars people actually buy rather than the cars about which people dream, and emphasizes the importance of fuel economy and safety as much as how much fun a car is to drive. Chris is married to an automotive journalist, is the father of four daughters, and lives in Southern California.
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