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2019 Acura RDX Test Drive Review
The RDX is spacious, loaded with features, and boasts a comfortable interior. It’ll be a fan favorite despite its clunky infotainment system.
Small luxury crossovers are among the hottest selling new cars today. Within that group, the Acura RDX has dominated as one of the most popular entrants, but like any successful, competitive company, Acura is not one to rest on past achievements: The RDX has been completely redesigned for 2019.
It appears one of Acura’s goals with the RDX revolves around perception. Sure, the RDX has been a sales success, but the folks at Acura want buyers to consider it alongside pricier options in the segment. While the 2018 RDX has been compared to vehicles like the Lexus NX and Lincoln MKC, Acura wants shoppers to view the 2019 model as a serious rival to the likes of the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Mercedes GLC. So, how can Acura successfully make that pivot, while maintaining the values and attributes that have made it a success this whole time?
Look and Feel
Acura has set the tone of that upward pivot with an awesome new exterior design. The RDX's new look echoes many of the design elements of its larger sibling, the popular Acura MDX. The front end of the '19 RDX features angular headlights, which flank a broad, demonstrative grille. That grille is a welcome change from the awkward “shield” or “beak” grille that had been the face of the RDX since 2013.
The 2019 RDX has a more upright layout than its predecessor, and the more upright rear end should yield additional cabin space. The overall aesthetic is modern and sharp. The A-Spec trim is further enhanced by dark accents on the side, similar to the available black side panels on the Porsche Macan. Clearly, Acura is trying to create that visual connection.
Inside, you'll find a strong attention to detail with soft-touch surfaces all around. The seats have unique stitching inter-spliced with fetching suede inserts. There's a suede insert on the dash panel as well.
Impressively, the interior brightwork is actual brushed aluminum. That same aluminum can be a little blinding when the sun hits it just the right way, but it also draws your attention to the redesigned center console, which features Acura’s unique shifter design and the new True Touchpad infotainment system.
The RDX comes incredibly well equipped, with features like 19-inch alloy wheels, “Jewel Eye” LED headlights, LED fog and taillights, a power liftgate, and a power panoramic moonroof. It also comes with power heated side mirrors that tilt down when the RDX is shifted into reverse.
Other standard features on the 2019 RDX include leather upholstery, heated, 12-way power front bucket seats, dual-zone climate control, remote keyless entry with push-button start, and a leather-wrapped steering wheel.
As for infotainment, the RDX comes with a vivid 10.2-inch HD monitor, controlled by a touch-sensitive pad. We’ll go into more detail about this system later, but it comes with Bluetooth connectivity, HD Radio, and two front USB ports. It also comes with Apple CarPlay integration, but no Android Auto.
If buyers want more content than what's offered in the base RDX, Acura offers three additional trim levels called “Packages": the Technology Package, A-Spec Package, and Advance Package.
The Technology Package adds upgraded, perforated Milano premium leather with dark accents and contrast stitching. It also adds GPS-linked climate control, a voice-recognition system that can understand complex commands, and an additional pair of USB charging ports. The Technology package gets the fantastic ELS premium audio system and additional driver-assistance features. The tech package adds a navigation system with real-time traffic updates and smart rerouting.
We drove the A-Spec package, which adds dark, 20-inch wheels, unique gloss-black exterior accents, larger exhaust ports, and unique front and rear bumper designs. This package also adds ventilated front seats, red ambient interior lighting, brushed aluminum pedals and interior accents, a unique gauge cluster, and an optional awesome red leather interior.
The A-Spec also gets an upgraded version of the ELS audio system, called "ELS Studio 3D." It is a 710-watt, 16-speaker system, tuned by Grammy-winning composer Elliot Scheiner. It produces seriously amazing sound.
The range-topping Advance package comes with essentially everything, including upgraded 16-way front seats with power side bolsters, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, and natural olive ash burl wood trim.
The Advance also comes with a 10.5-inch head-up display, 360-degree surround-view camera, and even a reversing camera washer—a very ingenious feature, especially in northern climates, where roads get heavily salted in the winter.
There is only one engine in the RDX: a turbocharged 2.0-liter inline 4-cylinder. It makes 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque sent through a new 10-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or available all-wheel drive (AWD). Acura calls its AWD system "Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive," or SH-AWD for not-so-short. Excessive alphanumerics aside, SH-AWD has some legit equipment backing up the name.
SH-AWD is a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. That means it can divert 70 percent of the torque to the rear wheels while the remaining 30 percent powers the front wheels. Of that 70 percent sent to the rear, 100 percent can be diverted to either rear wheel independently. In normal driving conditions, the RDX will apply power nearly evenly to all four wheels, with a slight front-wheel bias. But during hard acceleration and cornering, more of the power goes to the rear wheels.
As a result, the RDX will be quite capable in ice and snow, but it can also deliver a sporty ride in dry conditions. At the center of the dash, below the climate controls, is a large dial for the Integrated Dynamics System, or IDS. This tweaks throttle response, shift mapping, steering feel, and traction control. Drivers can toggle between Comfort, Snow, Sport, and Sport+ drive modes. Putting it into Sport or Sport+ tightens up the electric power steering and makes the throttle and shifting algorithm more aggressive. In addition, you get to hear more of the great exhaust note from the turbocharged engine, which sounds meaner than you might expect from four cylinders and two liters.
In any mode, press the accelerator, and the takeoff is pretty brisk. The RDX’s cornering is also respectably agile. The Advance trim comes with Acura’s adaptive damper system, which reacts constantly to road conditions. Put it in Sport mode for a stiffer ride, or toss it into Comfort mode and the ride will soften for a long road trip or commute.
As for fuel consumption, the front-wheel drive RDX returns 22 mpg city, 28 highway, 24 combined. The AWD version returns 21/27/23. In a week of combined driving, we observed fuel economy of 22.3 miles per gallon.
Form and Function
Behind the backseat the RDX offers 29.5 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats up. That's an increase of 3 cubic feet from last year. But fold the 60/40 split-fold rear seats and cargo capacity is actually down to 58.9 cubic feet. Still, overall cargo space in the 2019 RDX is in the same ballpark as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. And it has more overall cargo space than the Lexus NX.
The interior of the RDX is very spacious and comfortable, and the front row and second row both have plenty of head- and legroom. For example, I am 6-foot-3, and in smaller vehicles, the rear seat is pretty much useless when I set the driver’s seat at my usual position. But in the RDX, there's still enough room for another 6-foot-3 passenger to sit comfortably in the rear seat.
As for everyday storage, the RDX offers a caboodle of trays and cubbies. The new floating center stack design allows for a tray below it, which also includes power and USB ports. Up near the center armrest is the more conventional center console, which features a center cupholder tray with an attractive brushed metal cover that extends over it. All four doors have room for multiple water bottles, and the rear seat has a center armrest that includes a pair of cupholders.
Regardless of trim, the RDX comes standard with Acura's new True Touchpad infotainment system. True Touchpad replaces the awful 2-screen system from the outgoing RDX. The only problem is, you’re essentially trading one clunky system for another.
The high-definition screen is gorgeous, and the icons are sharp and easy-to-read. In theory, this system should be great. The touchpad directly correlates to the screen—basically, by pressing a spot on the touchpad, it selects whatever icon is in that region of the screen above. In some ways, it’s a variation on the type of motion and layout used in Lexus’ Enform touchpad system, but with Acura's version, there’s no need for the cumbersome cursor that you get with Enform.
But the system does have a steep learning curve.
If you want to do something as simple as change the radio station, you can’t simply turn a dial, like you can in the Lexus NX. You have to either do it manually, one-by-one, scroll down a list, which has multiple menus, or “draw” the numbers of the station on the touchpad. All of these take multiple steps.
Then, if you want to save the station as a preset, you can't simply hold it down, because doing so will bring up more menus and more prompts. As far as we can tell, you also can't move the positions of the presets in the menu. Everything could be accomplished with something as simple as a tuning dial and some preset buttons, like on BMW's iDrive.
Speaking of iDrive, BMW was one of the first automakers to offer an infotainment system, back in 2001. It was clunky and riddled with bugs. But since then, BMW has continuously improved iDrive, and it is now one of the best systems available. BMW learned that people will use their radio the way they have for years and that touchscreens just work better to accommodate that… which is why the latest version of iDrive includes a touchscreen in addition to its proprietary dial.
If you want to forgo dealing with all that, you can hop in and out of Apple CarPlay pretty seamlessly, though once in CarPlay, you'll actually have to move the highlighted icon around the screen little by little, which is more like using Lexus' Enform—something from which Acura wanted to differentiate itself.
The RDX comes standard with a reversing camera, tire pressure monitoring system, traction control, and a full array of front and side impact airbags. It also comes with a suite of driver-assistance systems, called AcuraWatch. This includes forward-collision warning, forward-collision avoidance, lane-departure warning, a road-departure warning system, and lane-keeping assist.
The Technology Package adds front and rear parking sensors and blind-spot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert. Moving up to the range-topping Advance gets you a head-up warning system.
Base MSRP for the 2019 Acura RDX is $37,300. A Tech Package variant starts at $40,500. The A-Spec version starts at $43,500, and the range-topping Advance Package starts at $45,400. SH-AWD adds $2,000 to each of these trim packages.
At these prices, the 2019 RDX is a solid value, especially considering this year’s improvements. These prices are still competitively positioned against Lexus and Lincoln. More importantly, the RDX is priced below the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. And with their pricey options, the X3 and Q5 can both induce sticker shock pretty quickly.
By now, we’ve come to expect comfort, luxury, and technology from the RDX. The performance aspect has been a nice surprise, and it really rounds out the upward pivot that Acura is attempting. Were it not for the brutal infotainment system, we’d recommend the RDX in a heartbeat. It’s still worth checking out, but be ready for a steep learning curve.
Of course, as we noted, the RDX has been a perennial best seller for Acura, and that’s despite the frustrating dual-screen setup in the outgoing version. So as much as we gripe, the buying public has spoken. The comfort and styling of the RDX clearly resonate with consumers and make them overlook questionable controls. Will that be the case for the 2019 RDX? Time will tell, but the trends point to “Yes.”
From open-wheel racecars to specialty off-road vehicles, George Kennedy has driven it all. A career automotive journalist, George has been a contributor, editor, and/or producer at some of the most respected publications and outlets, including Consumer Reports, the Boston Globe, Boston Magazine, Autoblog.com, Hemmings Classic Wheels, BoldRide.com, the Providence Journal, and WheelsTV.
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