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2020 Acura RDX Test Drive Review
The RDX leads all other compact luxury crossovers in value, but you'll have to learn to deal with its clunky infotainment system.
It should no longer be breaking news that, to new-car buyers, crossovers are king. Within that market, the small luxury crossover segment has been growing at an incredible rate. Every automaker wants to get a piece, but Acura has long been an early adopter with its 2-row, 5-passenger RDX.
The Acura RDX, built at Honda's Marysville, Ohio, assembly plant, was first introduced for the 2007 model year. It’s a crossover built in America for American shoppers. From the start, the RDX enjoyed great success. It entered its third generation with the 2019 model year, and it offers plenty of space, creature comforts, and safety tech. That 2019 model carries over to the 2020 vehicle we tested.
The RDX competes with the Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Audi Q5, and BMW X3, and it holds its own against all three. It offers more content at a lower price, and in some cases, it has better safety technology. It also competes with the Lexus NX, Jaguar F-PACE, and Lincoln MKC.
We reviewed the 2019 RDX and came away with a very favorable conclusion. But seeing as this is one of the best selling small luxury SUVs—and Acura’s best selling vehicle—it seemed like a good time to take a closer look and unpack more of what we like and dislike about the RDX. We’ll also determine which trim of the RDX provides the best value to shoppers.
Look and Feel
First off, it doesn’t take a keen eye to notice the 2020 RDX looks very similar to the 2019 RDX. In fact, there are almost no differences between the two model years, and that’s a good thing. The RDX is one of the best looking vehicles in its segment. Gone are the “beak” grille days of the past decade. Now it has a beamy, imposing grille and rakish headlights.
One comical element to the RDX’s styling is the large logo set within the grille. If you spend enough time looking at this car, you’ll realize how ridiculously large that logo is. Thankfully, in the context of the overall design, it kind of works.
You’ll also notice the RDX's upper character line, which swoops from the windshield to the rear hatch. Another line, starting from the bottom of the rear side windows, kicks up and crosses over the upper character line, giving it the appearance of a very large spoiler.
Sharp, precise styling carries into the cabin of the RDX. Our test model had instantly eye-catching red leather upholstery. This is a trend we started seeing with BMW's M vehicles, and it has spread to rival automakers. In some cases, it’s a bit much, but it works in the RDX. This is because only the seats are red, resulting in a strong, contrasting red-and-black interior aesthetic.
The RDX comes very well equipped, including standard features such as synthetic leather upholstery, heated front seats with 12-way power adjustability, a power moonroof, and a 10.2-inch infotainment screen. You also get a leather-wrapped steering wheel and a host of driver-assistance features.
In addition to the base RDX, there are three packages, which function as trims: the Technology Package, A-Spec Package, and Advance Package. The Technology Package adds upgraded Milano leather seating, 19-inch wheels, additional driver-assistance features, rear-door keyless entry, and a GPS-linked climate control system.
We drove the performance-inspired RDX A-Spec. It features some visual upgrades, including unique 20-inch wheels and bumpers, larger exhaust outlets, LED fog lights, and a unique diamond pattern grille. The diamond pattern radiates out from the big Acura logo in a way that makes it look like some kind of automotive deity. Inside, the A-Spec added ventilated front seats, a massive panoramic moonroof, Acura's UltraSuede upholstery, and sport pedals.
The range-topping Advance Package adds rain-sensing wipers, acoustic front glass, 16-way power front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, ambient cabin lighting, and natural Olive Ash wood trim. These are all nice features, but due to the sheer amount of standard content you get for one of the best prices in the small luxury SUV segment, CarGurus recommends the base trim of the RDX.
Every version of the RDX comes with a turbocharged 2-liter 4-cylinder engine that makes 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This is an impressive amount of power from a 4-cylinder engine, and it produces solid acceleration in the RDX. This car jumps ahead from a stop and provides plenty of get-up-and-go to overtake cars on the highway. All the while, it makes a great engine note.
Power gets routed through a 10-speed automatic transmission to the front wheels or available Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD). The 10-speed auto manages power well, which helps in both fuel economy and performance driving. You can use the steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters, but it’s better to use one of the drive-mode settings and just let the automatic transmission do its thing. At the heart of the dash is the large dial for the Integrated Dynamics System. You can turn the dial to Comfort, Snow, Sport, and Sport-Plus drive modes. These modes control not only throttle response and shift patterns, but also steering feel and power delivery to each of the four wheels.
This dial is helpful, but it’s also comically large and takes up a ton of valuable dash space. Below the drive-mode dial is Honda/Acura’s proprietary shifter design, which has separate buttons for Park, Neutral, and Drive, and then a weird pull-tab for Reverse. Once again, these two items take up a whole lot of dash space.
Strangely, one upshot to the misused dash space is the two panels of negative space that flank the drive-mode dial. The left panel contains the cancel button for the car's stop-start system. This system is supposed to help conserve fuel, but it can be a bit herky-jerky, and I don’t like it. Being able to quickly locate the opt-out button for this system is helpful.
As for fuel economy, our A-Spec test model with SH-AWD returns an EPA-estimated 22 mpg city, 27 highway, 24 combined. Even with stop-start turned off, in a week of combined city and highway driving, I observed fuel economy of 22.2 mpg. It should also be noted that the RDX takes premium fuel, so factor that into your annual fuel costs.
In addition to turning off the stop-start, I also left the RDX in Sport mode for most of the week and even clicked into Sport+ when getting up to highway speeds and making passes. In any mode, the RDX provides great acceleration, and the turbo shows almost no lag (turbochargers typically need a moment to build up boost when starting at low revs). So, with all that in mind, my observed fuel economy was pretty good.
In addition to solid acceleration, the RDX offers fantastic handling while remaining incredibly comfortable. This dual personality is becoming more common among luxury cars, and the RDX is a shining example. Some competitors are more comfortable, while others are more performance-oriented. But being able to perform around town and on the highway—where you can take big sweeping turns at considerable speed—is great.
Form and Function
The RDX pushes the limits of what constitutes a “compact" SUV. The cabin is spacious and provides very comfortable and supportive front seats. It’s not hard to find a good driving position, and you should have plenty of head- and legroom. Space extends to the second row, which also has great headroom and decent legroom. The front row has space for large water bottles in the doors and in the center console, hidden behind a retractable panel. Beneath the shifter console, there is a pass-through cargo tray, which also has a USB port. The second row has a fold-down center console with two cup holders. It also has in-door cup holders.
The RDX has 29.5 cubic feet of cargo space behind the rear seats. The rear seats fold down easily, providing 58.9 cubic feet, which is a good amount of cargo space for the class. This cargo area is also easily accessible, and the load floor sits at a good height. There is also a helpful cubby on the left side of the cargo area, and a large section of the load floor is actually a liftable panel that reveals a hidden cargo area.
Infotainment has to be one of the biggest letdowns in the RDX. The vivid widescreen infotainment system should, in theory, be great, but it’s operated via a touchpad down below the shifter, which Acura calls the True Touchpad Interface. That’s where things start to fall apart.
This is similar to the Lexus Remote Touch trackpad, but that system has been around for longer and actually has a bit more logic to it. With the RDX, when you touch the upper left corner of the touchpad, it selects the icon in the upper left corner of the screen. The Lexus system is better because you can “scroll” from item to item. Acura’s system lacks that ability, which means you’re constantly looking over at the screen to make sure you've selected the right item. Acura also adds complexity by including a separate vertical scroller on the right third of the touchpad.
Apple CarPlay and Android Auto both come standard in the RDX, but those systems are optimized for a touchscreen. Acura’s touchpad negates the simplicity of CarPlay. BMW introduced the original remote controller, the iDrive system, but in recent years it has added touch functionality while retaining its rotary controller. The fact that BMW has adopted a touchscreen should speak volumes. You have to wonder what Acura was thinking and whether everyday car shoppers were even asked to test the touchpad.
Other standard tech features include Bluetooth, two USB ports, a WiFi hot spot, a 9-speaker audio system, and satellite radio.
The Technology Package adds two more USB ports for the rear seats, navigation with real-time traffic updates, and Acura’s ELS premium audio system. ELS is a fantastic stereo system and one of the highlights of the RDX. It features incredible clarity and powerful sound.
The A-Spec has the even more impressive ELS Studio 3D premium sound system with 16 speakers. Meanwhile, the range-topping Advance Package adds a 10.5-inch head-up display (HUD).
The RDX comes standard with a whole host of front- and side-impact airbags, LATCH child-seat mounting systems, a tire pressure monitoring system, hill-start assist, and a rear-view camera.
The RDX also comes with a full complement of driver-assistance features, including lane-departure warning, forward-collision warning, road-departure mitigation, lane-keep assist, automatic high beams, and adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow.
The Technology Package adds front and rear parking sensors, blind-spot monitoring, and rear cross-traffic monitoring. All of the aforementioned content also comes on the A-Spec model.
The range-topping Advance Package adds a 10.5-inch head-up display, a 360-degree surround-view camera, and even a washer nozzle for the rear-view camera. The mechanically identical 2019 Acura RDX was awarded a 5-star overall safety rating by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and named a Top Safety Pick+ by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
The 2020 Acura RDX has a base MSRP of $37,600—that’s $200 more than last year. The SH-AWD base trim has a price of $39,600, while an RDX with the Technology Package costs $40,800, and SH-AWD brings the Tech price up to $42,800.
The A-Spec starts at $43,800, while our SH-AWD A-Spec test model started at $45,800. The Advance package starts at $45,700, and the Advance Package with SH-AWD costs $47,700. This pricing spread is middle-of-the-road for the luxury compact SUV segment. The German options cost a bit more, and the Lincoln MKC costs less. The base price of the RDX looks fantastic, considering what you get.
The infotainment system is my only hangup with the RDX, and if it was truly bad, it would have prevented me from suggesting this car to shoppers over the past six months. But I have recommended the RDX to plenty of shoppers recently. I’ve also suggested checking out the BMW X3 as an alternative if they don't like the RDX's infotainment.
If the infotainment doesn’t get in your way, the RDX is worth serious consideration. It’s spacious, comfortable, and safe. And as luxury SUVs go, it’s also a tremendous value.
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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