WHISTLER, B.C. — Things have come full circle for the Acura RDX. The compact crossover launched in 2007 with an all-new turbocharged four-cylinder engine and an all-wheel-drive system that was sophisticated enough for the brand to affix the Super Handling designation to it. It was a fun, sporty vehicle in a sea of boring competitors, and we liked it enough to write a eulogy of sorts when the second-generation RDX ditched the fun turbo engine in favor of a V6, and dumbed down its optional all-wheel system so much that they dropped the Super Handling name.
Acura's mainstreaming of the RDX for its second generation turned out to be a smart play. Sales jumped 94 percent in 2012, the first year that the redesigned RDX went on sale, leapt another 50 percent the following year, and have stayed over the 50,000 mark for the past three years. It may sound surprising, then, that Acura is flipping the playbook back a few pages by swapping its V6 engine back to a turbo four and reinstalling Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
We think it's a smart move. The 2019 RDX is both sportier and more upscale than the model it replaces. It does more than just check boxes. It's interesting, boasts some cool technology, and offers a strong value proposition.
The 2019 RDX's all-new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine delivers 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. That's down a negligible seven ponies from the old 3.5-liter V6, but up 28 lb-ft, and it's tuned to provide the bulk of that torque in the heart of its powerband — peak torque plateaus between 1,600 and 4,500 rpm. An equally all-new 10-speed automatic transmission sends that power to either the front wheels, or, as was the case with the vehicles we tested, all four wheels.
Jumping into a 2019 RDX for the first time, our main powertrain concern was that the 10-speed automatic would generate a ton of unnecessary, and distracting, shifts. This proved to be an unfounded fear. The gearbox does shift quite often under hard acceleration, but does so quickly and without any undue jerkiness. The sheer number of gearing options — the old six-speed auto had a 68 percent narrower spread of ratios — and the torque-rich engine combined to provide excellent straight-line acceleration in any real-world driving scenario we could conjure. The rest of the time we didn't really think about the transmission at all. We did, however, lament the push-button transmission interface. It's not as intuitive as a traditional shifter, and doesn't really save that much space.
While it's true that a large percentage of the American population simply doesn't need all-wheel drive, those who do choose Acura's latest SH-AWD system will see real benefits regardless of the weather or surface of the road. Up to 70 percent of the engine's torque can be delivered to the rear axle of the 2019 RDX, and can then be spread in any percentage from side-to-side. In practical terms, the RDX has excellent traction on slippery surfaces, and its torque vectoring technology helps it handle more crisply when the driver is feeling especially frisky.
That powertrain is housed in an equally new chassis that's unique to the RDX. Despite boasting a longer wheelbase (+2.6 in.) and wider track (+1.1 inch at the front and 1.3 inch at the rear), the 2019 model's platform weighs 20 pounds less than before, and it's significantly stiffer. Base, Tech, and A-Spec RDX models come with Amplitude Reactive Dampers that can shift between a so-called Ride Zone for comfort and a Handling Zone to help keep the car flat under hard cornering. These base, non-electronic dampers end up delivering a well-sorted ride that's just on the firm side of comfortable.
Unlike the fully mechanical base-level suspension setup in lower trim levels, Advance RDX models get an Active Damper System that adjusts the suspension firmness electronically. In just .002 seconds, a whole suite of sensors can alter each individual damper's behavior. This is some pretty cool technology, and that's why we wish it was optional on the A-Spec. Unfortunately, it comes with the Advance trim level only, which means the sportiest-looking RDX can't be combined with the most advanced suspension system.
Acura's Integrated Dynamics System comes standard, and it allows the driver to choose from four drive modes: Comfort, Sport, Sport+ and Snow. Those all have obvious purposes, but the differences between Sport and Sport+ are worth a deeper look. Throttle response, steering boost, the SH-AWD's torque vectoring, and traction control settings are all altered by the IDS, and so are the electronic dampers on Advance models.
We left the IDS in Comfort most of the time, and were rewarded with reasonably good steering feel. In Sport, the variable-ratio steering gets predictably heavier in effort, and it delivers strong feedback to keep track of what the front tires are doing. Sport+ dials up the heft to its maximum level, and if it's an Advance model with the Active Damper System, Sport+ similarly firms up the ride. Options are always appreciated, but we think Comfort is a good baseline, Sport is great for a fun drive down some twisty roads, and Sport+ is trying too hard to make the RDX into something it isn't: a sportscar.
The A-Spec trim we mentioned earlier is new for the RDX in 2019, and it's intended solely as an appearance package. On the outside, pretty much every bit of chrome is replaced with dark trim, and a unique set of 20-inch wheels and 4-inch exhaust tips add a more sinister look to the RDX. But it's the changes inside we like the best. Metal-look gauges that light up red, a perforated leather steering wheel, chromed paddle shifters, Ultrasuede inserts on the seats, and aluminum trim all add up to an interior that feels sporty and premium at the same time. We really like the optional red leather interior, especially when paired with the Apex Blue Pearl paint seen on our test vehicle.
Here's a quick video comparison showing the exterior and interior differences between a 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec and an Advance model:
Acura says the 2019 RDX is its first production vehicle to fully display the interior and exterior ethos put forward by the brand's Precision and Precision Cockpit concepts. Full grain leathers, contrast stitching and piping, real brushed aluminum, and genuine Olive Ash wood can all be found inside the new RDX, and they all look and feel like premium materials. There aren't any obvious plasticky bits that the passengers will come into contact with that would feel out of place from a luxury brand.
The 2019 RDX is also the first vehicle to feature Acura's new True Touchpad Interface, which in the RDX controls an infotainment package displayed on a centrally mounted 10.2-inch LCD. Check out our initial thoughts on the touchpad here. In the real world, when sharing unfamiliar windy roads with other motorists, we appreciated the effort Acura put into ensuring that the infotainment tech is as easy to use as possible. There's definitely a learning curve — A and B "zones," split screens, and the lack of haptic feedback mean it isn't immediately intuitive the way that a touchscreen would be — but once accustomed, True Touchpad Interface feels vastly superior to similar systems used by Acura's competitors (Lexus, we're looking at you). Apple CarPlay comes standard, and as soon as Google makes Android Auto workable with a touchpad, Acura promises to add that, too.
Larger exterior dimensions equal greater roominess inside. Head, shoulder, and leg room are sufficient for four adults to sit comfortably in the 2019 RDX, and a fifth could squeeze in the back seat for short stints. There are 31.1 cubic feet behind the second row, and Acura quotes 79.8 maximum cubic feet of storage space with the rear seat folded and including the rear-seat footwell area. A cool underfloor rear cargo management system comes standard, as is a little cubby that's apparently sized to fit several bottles of wine. Sadly, we never found time to test that claim.
The 2019 RDX paints a clear picture of where Acura's styling is headed. A taut grille similar to what we've seen adopted by the TLX, RLX, and MDX catches the eye and is the location from which the rest of the car's sheetmetal seems to flow. A comically large Acura logo is housed front and center in that grille, but that bit of garishness doesn't do much to detract from the attractive lines of the new RDX. Acura's latest Jewel Eye headlights join the Diamond Pentagon Grille (their words, not ours) to make for a distinctive look without completely rewriting the somewhat angular design that Acura owners have come to expect. Parked side-by-side, the 2019 model looks significantly different and fresh when compared to the old.
It's not just the crossover's visual rebirth that makes it massively important for Acura. Remember, the brand had a very successful run until roughly 2009, and could try to claw back some buyers with more mainstream vehicles. But it's not doing that. Instead, the 2019 RDX feels more like a return to what used to make the Acura brand relevant in the first place: vehicles that feel exciting and upscale, based on a perception of innovation and real, palpable technology.
And it doesn't come with a big cost increase, either. The 2019 RDX's base price of $38,295 easily undercuts the Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC 300. Better still, the value proposition of a loaded RDX Advance for less than $50,000 is underscored by the fact that the Germans with comparable powertrain options can all crest $60,000 if you're not careful. Of course, it's also fair to note that those same Germans all boast optional up-level engine options that Acura has yet to counter.
The restoration of the turbocharged four-cylinder engine and Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive is more than just a Pyrrhic victory for enthusiasts, it's a boon to luxury crossover consumers for a few reasons. One, it's the first in what we hope are a long string of proof points that Acura may be back on course to deliver unique vehicles that aren't just slightly more luxurious Honda models. Secondly, the guts of the RDX — its powertrain, chassis, styling, and price — are right where they need to be. Lastly, the fact that our biggest gripe with the RDX is about what options can be had with what trim level says a lot about how good it is, overall. Welcome back, Acura.