Acura practically invented the small luxury SUV sub-segment when it introduced the Acura RDX back in 2006. That pioneering model, with a turbocharged four-cylinder under its savvy and smooth exterior, attracted a large swath of performance-appreciating buyers. With the third-generation RDX performing well on the market, Acura is further finessing its original recipe — only now with plenty of competition in the segment, not to mention the fact that the turbocharged four-cylinder SUV are now the norm, not an outlier.
We tested a 2019 RDX A-Spec in stunning Performance Red Pearl paint and with the terrific features only available in the A-Spec Package. Of course, among the hottest of these are the front and rear fascia, dual oval exhaust finisher, 20-inch shark gray split 5-spoke wheels and black headliner, plus the A-Spec badging that vividly yet tastefully leaves an indelible impression.
One of the RDX’s most intriguing features are the Jewel Eye LED headlights, a marvel in the safety tech sense as much as they are in the practical — and considerable, since the RDX lights also cover more of the road ahead without blinding the oncoming driver. All LED lenses are on as daytime running lights, ensuring the RDX has a unique light signature during the day time.
When the lights are completely turned off, reflective surfaces behind the lenses continue to refract and give them the appearance of a bedazzling jewels (‘bedazzling’ is the right word here, no doubt). When high beams are activated, two inner LEDs turn on and illuminate objects 200 milliseconds — some 17 feet at 60 mph — faster than conventional lights.
Acura has done just enough optimization with the RDX body to make it palatable as a new model without being accused of ‘overdoing it.’ The 2019 model features a five-sided grille that is clearly a nod to concept car styling, while its framing is designed to push air around the car and its large LED headlights. The RDX also sits lower and wider, and in addition to a the sleek black roof pillar trim, our A-Spec package came with a metal trim toned from bright to black.
Our tester features most of the practical safety technology available to drivers today. This Tech Package includes rear cross traffic monitor, blind spot information, front and rear sensors and the Acura navigation system with voice recognition.
On the infotainment and connectivity front, the RDX sports the brand-new True Touchpad Interface. Sure, there is a learning curve involved. However, we are happy to report that our interactions with the fleet specialists addressed our concerns more than adequately.
At the heart of the infotainment system is the 10.2-inch display, which is controlled through the touchpad located in the center stack. The display itself is not touchscreen, so prepare yourself to become familiar with the ins and outs of the touchpad, from which your fingers control all of the “apps” on the screen, including audio and navigation. There is no on-screen cursor but the location of controls on the pad correlates with what you see on the display.
There’s also a smaller, secondary touchpad to control the right-hand portion of the screen. After some practice, your fingers should be able to instinctively adjust the infotainment controls. The touchpad also responds to smartphone-like swipes to toggle between screens or to scroll audio presets, in addition to responding to two-finger zooming on maps. Another entry option is to draw letters on the pad, which is a great yet underused tool for navigation searches.
The Acura RDX has a combined EPA rating of 23 mph, an average derived from 26 mpg highway and 21 mpg city. Over our test drive of just over 500 miles, the RDX yielded 18.4 mpg.
The workhorse that powers the Acura RDX is a turbocharged 2.0-liter, 4-cylinder engine. This is good for 272 hp and 280 lb.-ft. of torque, all controlled by a 10-speed automatic transmission. The transmission shifts very precisely and, for the most part, even intuitively. What we experienced is that the engine’s sounds are somewhat noticeable when the gears change at around 35-40 miles per hour. Acura’s engineers were clearly attuned to this, however. The transmission maneuvers from gear to gear amid an Acura-aided artificial engine noise pumped into the cabin via the cabin’s speakers.
This feature can be somewhat out of place for daily commutes. The RDX will never be confused with its distant cousin, the NSX, but doesn’t stop Acura from making the luxury crossover sporty. Look no further than the center console, where a silver dynamic-selector knob is situated.
Also, it’s no coincidence the RDX defaults to Sport mode, which ensures optimized performance for the transmission, throttle mapping, AWD and adaptive dampers. For a steady and comfortable ride that one would reasonably expect from an luxury crossover or SUV, there’s surely a hint of irony the RDX does have a Sport Plus mode. It’s a nice — if surely to be seldom-used — option for most SUV buyers.
When you’ve had enough of Sport mode, perhaps you’ll find solace in the Comfort mode. While the driver won’t exactly be lulled to sleep, there’s definitely a bit of an edge taken of the electric power steering and the throttle, not to mention a lighter feel in the optional torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Which, by the way, can send up to 70 percent of power to the rear wheels, or, up to 100 percent to either rear wheel to help your RDX keep a better grip on tight corners.
The MSRP for the 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec is $45,500. Since are no upgrades, the total price is $46,495.
What we liked: The RDX is incredibly well designed, splicing concept car DNA stylying into a crossover in ways that makes Acura so distinct. The torque-vectoring AWD is practical and a nice feature to have when you need it. Between the beautiful interior and pricing below competitors, the RDX has plenty of factors working in its favor.
What we didn’t like: The actual gas mileage we observed in the RDX didn’t exactly make us blush. Neither did the feel of the brake pedal, on more than a few instances.
The most serious competition for the 2019 Acura RDX is the triumvirate of Infiniti QX50, Mercedes-Benz GLC and the BMW X3. The RDX actually offers the best value proposition from the price standpoint. Also, the RDX has more horsepower than the X3 and a bit more front leg and shoulder room than what the X3 and the GLC offer.
The RDX offers more front legroom than the QX50, too. While logic would suggest that the RDX is inherently better, truth is the comparison and contrast amongst the RDX, the X3 and QX50 will always come down to choice and preference. After all, if we are talking luxury SUVs, gas mileage is truly secondary to the overall experience and subjective factors such as brand affinity, style and individual buyer’s taste.
Photo Credit: Copyright 2018 Victor Mosqueda / Car Fanatics Blog / Acura