A new approach to in-car technology takes some getting used to, but the new look, well, you won’t want to look away.
When Acura’s designers and engineers started working on the redesign of the 2019 Acura RDX, one of the luxury brand’s most popular vehicles, they decided to start with a blank slate. They innovated from the ground up to modernize the look, create more function and build a better infotainment system. And, they did quite well. The category of mid-sized SUVs is expected to grow 40% in the next few years and the RDX is poised to be among the models driving that growth.
Who This Car is For
- Millennials and Gen X buyers who want an SUV
- Millennials who are trading a sports or performance car for an SUV
- Couples or small families
- Gen X or Baby Boomers who want a smaller SUV
- Empty nesters who love SUVs but don’t need a third row any longer
- Buyers who want a luxury SUV
- Drivers who value capability for challenging driving situations such as snow, hills or unpaved roads
What This Car Costs
- RDX base model, which includes adaptive cruise control, lane keep assist and automatic emergency braking: $37,300
- RDX AWD, which adds all wheel drive, panoramic sun roof and LED headlights: $39,300
- RDX A-Spec, which adds a sport package and exclusive design details: $43,500
- RDX Advance model, which adds hands free lift gate, head up display, surround view camera, and 16-way ventilated front seats: $47,400
- Delivery charge for all models: $995
What This Car Competes With
- BMW X3
- Audi Q5
- Lexus NX200T
- Infiniti Q50
- Mercedes-Benz GLC
- Volvo XC60
You Can’t Have it All … Can You?
You know how it is when you start car hunting: You want a beautiful car that can handle the extremes of your climate, that has great cargo space, that will pamper all your passengers, that will be reliable for many years, that will cost next to nothing to maintain and that carries a respectable luxury name. Oh, and you want it to not cost a lot. So you have to compromise, right?
But the real magic is in not compromising.
So with the third generation of the very popular mid-sized RDX SUV—which Acura calls a compact SUV but I would not—the goal is to deliver all that and more. And Acura did so, nicely.
Starting With a Clean Slate Helps. And, That Face!
In re-imagining the new RDX, Acura began with a wish list that included a new look on the outside, newly configured features on the inside and a new drive capability to make this AWD even more capable (keep reading; we tried it out!).
The car’s designers started with a new, more modern face of Acura: The diamond grille. Gone is the chrome belt that wrapped across the front end of every Acura; it was replaced with a black diamond mesh, angled as if it were being blown by the wind. It evokes water beading off the hood of your car as it makes its way through the blowers in the carwash; the effect is beauty in motion.
From there the designers added new lines, pushed the wheels further out toward the front and rear, and sloped the roofline for a sleeker, more aerodynamic look.
Beautiful Outside, But Even More Beautiful Inside
The interior of the RDX is plush with luxury details, from the beautiful leather upholstery and ‘Tuxedo’ front seats that are designed the way a tuxedo is, with longer lines and continuous panels shaped to fit you perfectly. Anywhere you look and more importantly, anywhere you touch, you find leather, stitching and soft surfaces.
The cargo area was a particularly nice surprise; this space is the new frontier of design and Acura took the challenge on. The cargo floor flips up to reveal storage bins that are perfect for grocery bags, and the left bin, between the lift gate and the wheel well holds 6 wine bottles— we were told but didn’t try this out. The storage bins are perfect for holding milk, plastic bags or segregating heavy items like watermelons so they don’t crush your bread and don’t have to take up passenger space in the back seat. BIG YAY for this.
Rethought Technology That Ultimately Is a Win, But It May Take Determination
The other area that Acura re-imagined is the infotainment screen. This one was a bigger learning curve because it’s a touch pad, not a touch screen, and all functions have to be managed through the touch pad. However, with about 20 minutes of repeating the same actions —setting up a playlist— it became intuitive and easy to use.
And, I really liked it. Here’s why:
First, for a touch screen to be close enough to reach, the driver has to refocus her eyes from the road to the screen, resulting in too much time with eyes off the road. A touch pad or mouse function lets the screen sit at a natural distance for the driver’s eyes to move back and forth between the screen and the road without needing to completely refocus.
Second, the touch pad is set up to mirror the screen. Want to access the function at the top left of the screen? Touch the top left of the pad. Also, there are back buttons and other buttons to help you quickly access the function you want.
Third, there are hard buttons for the most important functions, like radio volume and climate control. So while there are many things the system controls, you can still shut down the volume on your kids rap music before your mother in law is completely offended.
Last, Apple Car Play. I love this feature. Plug in your phone and your map (with destinations!), text, music, apps and phone are displayed on the screen. Android Auto doesn’t yet have capability for a touch pad, but when it’s available Acura will add it.
Other Features To LOVE
- Customizable head up display with buttons on the steering wheel so you can scroll through the options (push the wheel side to side to make your selections)
- Acura Watch safety system is standard on all models, and includes lane departure assistance, adaptive cruise control, front crash mitigation, forward emergency braking; cross traffic alert and blind spot monitor can be added with the Tech package
- ELS premium sound system, designed by 8-time Grammy award winning producer Elliot Schiener, which delivers a rich, concert-like quality to virtually any music
- 4G built in wifi
- Rear heated seats and 2 USB ports in the Advance trim
A Unique Gear Selector With Some Nice Built-in Benefits, Including a Default Park Function (In Case You Forget)
Getting into the RDX you immediately see that the gear selector is front and center. A few years ago Acura and parent company Honda moved to push button gear selectors and the RDX’s is surrounded by chrome in the center of the console. The selector is designed so that each button is unique enough that you won’t accidentally put the car into reverse when you mean to select ‘drive.’
However, it can take some getting used to, especially remembering to push the ‘park’ button when you reach your destination. Luckily the car automatically shifts into park when the ‘stop’ button is pushed, if the driver’s door opens, if the driver unbuckles her seatbelt and opens the door, or if she opens the door and takes her foot off the brake. I LOVE this feature since people can be forgetful. Still, pressing the park button is a good habit to have.
At the top of the gear selector is the drive mode selector. This lets you choose your drive experience: Comfort, which is the default mode, sport, eco or snow.
One last benefit from the new gear selector design? More storage. There is a slot under the console that is perfect for phones, small bags or other small items. Too small for my handbag, unfortunately, but that’s not a surprise.
Where my handbag did go perfectly, though, was on the second row floor, which is flat. It plopped right down and didn’t move. I love a flat floor!
Fun to Drive On Road and Off
Acura beefed up the engine a bit for the 2019 model; it has a 272 horse power 2 liter turbo with a 10 speed transmission for better fuel efficiency and performance. We found it to be easy on the highway and fun on the mountain roads, partially due to the torque vectoring system which applies power to wheels as they need it so the car goes exactly where you steer it; no more mushy, spongey play in the steering on curvy roads.
And, we took the RDX on a gravel cone course where we tried out the all wheel drive for traction and stability. Our challenge was to spin the wheels while turning and accelerating; while it was fun to kick out the gravel under the tires, it was comforting to feel the car recover.
So … What’s Missing? Not much
Even the fuel economy is pretty good; the RDX is expected to get 20 MPG city, 28 highway, for a combined average of 23 MPG. Not bad for an SUV this size. I’d (always) rather see fuel economy improve, but then again, we are solidly rid of the days when the capability to get through snow or over rough terrain required an engine that only got 14MPG. And, unlike those days, you can make your way through tough conditions in a beautiful and luxurious SUV that doesn’t break the bank.
What We Listened to in the Acura RDX
The sound system in the Advance model offers an exceptional experience. That’s because it was engineered by Grammy winning producer Elliot Schiener. We took a ride with Elliot and listened to his soundtrack for life in the RDX.
Disclosure: I was Acura’s guest for this test drive; travel and accommodations were provided but all opinions are my own.