Ridin’ high in an SUV is generally not a very sporty experience, since they’re generally tuned for comfort and, well, they ride high. Acura set out to make its all-new 2019 RDX compact luxury crossover more engaging to drive, with better handling and control, while also making it more appealing with improved styling and interior.
The RDX is more than just a continuation third-generation model, the automaker says, but a completely transformed RDX with brand-new engineering and technology, and the first vehicle from Honda’s premium division that’s so endowed. Acura touts that it’s the first of its models underpinned by “authentic and original Precision Crafted Performance brand values.”
Another first, RDX rides on a completely new chassis that is longer, wider, stiffer and set up with a re-engineered suspension system, Acura says, that improves ride and handling. No argument there; during my testing, the RDX made short work of a particularly tight and winding little road, feeling more like a sports sedan than an SUV.
The optional Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system added its electronic magic to the cornering, adjusting the power to the wheels not just fore and aft as needed, but in the rear, from side to side to seamlessly and unnoticeably enhance traction.
The standard engine also has been radically changed, going from a naturally aspired V6 to a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder attached to an electronically controlled 10-speed automatic transmission. With 272-horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, the new engine has plenty of gusto for this nearly 3,800-pound SUV.
The RDX that I drove was the full-on A-Spec model, gorgeously rendered in Apex Blue Pearl paint with black accents, 20-inch alloy wheels (also black) and low-profile tires. This is the sportiest and most technology-rich version, its cabin loaded with driving, comfort and infographic extras.
And yet another first. That would be Acura’s new True Touchpad Interface, rolled out in the 2019 RDX for the first time. The device is a small, laptop-like touchpad on the center stack of the dashboard on which the driver can engage the large video screen remotely with fingertip control.
The idea here it to free the driver from having to poke at the video screen or use some other set of dashboard controls. The touchpad seemed strange and awkward at first, but I soon got some kind of feel for it, particularly after reading the instructions for using it. I can see how with a little practice, it could work really well. Maybe even one of those things that you’d wonder how you ever got along without it.
I spoke with an Acura spokesman about the True Touchpad system, and he said a ton of innovation and experimentation went into its clean-slate development before the engineers, tech folk and test drivers were satisfied with its operation. Still, he admitted, there is something of a learning curve involved, as well as developing your hand’s “muscle memory,” similar to first learning to manipulate a computer touchpad or mouse.
However, the designers saw fit to add one traditional control to the upper left of the center stack: a regular old knob for turning the radio on and off, and setting the volume, as well as a simple push-button setup for changing stations. There are also steering-wheel controls that do the same.
That’s not admitting defeat for the touchpad, the spokesman noted, but more about meeting consumer demand for simple audio controls. I know that I appreciated it, since tuning the radio is by far my most active interface with the system.
The center console controls for the air conditioning and heater are also pretty much standard stuff.
The RDX interior feels spacious and comfortable, with a strikingly modern look to the dashboard and gauges – which Acura says was inspired by those in its latest NSX sports car – and for the RDX A-Spec, bright-red accents in the Ultrasuede ventilated seats that look very uptown.
In the A-Spec and other high-end RDX models, the gauges change their display depending on which dynamic drive mode you choose: Comfort, Sport, Sport+ or Snow. A large rotary dial in the center console controls the system. I sampled each (aside from Snow, which is not very helpful in Phoenix during late summer) and decided that the Sport mode was the way to go for regular driving, providing above-par agility and response.
Like everything on the RDX, the electronics interplay in the four driving modes is highly complex, involving the throttle-by-wire response, the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the 10-speed transmission, the variable-ratio power steering, Active Sound Control (which modulates engine noises coming into the cabin) and, on top models such as the A-Spec, the four-wheel Active Damper System, another new feature.
All the electronic gear on the new RDX is impressive, including a number of advanced safety features clustered under the heading of AcuraWatch, and I just scratched the surface. For instance, there’s Active Cruise Control with Low-Speed Follow that lets the car do all the work in bumper-to-bumper traffic, including stopping if needed.
While RDX pricing starts around $36,000 for the basic front-drive model, the Super Handling A-Spec with just about every bell and whistle imaginable hits $45,500 with all options included, plus $995 shipping. That’s pricy but right there with the premium competition, and you certainly get a lot of content for your money.
Acura took a chance messing with the success of the RDX, which has been a top seller among compact luxury crossovers for years. But the extensive makeover of exclusive changes and upgrades, including its more-focused styling and attractive interior, seem to have been well-worthwhile, and RDX continues its winning ways in the marketplace.
And I’m sure I would have gotten the hang of the True Touchpad with a little more practice.
2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec
Vehicle type: five-passenger, five-door crossover, all-wheel drive
Base price: $$45,500 Price as tested: $46,495
Engine: 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-4, 272 horsepower at 6,500 rpm, 280 pound-feet of torque at 1,600 rpm Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches Overall length/width: 186.8 inches / 74.8 inches
Curb weight: 3,783 pounds
EPA mileage estimates: 21 city / 26 highway / 23 combined
Assembled in: East Liberty, Ohio