In retrospect, the second-generation Acura RDX was a disappointment. Released in 2012, it aimed squarely at the middle of the road and hit its target with withering accuracy.
The original RDX, from 2006, had featured a turbocharged four-cylinder engine and a torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system. In the interests of fuel efficiency, the replacement dropped the turbo, added two cylinders and adopted a “traditional” AWD system. The result: A more popular model, when measured in sales, but a step backward in terms of excitement.
With the release of the third-generation model, though, the Acura RDX is back in the swing of things – and then some.
While building in quality and reliability as prerequisites, engineers and designers “really focused on adding more emotional elements to appeal to the heart, as much as the head,” engineering development leader Steve Frey said by e-mail.
For the hard-core purists out there, the notion of a crossover that appeals to the heart must still seem improbable. But part of the reason why consumers are turning away from cars is this: Certain SUVs can match the performance of the average sedan, coupe or convertible in a straight line, through a corner and with every turn of the wheel.
The new Acura RDX is just such an animal.
Compared with almost all of the immediate competition (the only exception being the Alfa Romeo Stelvio), the RDX has more horsepower (272 hp) and torque (280 lb-ft). These numbers derive from a turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine – throwback No. 1 – linked to the first 10-speed automatic transmission in the segment. Forward momentum is helped along by the latest version of Acura’s torque vectoring and heroically named “Super Handling – All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD)” system,“ another throwback to the original RDX.
Driving along Highway 4 between Tofino, B.C., and Port Alberni, a binding and winding two-lane road made slick with rain, the mechanical attributes of the RDX prove beyond merely capable.
When switched to the sportiest of the four available modes, growls from the engine penetrate the otherwise tranquil cabin. The low-end grunt of the turbo four-cylinder makes switching among the multitude of gears largely unnecessary… but the temptation proves too strong.
The real strength of the package, however, is the handling – the deftness of SH-AWD supported by the well-weighted steering and tactile quality of the wheel itself. The system can send up to 70 per cent of engine torque to the rear wheels and then divert all of that torque from one rear wheel to the other and vice versa. It’s extremely well sorted.
“When we approached the development of the 2019 Acura RDX, we wanted to do more than make it faster,” Frey said. “We wanted to expand the overall dynamic experience. The “super” in SH-AWD is about just that; it’s about providing more than traditional all-wheel drive, and better handling than steering alone can provide.”
Considering the relative popularity of the last RDX, it’s surprising that Acura has returned to its sporting roots with this third-generation model. But it’s a pleasant surprise: The RDX is one of very few crossovers that urges you to drive fast, to punch the throttle when the mood strikes and to enter corners with more speed than might seem advisable. Here’s the bigger surprise: Behind only the NSX hybrid supercar, the RDX is now the second-best vehicle in the Acura lineup.
Base price/as tested: $43,990/$50,290
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder
Transmission/drive: 10-speed automatic/all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km) 11.0 (city); 8.6 (hwy)
Alternatives: Alfa Romeo Stelvio, Audi Q5, BMW X3 28i, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-Pace, Lexus NX 200t, Mercedes-Benz GLC 300
It’s not news that Acura design has been polarizing in the past. Here, the design studio in California has created a mid-size crossover with an almost coupe-like profile and no small amount of sheer aggression. The “diamond pentagon” grille, a bold element derived from recent Acura concepts, works well within the context of the overall design. The A-Spec version, with its blacked-out bits, is especially handsome.
The new RDX is wider, longer and has a longer wheelbase than the previous version, so there’s more space inside. The cabin looks absolutely premium from the get-go and the driver/co-driver cockpit is a modern ergonomic masterpiece. The designers have reduced the number of buttons (an Acura albatross from the past), while boosting the intuitive nature of the controls. The glaring weakness: seat bottoms that are too short to provide enough support, a black mark for any performance vehicle.
As mentioned, the engine, transmission and SH-AWD system are strengths. The steering feel is, as well, although some figured the steering itself could be more direct. The brakes are an oddity: They never feel unable to complete the task at hand (at foot?), but the response on initial application did not inspire great confidence.
The RDX is the first Acura to feature the “true touchpad” interface, a dual-zone touchpad that triggers functions on the 10.2-inch centre screen. Powered by an Android-based operating system, the touchpad does not allow for scrolling; instead, it mimics a touchscreen in that where you place your fingers dictates which functions are triggered. It’s different, but it works.
The verdict: 8.5
Not just a throwback – a big comeback for Acura.