REVIEW: 2019 Acura RDX A-Spec SH-AWD- A Bold New Direction For A Respected Segment Leader

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We had great respect for the prior Acura RDX models. This new model makes us passionate fans.

What is it? 

The Acura RDX is a roomy two-row crossover that in its new design leans heavily towards driving enthusiasts and audiophiles. It is now wider, longer, and roomier than its prior generations and also some of its key past competitors. Like the BMW X3, the RDX seems to have grown into its skin and is now in a segment we hesitate to call compact. Among its many strong points are great looks inside and out, serious performance chops, and an available audio system that is perhaps the best in the segment. The new RDX oozes style and attitude. This crossover is a great example of what today’s upscale vehicle shoppers want, now that premium sports sedans have jumped the shark.

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Pricing and trims

The new 2019 RDX comes in four trims, or packages, starting with the base Standard trim priced at about $40K with AWD. Next up is the $43K Technology Package trim which adds upgraded audio and infotainment as well as rear cross traffic alert. The sporty A-Spec starts at about $46,000 and the top-trim Advance starts at about $49K.

Our RDX A-Spec SH-AWD had a total price of $46,495.00. That includes the Technology Package and the A-Spec Package. The way Acura is configuring the new RDX is by packages more than trims. Each package lays over the prior.

Infotainment and controls

The RDX A-Spec and Advance trims come with a 16-speaker, 710-Watt  audio system created for Acura by Pioneer and 8-time Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner. It is called Acura/ELS Studio 3D. Simply put, no audio we have ever heard (in a vehicle or otherwise) is better. Only a handful of Bowers and Wilkins systems in six-figure vehicles we have tested even compare. The 3D system is not a gimmick. There are speakers in the roof as well as in the usual locations, and recordings’ individual instruments and sounds are separated and piped to your ears almost individually. The clarity and power are thrilling. This is a system that will make you fall in love with music again. Acura went so far as to include for us a selection of uncompressed recordings of all types (modern pop, classic rock, classical, techno, etc) on a portable USB-connected device. The experience was so special we became a traveling road show for our friends and family. Everyone was amazed.  We also found the compressed MP3 files and Pandora audio we streamed via BlueTooth from our own smartphone to be the best we had heard. Even SiriusXM seemed sharper and to offer more clarity than other premium audio systems we have experienced. Words can’t capture how special this system is. Try it at an Acura dealership.

Acura’s infotainment system and screens interface are all-new. The interface with the screen is via Acura’s True Touchpad. You rest your hand on a sort of palm-rest. Then while viewing the screen, you use your fingers to touch the same “location” on the touchpad. Top left of the screen = top left of the touchpad. This, rather than sliding a cursor around like a mouse and aiming for an icon. To the right of the main touchpad is a smaller rectangular that corresponds to the split screen image to the right. You use it the same way. Be prepared to spend ten minutes learning the method by which this is used. You can’t just wing it. We watched a video and practiced it. After a few days of use, we completely understand what Acura is shooting for here. Have an open mind.

The screen is large and one can customize almost every aspect of it. For example, do you never use AM radio? Simply get rid of that icon on your homescreen and replace it with one you will use more frequently. Or just clean up your options. You can also put icons on your screen for contacts. Smart. Acura’s menu tree is as simple as any we’ve used and the detail to which you can adjust settings is great. For example, would you like your headlights to come on when wipers are in use? That’s a law in my state and your RDX will allow you to make that setting. Or not. Your choice.

The Advance trim adds a head-up display and a heated steering wheel. From our point of view, Acura is being a bit stingy with these two options. We recently tested an almost identically-sized Mazda CX-5 Grand Touring that cost 15K less than the RDX Advance that has both of these features. The CX-5 is just one similarly sized vehicle at our top of mind. Heated steering wheels and HUDs are starting to appear now in mainstream vehicles of all brands around $30K.

Apple CarPlay is available in the new 2019 RDX right now. Android Auto is not. However, Acura says it is expecting Andriod to be able to work with its interphase soon and plans to update all 2019 model year owners’ vehicles. Consider our endorsement of the RDX’s infotainment setup official the day that happens. Those who like a volume knob will be happy to hear Acura has included one. They even show a person reach for it in their TV advertisement for the RDX. Why Honda keeps going back and forth on including the volume knob remains a mystery.

Performance

Acura has moved away from the V6 in the RDX that many Acura owners knew and loved. This is a bold move given that Acura’s older RDX was a top seller and that was a good engine. Times change, and the new 2.0-liter turbocharged engine has more torque and ample power. One upside from the new turbo-four aside from better performance, smaller size, and lower weight is a 1 MPG gain in fuel efficiency. The 2019 RDX also can operate safely on 87 octane fuel. What we liked best was the personality change.

We found the RDX’s strong low end torque and 272 hp more than enough for on-road enjoyment on back roads and for taking advantage of on-ramps at full throttle. The new 10-speed transmission is a quick and seamless unit that is never in the way. Paddle shifters are there if you want them and the Sport and Sport + modes offer added involvement. In Sport+, the RDX A-Spec was always ready to run and the transmission kept the engine in the perfect spot for instant acceleration.  The RDX A-Spec SH-AWD also feels planted in a way that only a vehicle with an advanced AWD system offers. Gun it while turning and you will not feel any torque steer nor feel any wheel slippage.

Ride and handling

The new RDX rides on a longer wheelbase and has a wider track than the outgoing model and has a much bigger footprint than past competitors (the Lexus NX comes to mind). It feels like the tires are on outriggers stabilizing the vehicle. You can sit very low in the RDX if you choose to (we do) and the feeling is very much like the sensation offered by a performance coupe or a sports sedan. This is much more an “all-road” crossover than an “off-road” one. The 20-inch performance tires have great grip in both dry and wet conditions and the RDX is a joy to drive in any situation with corners and curves.

We have recently tested the Lexus NX 300 AWD and the BMW X3 M40i. The Lexus had great rough-road ride comfort, which this RDX A-Spec matches. The BMW X3 had excellent handling and a sporty demeanor we think the RDX A-Spec matches. Acura has somehow found a way to combine the best handling characteristics of these two notable vehicles.

Seating

The seats in the RDX A-Spec we tested were outstanding in every way. First off, the seating area is very roomy. There is ample legroom and knee room for tall drivers – a very big contrast to the Lexus NX 300 we tested a few weeks back in which our right knee was in constant contact with hard plastic. The seats themselves are wide and spacious. Our A-Spec’s were perforated, heated, ventilated leather combined with microfiber suede. They were cozy and classy at the same time, a tricky accomplishment. We found the power controls and adjustable headrests easy to configure for maximum comfort. The Advanced package adds even more adjustability, but you lose the suede.

A-Spec Interior

Seating in the back is roomy. There was no need for us to move up the front seats to make room for adults in back.  The RDX is also the ideal height for kids in a booster seat. Low enough that they can climb in, but high enough that you don’t herniate a disc when bending in to help a child buckle up.

Safety

Every new 2019 Acura RDX comes with impressive active safety features. Higher trims add parking sensors and rear cross traffic alerts. What we loved most about the safety gear in our RDX is that there were zero false positives, the sensitivity is adjustable on many systems, and it is just out of your hair. You never notice the help. We once had an incident in real traffic in which an Acura saved our bacon. We’re glad that safety stuff is now on every RDX.

The 2019 Acura RDX earns the highest possible safety rating from the toughest testing agency in the United States, the IIHS Top Safety Pick Plus award. That award is for every trim.

Cargo

The RDX has a roomy 29.5 cubic feet of cargo area behind the second row and 58.9 cubic feet behind the front seats with the rear seats folded. Under the cargo floor of our A-Spec RDX tester there was no spare tire (again, an indication this is not an off-roading crossover) but there is a huge added storage compartment in its place. A few of the eight possible RDX combinations do have a spare in that location, so check with your dealer if that is important to you. Our subjective opinion of the RDX’s cargo area is that it is practical and large.

Overall

The new 2019 RDX has a completely different vibe from the prior generations. This new RDX has an attitude and is roomier, sportier, more modern, and feels more upscale. It’s more hip. It’s cooler. Use whatever word your generation does to describe that feeling. My 16-year old said it’s “Supreme.”

The RDX will appeal to a wide range of shoppers. We suspect it will win over those who relish the driving experience, but also want value and style. You can spend much more on a crossover with this one’s capabilities and swagger if you want to. But why would you?

 

 

 

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John Goreham

John Goreham