2019 Acura RDX: Some Personality at Last!

Published on June 12, 2018 in First Drives by Sylvain Raymond

You probably already know that the MDX and RDX generate the highest volume of sales at Honda’s luxury brand. This was true long before SUV sales skyrocketed. With the competition heating up across all SUV categories, Acura has decided to stand pat for now and rely on this tandem. For 2019, we’ll get a third generation of its best-selling model: the RDX. It’s not surprising that this makeover is so important in the eyes of the manufacturer.

The 2019 RDX is no simple evolution. The old version has been dropped to start anew. Its new platform—exclusive to Acura—helped integrate the necessary elements to enhance the RDX’s handling. It’s more rigid, lighter and will also help lower the centre of gravity.

A First-ever A-Spec SUV: Can the Type-S be Far Behind?

The 2019 RDX is the first to adopt a new signature look at Acura, which will be applied to other upcoming products. While the tail end is generic, the front demonstrates more character thanks mainly to a new “Diamond Pentagon” grille. They want to showcase the Acura brand, which is impossible not to notice with the oversized logo smack dab in the middle of the grille. That’s the current trend, after all, as evidenced by the front end of any Mercedes-Benz SUV. Acura’s recent designs have been accused of lacking personality, but the RDX gives us a reason to be hopeful.

For a truly unique style, you can opt for the A-Spec offered for the first time in an Acura SUV. This version adds a few visual elements that enhance the vehicle’s look with monochromatic elegance and low-profile tires mounted on grey 20-inch rims. However, it’s all about style. Don’t expect any additional power in the RDX A-Spec, though.

For that, you’ll have to wait for the as-yet-unconfirmed Type-S. With a turbocharged six-cylinder engine, its mission will be to rival Mercedes-AMG and BMW M. Acura finally understands that performance sells, which is something that Infiniti still doesn’t seem to comprehend.

Starting at $43,990, the RDX is in line with the competition from a price standpoint. There are five available versions, distinguished mainly by their equipment levels. As for the rest, the choice is simple: there’s only one available engine and gearbox.

Photo: Sylvain Raymond

Going back to the turbo engine

When the RDX was introduced in 2006, its turbocharged engine was poorly received. Mildly powerful and noisy, many owners were disappointed with its output. The situation was so dire that it almost sunk the model altogether. For the second generation, launched in 2013, they chose a naturally aspirated V6 that was much more conventional at the time. Ironically, this year they go back to the turbo, reflecting the current trend toward this type of engine. The original RDX was ahead of its time.

For 2019, the RDX is swapping its 3.5-litre V6 for a turbocharged, 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine with direct injection that liberates 272 horsepower, which is seven less than the old V6, but with 30% more torque (for a total of 280 lb.-ft.) developed in much lower rpm. The RDX becomes more powerful than the basic version of all its rivals with similar powertrains. The engine is paired with a new, ultra-efficient ten-speed automatic gearbox, but we’ll circle back to that. Super gasoline is recommended, but not required.

On board, the cabin has been entirely updated. Acura is known for its button-riddled dashboards. They pared it down a little in the 2019 RDX, but it remains busy. There’s a glut of buttons on the left of steering wheel. The central console is loaded too. Commands are arranged in logical places rather than simply grouping them all together. A floating central console brings a nice touch of modernity and they used the NSX integration in the layout of the buttons of the forward, reverse and park selector.

Honda continues to believe, like Lexus, that a high-sitting screen controlled by a touchpad is more efficient and less bothersome than a touchscreen. We beg to differ. Sure, Acura’s infotainment system is a smidge more functional than what Lexus is offering, but it forces you to pay as much attention to the screen when you’re trying to select the displayed features. At the end of the day, it makes things more laborious and complex.

The RDX was lagging behind many of its rivals in terms of interior room, but thanks to the new platform, the length and wheelbase of this generation have been increased, giving passengers a few extra millimetres. The difference is noticeable and the model surpasses the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 when it comes to space for the front and rear passengers as well as cargo volume.

Photo: Acura

On the road

Once inside, you’ll appreciate the comfort and support of the 16-way adjustable seats that do just about everything but swivel 360 degrees. However, it would be nice to be able to lower the seat cushion, which is very high.

The turbocharged four-cylinder is surprisingly efficient. It has a lot of spunk and power is immediately deployed as soon as you push the accelerator. That’s thanks to the ten-speed automatic gearbox, which maintains the ideal gear range at all times. A Sport button helps modify its handling by ignoring the higher gears, thus allowing the engine to rev a little higher. You can also combine everything to four driving modes that adjust the suspension firmness and the responsiveness of the accelerator.

Sport + is the most radical mode. If you are taken by the sound of the four cylinder during acceleration, know that its sound is amplified in the cabin by the sound system. Kudos to the engineers for a job very well done on the 2019 RDX’s handling. It’s a lot more engaging on the road than its predecessor and its third-generation SH-AWD all-wheel drive remains a model of efficiency.

Test drive report
Test model 2019 Acura RDX
Trim level A-spec
Price range $44,000 – $50,000
Price as tested 50 000 $
Warranty (basic) 4 years/80,000 km
Warranty (powertrain) 5 years/100,000 km
Fuel economy (city/highway/observed) 11,0 / 8,6 / 10,8 L/100km
Options N/A
Competitive models Audi Q5, BMW X3, Buick Envision, Infiniti QX50, Jaguar F-PACE, Land Rover Discovery Sport, Lincoln MKC, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Volvo XC60
Strong points
  • New A-Spec version
  • More dynamic style
  • More engaging ride
  • Very efficient ten-speed gearbox
Weak points
  • Seat cushion is too high
  • Busy dashboard
  • Infotainment system is still hard to use
  • Only one available engine
Editor's rating
Fuel economy 4.0/5 More efficient than in the past, super gasoline recommended.
Comfort 4.0/5 Very comfortable seat, roomy cabin.
Performance 4.0/5 Overall performance is pretty standard, good torque in low gear.
Infotainment 3.5/5 Still not as efficient as many rivals.
Driving 4.0/5 Much better than the old version, especially for the A-Spec version.
Overall 4.0/5 A very interesting new generation for the RDX.
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