The Acura RDX has always been a safe bet in compact entry-luxury crossovers, but Acura doesn’t like being just a safe bet. Acura wants to be desired. Maybe even sought after. Perhaps even for “emotional” reasons.
Sifting through piles of buyer data, Acura found that the top three reasons people bought RDXs in the past were: 1) Value 2) Reliability and 3) Because they had already had good experiences with the brand and assumed they’d get another. Not exactly the stuff from which love poems are written and then read in the pouring rain beneath the window of your desired.
Acura wants you to not just buy an RDX because it makes good sense to do so, though it may indeed make good sense, but because you desperately want it. Quantified, that desperation shows up in the data as “emotional appeal.” Of 16 purchase reasons Acura measured, only five fell under the “emotional” heading. And three of those – brand image, vehicle image and prestige – sound pretty bland.
So the new 2019 RDX is going to address all those things and, after various committee meetings, PowerPoint presentations and spreadsheets stapled in the upper left-hand corner, maybe create emotional appeal. Under the category of “What We Set Out To Achieve” with the new crossover, Acura actually listed “Increase Emotion.” Attaboy Acura, pour yer heart out.
But let’s give them credit. We’ll start out with styling, because that’s emotional, or it can be. The new third-gen RDX takes styling cues from the Precision Concept that debuted at the Detroit show in 2016. Sure, the Precision Concept was a sedan, but Acura applied styling elements to this crossover body. See the diamond pentagon grille, “jewel eye signature daytime running lights” and “sculptured chrome moldings and door garnishes?” Are you writing poetry yet?
The proportions are changed, too. The new RDX is just over an inch longer overall but more than two and a half inches longer in wheelbase. The body creases are subtle and, dare we say, attractive. See? Emotion!
Performance is probably an emotional attribute, too. Yet Acura dropped the 3.5-liter V6 engine and swapped in a turbo four. It's a good turbo four, with just seven fewer horses and more torque, also used, in other tunes, in the Civic Type R and the Accord. The new VTEC four offers 272 peak hp at a relatively low 4800 rpm while torque is listed at 280 lb-ft and plateaus from 1600 to 4500 rpm. For a vehicle that weighs from 3783 to 4068 pounds, depending on options, that’s not bad. Without listing specifics, Acura says the new RDX is quicker to 30 mph, 60 mph and in the quarter mile than the previous V6 model. Score three more for emotion.
That output is routed through an in-house designed 10-speed automatic that Acura says can shift from 10th gear straight to fourth for passing. The new Super Handling All-wheel Drive (SH-AWD) can transfer as much as 70 percent of torque to the rear wheels, where inboard clutch packs can then shift it to either side. As much as 100 percent of that rear-wheel torque can drive a single rear wheel should conditions call for it.
To further its sporty credentials, that powertrain is mounted in an all-new chassis that is –- so far, at least –- exclusive to Acura. It is 38 percent stiffer and held together with more than 120 feet of adhesive bonding. Mounted to that stiffer chassis is a new, optimized five-link rear suspension and an optimized MacPherson strut setup in front. Steering incorporates two pinions on the rack, which you would think would make for more precision and better feel, but engineers say the motivation in placing the electric steering motor on the right side of the rack opposite where the steering column connects to it was done for space considerations and not to increase steering feel.
So, overall, does the new RDX create emotional appeal?
Right out of the parking lot you can feel the stiffness of the new body and the immediate response of the drivetrain. It’s not soft. By the standards of the class, which may include the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 but may also include the Lexus NX and Infiniti QX50 -– it is certainly competitive with the best.
Four drive modes allow you to tune the suspension to your likes. I cranked it immediately to Sport +, which stiffened the flow through the control damper that sits on the outside of each main shock absorber. The modes are closer to each other than I might have expected, so Sport + was almost like Sport, which was not too far from Comfort. I didn’t really get a chance to throw it through any really good curves, though, since the roads we were on were semi-rural, with the emphasis on the semi, and were all heavily patrolled. But the extent to which I did get to drive it semi-hard it felt promising. It’ll need more testing on less-constricted and more curvy roads to really see what it can do but first impressions suggest it’s competitive with the best in class in handling and performance.
I did get a chance to fling it through a slalom on a gravel road like a combination rally driver/drift king. For the gravel run, technicians had disabled all traction and stability control. Whee! I was powersliding through cones like I was on the pre-pavement Pikes Peak (where this car will run next month against a Bentley Bentayga, btw). What a blast it was in this driveline configuration, a true, rear-tire-spinnin’ boondoggle. Just one problem: Unless you are married to an Acura technician, one who really likes you, you won’t be able to replicate this level of tc-free hootinany behavior. Acura will not allow you to fully disable traction control like this. So my gravel run was something of a moot point.
I did get to try out the new “True Touchpad Interface,” though. A screen propped atop the dash can be manipulated by the Touchpad, the latter which Acura emphasizes is not a mouse. You tap various positions on it to manipulate functions displayed on that screen atop the dash. There is also a customizable head-up display that you can program to include just about whatever you want, from nav and phone functions to radio and Apple Car Play.
Pricing starts at $38,295 for a “well-equipped” front-wheel drive model and goes up to about ten grand more than that if you throw the kitchen sink at it. The RDX officially goes on sale June 1. Try one out, see if you feel any of the emotions!
On Sale: June 1
Base Price: $38,295
As Tested Price: $48,395
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbo I4, 10-speed automatic, fwd
Output: 272 hp at 4800 rpm, 280 lb-t from 1600 to 4500 rpm
Curb Weight: 3783 pounds (mfg.)
Fuel Economy: 22/28/24(EPA City/Hwy/Combined)
Pros: A sportier, more stylish RDX
Cons: Still tough to make a crossover sexy