We looked at the new Acura RDX in detail some time ago. While I got a good idea of what it was about, I didn’t get to drive it enough. I wanted to see how Honda’s new 2.0-liter turbo performed in this heavier all-wheel-drive vehicle and how the new infotainment system interface performs in daily use of the car.
My time has come and I recently got to spend a few days with the RDX A-Spec. Don’t mistake the A-Spec with Type S models of Acura’s past. The A-Spec has always been a sporty appearance trim on Acuras and that is exactly what it is on the 2019 RDX. But Acura did say that there might be more Type S models in the future.
I praised Honda’s new 2.0-liter turbo engine when I reviewed the Accord. It was surprisingly flexible, with a lot of low-end power and a hard pull up to the redline, at least when Sport model was selected. That new turbo engine is so good that I really don’t think anyone will miss the old V6. The Civic Type R has a higher strung version of this motor and I can only imagine how great that must be.
But the RDX is different in two ways from the Accord. It is heavier by some 400-500 pounds, depending on the model, and it has (optional) all-wheel-drive. While the extra heft is rather obvious, especially at lower speeds, the smaller Acura SUV really goes. Selecting the Sport+ mode makes a significant difference in engine response. Pressing the S on the gear selector keeps the vehicle in lower gears as if it was in some kind of track mode. This thing really boogies!
The chassis is matched very well to the engine. Where the engine pulls, the suspension set-up allowed for quick lane changes and fast highway ramp speeds. Everything was smooth and predictable, making this a very easy vehicle to drive fast, like a hooligan! I could actually feel the fancy “super-handling” all-wheel-drive system working with me, allowing me to keep more speed, as opposed to systems that are focused on keeping the vehicle level. It was very comfortable on pothole ridden city streets, too. I’m thinking that the non A-Spec models with smaller wheels will give up a little bit of handling prowess for added road isolation.
Honda did an amazing job on the layout of the Accord dashboard. Everything was intuitive and easy to use. All it has to do now is apply that same philosophy to all their vehicles, with some better materials thrown in for the Acura line, and everything would be great in the world. But they didn’t.
The first thing to notice is a big knob in the middle of the dash. It’s used to change driving modes. While I understand that this is a link to the mighty NSX, it is simply unnecessary. This could have easily been a single button or a smaller knob as it is not a function that anyone will use daily. I’d much rather it be a huge audio volume knob which gets turned about seven million times per day.
The RDX gets a touch-pad-like infotainment interface as opposed to the conventional touchscreen. The idea is that that where you touch the pad is where you would touch the screen, with some swiping in-between. Doing this, the driver wouldn’t need to reach for the screen, which is mounted up high for better visibility when driving, but rather touch the pad which is located where a hand would rest naturally.
I kept an open mind and went along with it. After several days of living with it, I did not like it. Oddly, it is not the touchpad that makes things difficult but rather the layout of the screen. The soft keys, which now must be found on the pad, are not big enough, and there are too many of them. And then there are sub-menus and various options. In all, it isn’t very intuitive and I found myself asking passengers to perform some tasks, such as finding a specific satellite radio station or an artist on my phone.
Things get a little bit better when Apple CarPlay is used. The only issue I had there was pressing the home button which was on the bottom left of the screen. It was small and it would take me at least two or three tries to press it to summon Siri.
There is one thing about the RDX that might be better than in any other vehicle in its class – the audio system. Acura has always been installing great sounding audio systems in their vehicles but I think they have really out-did themselves this time. Listening to a high quality version of Johnny Cash’s rendition of Hurt, you’d think he was sitting next to you. You could hear the quivers in his old voice and the subtle resonations of the guitar strings. It’s an amazing audio system, on par with high-end systems offered by Mercedes-Benz, Audi, or Land Rover.
Starting at $37,300 and going up $47,400, the RDX is well priced for its class, especially when you consider the standard RDX features that are optional on other models. It’s a really tough category, dominated by cars like the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Benzito GLC, Volvo XC60, and many more. Of these cars, the RDX would be near the top of my list, certainly above anything from Lexus, Land Rover, or Infiniti.
Despite the gimmicky infotainment interface, I genuinely liked this vehicle. It’s got power and great handling. It’s quiet, comfortable, and elegantly appointed. And that audio system is just amazing. The exterior isn’t bland but it looks like it had elements borrowed from other vehicles, therefore it’s somewhat lacking in originality. Perhaps Acura can make up for that with a Type S model?
[Disclaimer: Acura provided the vehicle for the purpose of this review. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018.]