In 2007, based on the sales successes of the Honda CR-V, Acura launched the RDX. In the days when automakers tried to shoehorn the biggest V6 into the smallest CUVs (see ‘05-‘12 Toyota RAV4), the smaller sibling to the MDX came with a very different engine – a turbocharged four-cylinder. Annual sales were not very strong, peaking at around 15,000 units, roughly a tenth of the CR-V sales.
At the time, the turbo-four seemed an odd choice for such a vehicle. The media complained that it had the power of a four-cylinder and the economy of a V6. In 2013, Acura ended up dropping the four-banger in favorite of its corporate V6 workhorse. The vehicle gained some love and sales more than doubled in the life of the second generation model.
It’s now 2018. Engine downsizing and turbocharging is the thing. In the last decade that technology has made huge leaps forward. Even much bigger three-row SUVs dropped the V6 in favor of turbocharged fours. The new turbo-fours are quite amazing, with my favorite being versions I sampled on the BMW 530i and the Honda Accord.
For the 2019 model year the RDX is back and now all new. It’s gone back to the turbo-four using a version of the new Honda corporate big engine. But there’s a lot more going on than just that.
Unlike the previous RDXs, this one is not based on the Honda CR-V or any other Honda/Acura vehicle. It has its own all-new chassis. And it feels as if it’s much different than any other Honda. The sitting position reminds me of the Nissan Murano and Lincoln MKX/Ford Edge. It’s not an insulting comparison as those are solid vehicles in a crowded segment. There’s a long hood and the windshield seem to stretch way forward but the visibility is great due to a high seating position, low dash, and a relatively low belt-line.
The really impressive thing is the amount of interior space. I am six feet and two inches tall, and my head is nowhere near the roof. The new RDX isn’t any taller than the outgoing one. Perhaps because the roof was not actually there – all models of the RDX get a big panoramic roof. Some goes for the rear seat passengers, who also have plenty of legroom when sitting behind the seat adjusted for myself.
Exterior styling is sort of similar to other new vehicles, too – the so-called floating roof, C-shaped LED taillights, a sloping roof line, block-off air ducts, and a big grill upfront. The huge A-badge that covers the radar system ensures that you won’t mistake it for a Lexus. The sloping roofline eats up some functionality which the old square-ish wagons and SUVs had, but despite that there is some 30 cubic feet of cargo space. Class leading, as they say. Add in a lot of covered storage in the cargo floor and you have even more room for stuff. A temporary spare tire sits underneath the vehicle.
Where I praised the Accord on its logical dash design, the RDX is a bit different. There aren’t two knobs for the infotainment system. There is no touchscreen. But there is a touchpad with some buttons and a large screen. I played around with it but I will need to time to really master it. Apple CarPlay integration is standard on all models. What I didn’t like was the push-button shifter and a large drive selector knob right in the middle of the dash, à la the NSX. To me, the whole idea of modern electronic transmission selectors is to make space on the cramped dash but this seems like the opposite of that.
The rest of the interior is a clear update not only over the previous model but to the whole Acura brand. The seats are as good as the ones on new Volvos and Lincolns; adjustable in many ways, soft yet supportive, and comfortable, perhaps though not as dramatic looking. Acura upped the quality of the interior materials, too – wood is wood and metal is metal – crazy, right? The audio system, always an Acura strong point, is excellent, complimenting the very quiet ride.
Now here’s the rub… I only drove the new RDX for about ten miles. Acura brought it out for us in the New England media to get just a taste of the new version. Over the course of those ten miles, I found that the 272-horsepower engine was responsive but the 700 pounds of extra weight over the Accord 2.0T can’t be ignored. I really need to some more driving time with it to fully form a proper opinion.
The RDX is available in front- and all-wheel-drive models, each one utilizing Honda’s ten-speed automatic transmission. EPA rates the AWD version at 21/26 mpg city/highway – not revolutionary.
Overall, the RDX is a huge improvement over its predecessor. This is mostly visible in the interior finishes, but I can’t fully comment on the driving dynamics due to the short time spent behind the wheel. Still, it’s interesting to see what Acura did with the infotainment system, the techy geek in me who is obsessed with ergonomics wants to spend more time with that system.
Disclaimer: Acura invited me to a local event to check out the new RDX. There was food. All images copyright Kamil Kaluski/Hooniverse 2018.