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Video | 2019 Acura RDX: First Drive Review

When Acura asked current RDX owners why they bought one, the most popular reasons were all of the rational variety: Value, reliability, safety, price and past experience with the brand. Sensible shoes were practically an accessory. The 2019 Acura RDX is meant to change that.

With its completely redesigned compact crossover, Acura is attempting to establish new, emotional reasons for people to choose both the RDX and the brand itself. Styling, performance, brand image and prestige were previously low on the RDX buying reason totem pole, but they’re often reasons people choose a luxury car in the first place — and they’re reasons why European brands dominate the market. Basically, the new RDX is meant to better satisfy the heart while keeping the head happy.

Goodbye Acura Beak

In terms of its new styling, the 2019 RDX isn’t the first Acura to wear the new 5-point grille, but it’s the first designed with it in mind from the get-go. It’s therefore far more cohesive with the rest of the body, which is longer and wider than before. To our eyes, at least, it’s indeed more memorable than its conservative, metal-beaked predecessor.

Yet, for an even more memorable impression, the 2019 RDX A-Spec replaces the standard car’s chrome trim with darkened pieces, much like Mercedes’ Midnight package. There are visual differences inside as well, including Ultrasuede trim, a red leather choice and real metal trim in place of wood (which is real for the first time in an RDX on the Advance trim). A-Spec is just an appearance package available only on top of the Tech trim level that isn’t attached to any performance upgrades, but if one takes the stance that more choice is better, then in this way, the RDX is definitely better.

But so too is interior quality, as Acura correctly identified that its cabins just weren’t special enough to make the sort of emotional connection with potential customers that those European competitors did. The old RDX was a bit nicer than a perfectly nice Honda, but that’s it. The new RDX benefits from a high-rising center console reminiscent of the Acura NSX and even high-performance models like the Porsche Panamera or Mercedes-AMG GT family. It’s lined with a soft, leather-lined material, as is much of the front cabin, with contrast stitching and a higher grade of supporting plastics. The sliding garage-style door that covers the center bin/cupholder even has the same wood or metal on it as elsewhere on the dash.

A New Way to Change the Radio

The focal point of that center console, though, and one of the many first-for-Acura introductions is the True Touchpad Interface. Basically, you look at the 10.2-inch display mounted high on the dash, identify an icon you want to click, and do so on the touchpad’s equivalent location. It turns out your brain does an excellent job of equating the two without looking at the touchpad and the system works surprisingly well for the most part. Some smaller icons located in the middle of the satellite radio screen created some erroneous button presses, but with some time and a few updates, it seems like the system in general shouldn’t cause that many headaches. It also works well with standard Apple CarPlay, and although the new infotainment system runs on an Android operating system, Android Auto cannot yet work with the touchpad. An update will be available as a free retroactive add-on in the future.

Less successful is Honda/Acura’s needlessly complicated electronic shifter located above the touchpad. The giant metal rotary knob above it that controls the vehicle drive settings would be a much better means of changing gears and saving space on the dash — see Jaguar, Ford, Ram, etc.

But if you want a lot of space, the RDX is still one of the most practical vehicles in the segment — in fact, it’s even more practical now. The class-leading back seat has even more legroom, and whether you look at the spec sheets, or sit in it back-to-back with a variety of competitors (as we did with the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60), the RDX will be the more comfortable vehicle for your passengers and more accommodating of child seats. You know, rational stuff.

The cargo area has grown as well, with an extra 2.9 cu ft. of total capacity, giving it an even greater advantage over most in the segment. There’s also, uniquely, extra storage to be found under the cargo floor that doesn’t come at the expense of the compact spare tire that’s been moved to underneath the vehicle (as opposed to removed completely, as in many competitors).

It’s NOT a CR-V Underneath

There’s plenty that’s new and unique under the skin as well, as the RDX rides on a new platform not shared with a Honda product (previous RDXs were based on the CR-V). The suspension is new and can be upgraded with new adaptive dampers on the Advance trim. The electric steering has a variable ratio, making for easier steering at low speeds yet improved performance at higher ones and fewer turns lock-to-lock. Its effort can also be altered by the new drive settings (Comfort, Sport, Sport+), though we found the sportier ones added too much steering effort seemingly in an attempt to create the "feel" of sportiness without a perceptible increase in feedback or response. Comfort mode seems precise enough and appropriately weighted for the segment.

Indeed, the 2019 Acura RDX puts a better foot forward when behind the wheel than its predecessor did. Is it better to drive than the Q5, X3, GLC and XC60? Is it more dynamic or engaging? Maybe, maybe not, but it’s at least now possible that someone could prefer how it responds to inputs, how it feels around corners and bumps and how much noise it makes (for the record, its engine produces more good noises and its cabin lets in fewer bad ones). It’s more memorable, and that matters.

Well, that and what’s going on under the hood, as performance is a major consideration point in this segment. The outgoing RDX’s V6 engine was actually a strong suit, but the new one nevertheless switches to the segment norm: a 2.0-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder. Its 24 miles per gallon combined with front-wheel drive and 23 mpg combined with all-wheel drive is one mpg better, respectively, than the old V6. Then again, the above-mentioned rivals still best it by one or two mpg combined.

On the upside, the RDX enjoys a performance advantage, as the new 2.0-liter turbo-4 produces 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, bettering them all — often considerably. A comparable curb weight should in theory contribute to quicker acceleration, as should its new 10-speed automatic transmission that boasts a huge ratio spread and rapid responses (it can drop four gears at a time when passing power is needed).

It Super Handles Once Again

Returning to the RDX is Acura’s Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system that took a generation off in favor of a less sophisticated system. This latest, fourth-generation version of SH-AWD not only sends power front and rear as needed (up to 70 percent rearward in the 2019 RDX), but it can separately split power between the left and rear wheels. This results in "torque vectoring," or the outside wheels moving faster through a corner to reduce understeer and more capably rotate the car. The result is greater grip than the old RDX can manage and likely more than many competitors as well. It’s also better capable of tackling low traction, wintery conditions.

Not surprisingly, the all-new 2019 RDX also comes with a multitude of new features, many of which are standard, like the AcuraWatch suite of accident avoidance technologies that are almost always optional on competitors. Ditto things like LED headlights, heated leather seats, driver memory functions, satellite radio, Apple CarPlay and even a panoramic sunroof. The equipment only goes up from there, including newly available items like heated rear seats and steering wheel, a head-up display, a 16-speaker Panasonic ELS sound system and "16-way" power seats with adjustable bolsters and thigh support. Pricing for all that starts at $37,300 (basically the same as a base 2018 RDX with AcuraWatch) and tops out at $47,400. Loading up those competitors with comparable equipment would put you deep in the $50,000 range or would even cross the big six-oh.

So yes, the RDX still offers tons of value. Acura estimates top crash scores, too, and we’d be shocked if the Ohio-built 2019 RDX doesn’t live up to Acura’s usual sterling reliability reputation. Buying one would be an even more rational decision now, but does the rest of the package strike enough of those emotional chords to capture some new-buyer attention from the Europeans? Well, even if it doesn’t, luxury makers from everywhere else should at least be worried.

To gain access to this information, Autotrader attended an event sponsored by the vehicle’s manufacturer.

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