By Derek Price
When Acura’s product planners sat down with a blank sheet of paper to re-cast the RDX for a third generation, they had a critical choice to make.
Should they make it sporty and exhilarating, like the first-generation version? Or should they make it more boring and comfortable, like the second-gen RDX that sold in greater numbers?
A quick drive is all it takes to see their choice was unequivocal: Acura picked “sporty.”
With a completely new design for 2019, the RDX’s emphasis on performance is evident everywhere you look, starting under the hood.
Acura opted for a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine — just like many of its luxury-brand competitors, including the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Volvo XC60 — but tuned it to produce more power and torque than any of those. It makes 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, a dramatic jump in output that propels its lighter, more rigid body with gusto.
Tight steering, an engaging suspension feel and wider stance make it handle better than ever, especially when fitted with Acura’s impressive all-wheel drive system that can route up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels.
What excites me the most about this new RDX isn’t the fact that it comes with a 10-speed automatic transmission — cars have been on a gear-count race for years — but just how perfectly suited that transmission feels for sporty driving. Shifts are fast, precise and decisive, never fishing around to find the correct gear.
To drive home the sporty message, the new body is more aggressive than ever with sharp, angular creases and Acura’s new face that it deems a “diamond pentagon grille.” I think it’s subtly attractive and far less polarizing than the brand’s previous slab-of-chrome noses.
To be fair, the new RDX isn’t entirely about looking and feeling more exciting. That, to me, feels like 80 percent of the emphasis. The remainder went into some practical features that help with day-to-day driving.
One is its size. The new RDX is bigger in virtually every dimension, making its cabin feel impressively roomy in front and rear, with a decent amount of space left for cargo in the back. Combined with solid construction and premium materials, the overall impression is snazzy, especially for the price.
Another is fuel economy. Despite being significantly faster and more powerful, lightweight construction and a well-engineered powertrain mean the gas mileage ratings are up by as much as 11 percent.
The big question in my mind is whether I could ever completely get comfortable with Acura’s digital interface in this vehicle. It uses a touchpad on the center console to control a screen mounted high on the dash.
The basic idea makes perfect sense. The screen is up high where visibility is best, and the controls are down low where it’s most comfortable for your hand to move. But in reality, I found it a bit fussy to use and struggled to get the interface to react the way I wanted, even after a week of playing with it.
Just like on new Lexus models that are trying the same idea, I still prefer an easy-to-use touchscreen over a clunky, separate control for my hand.
That said, the technology in the RDX is first rate. It uses the Android operating system to run the large 10.2-inch screen, with beautiful graphics, a logical design and extremely fast response to commands.
Pricing starts at $37,300 for the front-wheel-drive RDX and ranges up to $47,400 for the all-wheel-drive version with the Advance Package.
At A Glance
What was tested?
2019 Acura RDX AWD Advance ($47,400). Options: None. Price as tested (including $995 destination charge): $48,395
Wheelbase: 108.3 in.
Length: 186.8 in.
Width: 74.8 in.
Height: 65.7 in.
Powertrain: 2.0-liter turbocharged four cylinder (272 hp, 280 ft. lbs.)
Transmission: 10-speed automatic
Fuel economy: 22 city, 28 highway
Why buy it?
A completely new design for 2019 makes the RDX roomier, faster, more efficient and dramatically more engaging to drive.