For 2019, Acura’s smallest SUV underwent a dramatic makeover, and love it or hate it, the RDX stands out — like all the way out, with its domineering, blinged-out shield grille, beefed-up body and sharp angles.
The RDX also grows in length, gets a new powertrain and switches its multimedia setup to the True Touchpad Interface. Compare it with the 2018 model. It competes against a host of compact luxury crossovers like the Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Volvo XC60; see them compared.
The RDX’s bold, edgy styling gives off an energy matched by the SUV’s engaging, dynamic road manners. All 2019 models use a new 272-horsepower, turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, replacing the previous V-6 and six-speed. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which vanished in 2013, is again available.
For those sniveling over the loss of the V-6, quit it. The turbo-four has more than enough pluck; it comes on strong with very little lag and has plenty of extra power. It pairs well with the 10-speed automatic; it’s quick to respond, shifts smoothly and feels seamlessly integrated.
The Integrated Dynamics System includes four drive modes: Comfort, Snow, Sport and Sport Plus. I spent most of my time in Sport Plus mode, which amped up the fun factor. This mode sharpens accelerator response and steering feel, as well as raises the transmission’s shift points. (With the Advance Package and its Adaptive Damper System, which our test vehicle lacked, the Sport modes also firm up the suspension.) Choose your own adventure via a rotary knob in the middle of the dashboard. It’s the giant knob that steals all focus from the multimedia controls … but has nothing to do with the multimedia system (more on that later).
In all modes, the RDX benefits from quick, nicely weighted steering and a tightly tuned standard suspension. The ride is firm but never jarring, and maneuverability is excellent; it stays tight in corners and handles with athletic finesse.
In mileage, however, it disappoints. The RDX’s fuel economy is up this year — but just barely above its V-6 rating, and not enough to be competitive. In base trim with all-wheel drive, it’s EPA-rated at 21/27/23 mpg city/highway/combined, lower than AWD turbo four-cylinder versions of the Q5 (23/27/25 mpg), X3(22/29/25 mpg) and XC60 (22/28/24 mpg). Front-wheel drive improves mileage by only 1 mpg combined.
The previous RDX’s interior was nice, but its Honda CR-V roots were just below the surface. The new model stands alone and ups the luxury factor quite a bit with interesting materials, like brushed aluminum trim, and upscale touches, like red contrast stitching on the seats and other surfaces.
I drove the sport-oriented A-Spec version, and its seats stole the show. The leather-trimmed Ultrasuede (a nonleather imitation) sport seats were comfortably bolstered and sumptuously high-quality. The cabin’s black-and-red color palette was a bit loud, but if you want understated, one glance at the RDX’s exterior will likely have you looking elsewhere anyway.
The multimedia system is new to the lineup, and the RDX is the brand’s guinea pig. Like a fifth-grader’s volcano that erupts too soon at a science fair, the system is an experiment gone wrong.
In terms of premium features, the RDX delivers again; a panoramic moonroof, LED headlights and a 10.2-inch display screen are standard. Upscale options include 16-way power-adjustable heated and ventilated front seats, a 10.5-inch full-color head-up display and an upgraded audio system.
Acura ditched the traditional gear shifter for a button-based one, which I don’t love but quickly got used to. The big bonus from this change is the additional storage available under the buttons; there’s a large cubby perfect for devices. The center console box is also plenty roomy.
The 2019 RDX has ample room for two adult passengers in back, and it accommodated two child-safety seats with ease thanks to accessible Latch anchors and ample legroom. Check out the Car Seat Check.
By the numbers, it’s mid-pack in terms of headroom but beats many others for legroom. The same goes for cargo room behind the backseat. The 2019 RDX has 29.5 cubic feet of space, some 3 cubic feet more than the 2018 model. It’s just ahead of the Audi Q5 (26.8 cubic feet) and BMW X3 (28.7) and much roomier than the Volvo XC60 (17.8). The seats fold easily in a 60/40 split via cargo-area levers for more room, and again the RDX is ahead of the others.
The RDX bears the unfortunate responsibility of being the brand’s guinea pig for the new True Touchpad Interface multimedia system. Like a fifth-grader’s volcano that erupts too soon at a science fair, the system is an experiment gone wrong.
To be fair, not every aspect of it is bad: The system, which has a set of touchpad controllers on the center console, has a big 10.2-inch screen high on the dashboard for optimum visibility that has crisp graphics; it’s the rest of the system that’s all sorts of wrong.
First, touchpad-based systems are not my favorite — try controlling your laptop’s touchpad while driving (just not around me) — but Acura touts its new system as more logical and easier to use than others. Challenge accepted.
True, Acura’s system is a little different from other touchpads, like Lexus’ setup, in that the touchpad is mapped to the screen, so you tap the part of the pad that corresponds to the screen, minimizing the dragging normally required by these systems just to get the selection point where you want it. Sounds logical on paper, but it didn’t actually feel that way.
The placement of the touchpad was annoyingly unergonomic and unnatural to use. What was more frustrating, however, was trying to correctly guess which touchpad spot corresponded to the screen. I was constantly in the wrong spot and then had to correct. It took me a few tries to accomplish simple tasks; some functions, like changing a station preset, took not only a couple of steps, but also lots of trial, error and correction. No one should have to listen to The Bridge (SiriusXM channel 32, mellow classic rock) for that long.
You may have already picked up on this, but there’s not one but two touchpads. To the right of the main unit is a smaller one that corresponds to a sliver of the screen. It’s used to scroll through three smaller menus (audio, navigation and a clock), and pressing down on that side of the touchpad will send one of the screens to the main one. The main touchpad also doubles as a text-input surface for navigation destinations, so you can draw the numbers and letters of your address (so how’s your handwriting?!). You can also call up an onscreen keyboard or use voice commands.
Again, all of this takes more brain power than I want to devote while driving — and much more than does turning a knob, bumping a button or tapping a touchscreen.
The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay, but Acura says Apple is responsible for how the technology will interact with Acura’s hardware. When using CarPlay, Cars.com reviewer Brian Wong said the touchpad’s connection to the screen is clunkier and there’s more lag. Android Auto is not yet available, but Acura says it’s coming soon. (Experience has proved that both smartphone interfaces are optimized for touchscreen use and are less effective with remote-operated displays.)
Some bright spots: There are still physical controls for the volume and to skip tracks back and forth, and the climate controls are separate from the multimedia interface. The clearly marked buttons sit below the screen and are easy to use. Many vehicles now integrate climate and other critical functions into their multimedia interface, so if you object to the RDX’s system, at least it’s limited to functions like audio, phone and navigation. The new system is also very customizable. On the home page, there are eight large icons and you choose what they lead to: navigation, contacts, radio station, etc. Once they’re set up that way, it’s handy. Getting them set up that way was frustrating.
Bottom line: The multimedia system is a deal-breaker for me. During the several days I spent with the RDX, never did using the system become comfortable — a tad less frustrating than my initial attempts, but overall still not worth the frustration. I don’t love BMW or Audi’s setups, either, but many automakers do this better (usually via touchscreens), and some — like Volvo’s giant touchscreen in the XC60 — are a breeze to use.
The 2019 Acura RDX earned top crash-test marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not yet been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Standard features on the base model now include the AcuraWatch safety and driver-aid technology package with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control; these features are optional on many rivals, like the BMW X3. A 360-degree camera system, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitor are optional.
A Good Value, But …
The RDX continues to make a case for itself by being a compelling value: It starts at $38,295 in front-drive form, undercutting many competitors. The Q5, which offers standard all-wheel drive, starts at $42,475; others come standard with front-wheel drive and also start higher, with the Volvo XC60 at $40,195 and the BMW X3 at $41,995 (all prices include destination charges).
But add engaging road manners and luxurious comfort, and it’s still not enough to distract me from the anchor it carries. The RDX’s clunky and confounding multimedia system is just dead weight.
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