REVIEW: Acura RDX gets better with each drive

Thirty years ago, Acura introduced the NSX, and put the world on notice.

Built as a supercar you could use every day, the NSX has had lasting appeal, and told you everything you needed to know about what Acura was doing as a brand.

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However, when the reborn NSX was launched a while back now, people sort of scratched their heads over it.

It didn’t have the same immediate appeal, and what’s worse, the rest of Acura’s range also seemed to lack a defining personality.

Good news, then, Acura fans, because the RDX is here to do the job that the new NSX didn’t quite pull off. No, it’s not a supercar, it’s a family-oriented crossover of the kind that you see everywhere in the market.

However, despite being practical and consumer-oriented, the RDX is filled with little touches that please. It just kept getting better and better the more I drove it.

Rear Interior.jpg
The RDX has a clever trunk that features several hooks and cubbies and bins to help keep things upright and in order. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

In many ways, the RDX might just herald Acura’s return as a force to be reckoned with. Let’s have a closer look.

Design

Like pretty much every mid-sized crossover on the market, the RDX’s styling is dictated by its dimensions. It’s got to have four doors, space for passengers, and a hatchback. Voilà: here’s your amorphous blob of Some Car Please.

However, Acura’s design team has done a pretty good job of folding sheet-metal lines to fool the eye and give the RDX a bit of a sleeker, more muscular look. The back’s particularly attractive, and everything’s tied together with modern-looking LED headlights and taillights.

I can’t say I’m in love with the front end, which falls prey to the overall busyness so common in modern design, but at least it’s not quite as aggressively oriented as you find at other brands (cough, Lexus, cough).

If you want a bit more visual sportiness, the A-Line dials up the body-cladding in a very Japanese way, and eliminates most of the chrome. Either variant of RDX looks good enough to be interesting.

Environment

If the exterior isn’t polarizing, the RDX’s interior choices are a bit more daring. The dashboard in particular seems absolutely crazy, built around a large metal knob to control driving modes, and a touchpad control for the infotainment.

Interior.jpg
The RDX has a comfortable and practical interior, although the dashboard gets a bit crazy with multiple controls surrounding a large metal knob. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

But having said that, everything else about this car is ruthlessly practical. The seats are comfortable and feature an automatic setting for heating and cooling. There’s a certain tendency to place buttons on every surface, but a week’s worth of use brought familiarity to the forefront.

And then there’s the trunk, which is something of a relief. Many manufacturers are pumping out sporty crossovers these days, promising dynamic driving characteristics, but also good practicality. In most cases, they all come with a smooth trunk floor and too few hooks for bags, so when you dynamically drive back from the grocery store, you open the trunk to find that everything’s mashed together into a giant omelette.

Not so the RDX, which has all kinds of cubbies and hidden bins to store things in. It’s great at cutting down clutter, and keeping your weekly shopping in place.

Performance

Previously, the RDX didn’t feel all that special to drive. Now, however, it really does feel like a product of a company that puts engineering at the forefront.

Under the hood is a 2.0-litre four-cylinder engine, turbocharged to make 272 horsepower at 6,500 r.p.m. Honda/Acura products have always been rev-happy, but the RDX is more of a torque machine, with 280 foot-pounds of torque available down low.

With a 10-speed automatic to make the most of the shove, the RDX is quick and smooth with minimal throttle inputs. Ride quality is very good, and it works nicely as a commuter.

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2019 Acura RDX engine. photo Paul McGrath, North Shore News

However, there’s also a bit of personality here. Acura’s super-handling all-wheel-drive (SH-AWD) incorporates torque-vectoring tech at the rear to shunt power to the outside wheel in a corner. This has the effect of making the RDX drive like it’s smaller than it is.

On a windy road through the Washington Cascades, the RDX was surprisingly quick. Then, when snow hit for the fourth time in Vancouver, Acura’s crossover sure-footedly scampered up steep streets, dodging stuck buses and trucks. On one cross-town commute, the city closed the street behind me – the RDX had no problems whatsoever.

As an all-rounder for everyday life, that’s excellent, but what was really pleasing was the way the RDX felt a bit like the old Integra or Legend. It wasn’t as light as those cars, but it did feel like it was engineered by people who actually cared about making the drive a little more interesting.

Features

The entry-level RDX starts at $43,990, and comes well-equipped with Apple CarPlay, a power moonroof, power tailgate, and Acura’s basic suite of driver assists as standard. The Platinum Elite tested this week clocked in at $54,990, with those vented seats and an upgraded 16-speaker stereo.

The sweet spot in the range is the Elite trim, which gives you navigation, a heated steering wheel, heated rear seats, and a handsfree tailgate, and tucks in at less than $50K. The sportier A-spec version is similarly priced, and definitely worth a look.

Fuel economy figures are decent, clocking in at 11.0 litres/100 kilometres in the city, and 8.6 l/100 km on the highway. Despite cold weather, the RDX got very close to the official results.

Green light

Smooth and torquey drive; capable all-wheel-drive; clever interior packaging; surprisingly fun.

Stop sign

Dashboard a little cluttered; basic model needs more USB charging points.

The checkered flag

As an alternative to expensive European products, the RDX is practical, but still feels special. That’s how an Acura is supposed to be.

Competition

Lexus NX200t: The main rival for Acura is Lexus, and in the RDX’s case, that’s the NX200. A pretty wild-looking exterior masks the NX’s fairly pedestrian driving characteristics. It’s not quite as quick as it looks.

However, the NX does offer a nicer-looking interior than the RDX, and there’s a hybrid version for urban commuters. Because of the size difference, the RDX feels more family oriented, the NX more for younger couples. 

mcaleeronwheels@gmail.com

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