For the past decade, Acura has felt lost at sea. Not sure of what it wanted to be as a brand. This was shown by mixed messaging in their lineup as they weren’t sure to focus on luxury, technology, or sport. This muddled mess of identities would cause a fair amount of issues. But in the past couple of years, Acura started to get its act together thanks in part to new leadership. The first fruits of their efforts came last year in the form of the third-generation RDX.
It has been over two years since I last drove an Acura, so when the opportunity for an RDX A-Spec landed on my desk, I took it with both hands. It was time to see what Acura has been up to and if they’re taking a step in the right direction.
You Want Presence? You Got It!
The RDX is the first production model to feature Acura’s newest design language and its no shrinking violet. The front end draws your attention with a large trapezoidal grille paired with a massive Acura emblem. Sitting on either side is Acura’s Jewel-Eye LED headlights that add a distinctive touch. My A-Spec tester takes it further with distinctive front and rear bumpers, 20-inch alloy wheels finished in black, and a special Apex Blue Pearl color that is only available on this trim. This crossover garnered a lot of looks during the week I had, something I hadn’t experience in quite some time.
Cozy, Polarizing Interior
The RDX’s interior captures the feeling of being in a sports car with a symmetrical dashboard design that cocoons the front passengers. A rotary drive-mode selector found in the center stack echos the design found in the NSX supercar. While it does emphasize the sporty nature of the vehicle, the position of the knob does make the climate controls a bit hard to reach. A-Spec models have some special touches such as red contrast stitching, a suede panel on the passenger side of the dashboard, and new trim for the instrument cluster that help it stand out. Material and build quality are quite close to some competitors from Germany.
A set of sport seats with increased bolstering and power adjustments come standard on the A-Spec. I found them to be quite comfortable for any trip length and were able to hold me if I decided to be a bit enthusiastic. Back seat passengers will be plenty comfortable with an abundance of head and legroom. I would have like to see the back seat be able to slide forward and back to offer more comfort. Cargo space is towards the top of the class with 29.5 cubic feet with the rear seats up and 58.9 when folded. There’s also a little storage nook under the cargo floor to stash valuables.
Acura’s previous infotainment system drew a lot of ire from people. The dual-screen layout was confusing as some functions were split between the two screens such as changing the audio input. Not helping was the two different control methods for this setup; touchscreen for the bottom portion and a controller for the top screen. Thankfully, Acura has introduced a new infotainment system for the RDX. A large 10.2-inch screen sits on top of the dash and is controlled by a touchpad on the center console. Seeing the touchpad for the first time sent chills down my spine as I thought back to my frustrating experiences with Lexus’ Touchpad Controller. But Acura says this controller is much easier and logical to use than competitors. Okay, challenge accepted.
Acura’s touchpad controller is slightly different from Lexus’ setup as it is mapped to the screen. So if you want to access the navigation, you tap that part of the pad that corresponds to the screen. This removes the dragging of the finger across the touchpad to get it to the selection you want. This seems quite logical on paper, but I found to be somewhat frustrating. It took me a few days to mind-meld with the system as I was still used to dragging my finger across the touchpad to select various functions. This made simple tasks such as changing presets or moving around in Apple CarPlay very tough.
There is also a smaller touchpad that controls a small section of the screen. This allows you to scroll through three menus - audio, navigation, and clock. This would prove to be the most frustrating aspect of this system as it didn’t always recognize whenever I scroll down on the touchpad to move to another screen.
Thankfully, Acura has left a number of physical controls for the audio and climate systems. I’m glad that some luxury automakers aren’t falling into the trap.
Powertrain Goes Back To Its Roots
The RDX has always found itself with a different powertrain throughout its various generations. The first version used a turbo-four engine, while the second-generation moved to a V6. For the third-generation, Acura went back to the RDX’s roots and settled on another turbo-four engine. The 2.0L engine punches out 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. This is paired with a 10-speed automatic and either front or my tester’s Super-Handling all-wheel drive system.
The turbo-four is quite a potent engine with little turbo lag when leaving a stop and a seemingly endless amount of power for any situation. The ten-speed automatic is very smooth and quick when upshifting. But it does stumble somewhat when you need a quick shot of speed.
I did notice that the 2.0L turbo isn’t a quiet engine when traveling on the expressway, going above 2,000 rpm when traveling at 70 mph. This may explain the slightly disappointing 21.7 mpg average I got during the week. EPA fuel economy figures for the A-Spec SH-AWD are 21 City/26 Highway/23 Combined. The standard RDX models see a small bump in their EPA fuel economy figures.
Acura is no stranger to building a crossover that is good to drive, the larger MDX crossover is a prime example. But the RDX A-Spec takes that a step further. This version gets a slightly stiffer suspension setup which negates a fair amount of body roll on a winding road. The steering firms up nicely when pushed through corners. When going through the daily grind, the RDX A-Spec will let in a few more bumps and road imperfections due to its suspension tuning. Road and wind noise are kept to very minimal levels.
Welcome Back Acura
The 2020 RDX shows that Acura is starting to figure out what it wants to be; a brand that offers something playful in the class. The RDX certainly has the qualities with a bold exterior, punchy turbo-four, and a surprising chassis that offers sporty handling and a mostly-comfortable ride. The slightly-confounding infotainment system and poor fuel economy figures do sour it a bit. But the RDX is a very compelling alternative to many compact luxury crossovers.
It does give me hope that Acura is figuring out who it wants to be and excited to see what comes down the road such as the new TLX.
How I Would Configure An RDX: For me, I would basically take the exact RDX tester seen here. That will set me back $47,195 after adding destination and $400.00 paint option. Everyone else should look at the Technology package that will get you most of the safety equipment that is part of Acurawatch, along with a 12-speaker ELS audio system, navigation, and parking sensors. It will not break the bank at $41,000 for FWD or $43,000 for AWD.
Disclaimer: Acura Provided the RDX, Insurance, and One Tank of Gas
Engine: Turbocharged 2.0L DOHC 16-Valve VTEC Four-Cylinder
Driveline: 10-Speed Automatic, All-Wheel Drive
Horsepower @ RPM: 272 @ 6,500
Torque @ RPM: 280 @ 1,600 - 4,500
Fuel Economy: City/Highway/Combined - 21/26/23
Curb Weight: 4,015 lbs
Location of Manufacture: East Liberty, Ohio
Base Price: $45,800
As Tested Price: $47,195 (Includes $995.00 Destination Charge)
Premium Exterior Color - $400.00