2019 Acura RDX First Drive: The Hitman


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Let’s be honest with ourselves: If they made The Transporter today, Jason Statham’s character would drive an SUV. It’s the way of the world now. If he wanted to be inconspicuous, he’d drive a perennial best-seller like the RDX, but equipped with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive for the chase scenes.

Regardless of franchise, the character is always the same: square jaw, finely tailored suit, obsessed with precision and discipline. He’s generally dispassionate and ruthlessly effective. If he were a car, he’d be the 2019 Acura RDX.

The RDX is the first of a new generation of Acura vehicles aimed to reanimate the brand’s classic “Precision Crafted Performance” philosophy. At the same time, though, it’s Acura’s bread-and-butter product. It had to be approached with the same sort of rigid discipline and single-minded determination to get it right. It’s reflected in the car’s personality: cool, collected, self-assured, and unflappable. Passionate for precision, not passionate for passion.

You get the measure of it the moment you step on the gas. The RDX has a devious quickness; the speedometer always seems to be gaining ground far faster than the world outside is blurring. There’s no lurch forward as you take off, no press into the seat. The isolation from speed is such that the nagging thought you could get out and run faster lasts all the way up to the moment you look down (or into the optional head-up display) to see you’re grossly exceeding the speed limit. It’s not remarkably fast for a small SUV, but it’s quicker than you realize.

The engine, a 2.0-liter turbo-four that essentially comes from the sublime Honda Accord, goes about its business with only audible drama (exaggerated by way of the stereo). Although peak horsepower is down compared to the previous V-6, torque is up, and both measurements boast fatter curves. As a result, a gentle swell of power is always on hand when you need it, even in Comfort mode. The buttery-smooth 10-speed automatic is never in the wrong gear and can drop four cogs at a time should you demand it.

Acura imagines many of its customers will be stepping up from sport sedans to sport utilities, which usually means a trade-off in terms of dynamic performance.  RDX buyers will appreciate the moderately sharper response of Sport mode, which remains engaged even after shutdown and restart. However, most will find Sport+ mode a bit much—all snappy throttle and gears held to redline, like watching a well-choreographed fight scene on fast-forward.

The chassis reads from the same script. The RDX moves down the road with technical sophistication and reassuring confidence, but it’s a dispassionate virtuosity. It doesn’t flow through corners. It dispenses with them. The body remains flat in the bends, so the vehicle never develops a rhythm. It just does the job you ask of it and moves on to the next. The steering has a bit of weightiness in the Sport modes and offers a hint of road feedback, but just enough of each to remind you the vehicle really is sporty in a calculating way.

Contributing greatly to all this is the optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, whose name and provenance suggest a hardcore personality the vehicle doesn’t possess. One would expect its torque-vectoring magic would lie in its ability to overdrive the outside wheels and push you harder out of a curve. Although it does do that if you drive like a maniac, the real magic hides in plain sight in that you don’t feel it working all the time. As such, you don’t notice power transfer to the rear or side to side, because the system doesn’t wait until the front wheels slip to respond. It doesn’t feel like high-performance torque vectoring, and that’s the point.

Some people will find this dispassionate precision downright boring, but if the market wanted luxury crossovers to drive like sports cars, the Alfa Romeo Stelvio would dominate this class on the sales charts. Instead, the RDX does. Most customers like the somewhat disconnected performance Audi trades on, and it’s easy to see where Acura set its benchmarks (Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, and Volvo XC60). Anyone can get in an RDX and comfortably and confidently drive very quickly.

For all of the RDX’s carefully planned and executed strikes on the luxury buyer’s wants and needs, it doesn’t land every punch. A particular misgiving is the brake pedal. There’s almost no initial bite, an unpleasant surprise that makes you jump on it harder.

At that point the pedal firms up and the vehicle slows appropriately, but with zero pedal feedback. It doesn’t inspire confidence in the least, but you learn to drive around it. Acura says its engineers did this to prevent passengers’ heads from being whipped forward by grabby brakes. It’s a laudable goal, but the execution is a miss.

Similarly disappointing but far less critical is the tire noise. Acura was confident enough in the RDX to bring similarly specced competitor vehicles for back-to-back drives. Although this demonstrated the RDX’s competitive attributes, it also highlighted how loud its tires are compared to the Europeans’. They’re by no means deafening, but they stand out in an otherwise whisper-quiet cabin.

There’s an easy workaround: pay for the ELS Studio 3D audio system upgrade. Its 16 speakers and 710 watts deliver a quality of sound typically found in luxury cars costing double the RDX’s MSRP. Placing you in the seventh row at Carnegie Hall while driving a car is no easy task, but they’ve nailed it.

The stereo is but one highlight of the new interior. Another: the seats. Front and rear,they provide an easy-chair plushness without sacrificing support. They’re nicely bolstered and contour perfectly with your body. This is especially notable in the second row, where automakers often skimp on comfort. Here again, it’s worth paying extra for the Advance model, which adds upgraded seats with power side bolsters and thigh support. Either way you go, the seats are finished in the same buttery leather that (along with olive wood and aluminum trim) also wraps much of the cabin.

The third component of Acura’s interior trifecta is the True Touchpad Interface. Rather than a rotary knob or a touchscreen, a touchpad above the push-button gear selector is mapped to the standard 10.2-inch infotainment screen. That is, if you touch the top left corner of the touchpad, it highlights whatever’s in the top left corner of the screen. It’s different from a laptop touchpad (or a Lexus) in that there’s no cursor to find and follow. There’s a steep learning curve before it becomes muscle memory. I recommend spending a lot of time with it in the showroom or your garage before you use it while driving. Once you get it, though, it’s completely intuitive.

The screen is as customizable as a smartphone. Every function is an app with an icon you can drag and drop wherever you want. You can make your spouse’s number or your home address into an app and put it right on the home screen for easy access. The touchpad is also tied to the optional head-up display, and any app on your home screen can be added to the head-up menu. We could spend the whole review on just this new interface, but it’d be easier to go try it yourself. The only downside is a lack of sharpness to the images provided by the reverse and 360-degree cameras, especially as the rear window is unusually impacted for an Acura.

This is the story of the new RDX, really. It’s packed with features and demonstrates a sophisticated mechanical prowess, but it’s particular about things. It’s clinical and precise, in some ways to a fault, but balanced with obvious value and features. Like the hit man, the RDX is no nonsense up front, but there’s an underlying warmth and desire to please once you get to know it.

2019 Acura RDX
BASE PRICE $38,295
VEHICLE LAYOUT Front-engine, FWD/AWD, 5-pass, 4-door SUV
ENGINE 2.0L/272-hp/280-lb-ft turbocharged DOHC 16-valve I-4
TRANSMISSION 10-speed automatic
CURB WEIGHT 3,800-4,100 lb (mfr)
WHEELBASE 108.3 in
LENGTH X WIDTH X HEIGHT 186.8 x 74.8 x 65.7 in
0-60 MPH 6.0 sec (MT est)
EPA CITY/HWY/COMB FUEL ECON 21-22/26-28/23-24 mpg
ENERGY CONSUMPTION, CITY/HWY 153-160/120-130 kW-hrs/100 miles
CO2 EMISSIONS, COMB 0.80-0.84 lb/mile
ON SALE IN U.S. Currently