First Drive: 2019 Acura RDX Improves an Already Best-Selling Package

June 01, 2018 by John O'Dell

As more and more consumers abandon sedans for trucks, SUVs and crossovers, the extensively upgraded third-generation 2019 Acura RDX should have no problem keeping Honda’s luxury division riding high in the compact luxury crossover segment.

With a new powertrain, new chassis, sporty new sheet metal, new electronics, new interior and improved driving characteristics, the 2019 RDX brings more of everything to the game versus its predecessor.

Until U.S. fuel prices start to climb, trucks and crossovers will be profit centers for most automakers. For Acura, that means increased competition.

The RDX has topped the small luxury crossover segment by selling more than 50,000 annually in each of the past three years. Maintaining that sales lead is why the company doubled down on the new RDX.

On the Road

Acura provided only a few hours of drive time in the 2019 Acura RDX during a recent media preview held on the mountain roads around British Columbia’s Whistler Mountain ski resort.

That’s not enough time for an in-depth evaluation, but in 60 miles of highway and twisty mountain road driving, the top-trim Advance model and the sporty A-Spec proved themselves to be among the best handling and most comfortable of the current crop of small luxury crossover

Acceleration was powerful, the steering tight and responsive, the braking firm and well-modulated. The seats were supportive and comfortable, and the views unimpeded. Road and engine noise was minimal thanks to an abundance of soundproofing.

The 2019 RDX uses a four-mode performance control system — snow, comfort, sport and sport plus — that automatically alters accelerator and steering reaction. In the Advance trim, the system tunes adjustable suspension dampers for firm, more responsive action in the sport modes and a softer ride in the comfort mode.

  • 2019 Acura RDX. (All photos: Honda)

There were several of the RDX’s peers available for comparison, including the new BMW X3 and the 2018 Volvo XC60, which was recently named North American Utility Vehicle of the Year and World Car of the Year.

For all-around comfort, handling, roominess, performance and value, the Acura would be my choice. Although for pure performance — albeit on rock-hard seats and a fairly stiff ride in Sport-plus mode — the BMW still leads the pack.

Pricing and Trim Levels

Acura launched the third-generation RDX in four trim levels this week at a base price of $38,295, including destination and handling charges. That’s thousands less than any of its competitors and the same as the equivalent 2018 model that includes the AcuraWatch advanced safety tech package.

Key standard active safety systems and alerts for the new RDX include collision warning and braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist, road-departure mitigation and adaptive cruise control with low-speed following.

2019 acura RDX interior

Split fold-down rear seats are standard in the new RDX; the red leather seats are exclusive to the A-Spec trim. (Photo: Acura)

Other standard features include well-bolstered 12-way power adjustable heated sport seats up front, a power tailgate, panoramic sliding glass roof and a nine-speaker stereo system with satellite radio, USB interface and Bluetooth. The 10.2-inch color touchscreen infotainment display is compatible with Apple CarPlay. Android Auto is coming in later models.

The Technology package — which brings the SUV’s price to $41,495 — adds blind spot warning, front and rear parking sensors, rear cross-traffic alert and navigation with real-time traffic updates. The rear seating area gets two USB charge ports. Leather upholstery and a 12-speaker ELS Studio sound system also are included.

Pricier trim levels like the A-Spec and Advance, which cost $44,495 and $46,395, respectively, add features such as 20-inch alloy wheels, fancier leather upholstery and interior trim, a hands-free power tailgate and rain-sensing windshield wipers. All-wheel drive models run $2,000 more in each trim level. AWD models get a real spare tire, mounted beneath the cargo floor so it doesn’t eat into cargo space. Front-drive trims get a tire sealant kit and roadside assistance.

Super AWD is Back

Acura’s “super handling” AWD system, or SH-AWD, was dropped from the second-generation RDX, replaced with a less complex and less expensive all-wheel drive system from the 2013 through 2018 model years.

But the desire to keep RDX’s position as the segment leader and grow annual sales beyond the 50,000 mark dictated a return.

The SH-AWD system can send as much as 70 percent of available torque to the rear wheels, as conditions demand. It also balances rear torque, shifting as much as 100 percent to the outside wheel. A companion system that’s standard on all RDX models automatically brakes the corresponding front wheel. It all works to keep the RDX on track when handling curves and corners.

SH-AWD turns the 2019 RDX into a sure-footed mountain goat on loose and slippery surfaces.

A word of caution here: The RDX is a crossover utility vehicle, but its relatively low 8.2-inches of ground clearance and limited wheel travel argue against confusing it with an off-road capable SUV.

Engine and Transmission

Standard in both front-drive and all-wheel drive configurations, the 2019 Acura RDX’s new 2.0-liter, turbocharged, aluminum-alloy four-cylinder engine is rated at 272 horsepower, down from 279 in the previous generation’s V6.

Torque is rated at 280 pound-feet, up from 252 pound-feet in the second-gen RDX. The turbo four in the 2019 RDX churns out maximum torque at a mere 1,600 rpm versus 4,600 rpm in the old V6. That translates into brisk acceleration at low speeds.

Power is sent to the wheels via a new 10-speed automatic transmission, a segment first. It improves responsiveness by keeping the engine in its peak performance bands longer than the previous model’s six-speed transmission. It can be operated in standard or sport modes, with more aggressive shift patterns in first through eight gears in the sport mode.

Paddle shifters on the steering wheel are standard across the line.

A Solution to Infotainment Distraction

Most automakers make drivers reach up and look right to swipe and poke at a touchscreen located a foot or more from the steering wheel. It’s not ideal in a world where car companies should be removing distractions, not creating them.

Honda has an improvement. The company is using the 2019 Acura RDX to introduce its newly developed remote touchpad system. The console-mounted touchpad makes it easy to control the infotainment system while keeping eyes on the road. No control wheels or knobs, no cursor, just press the spot on the touchpad that corresponds with the on-screen location of the icon you want to trigger and it happens.

It took me about five minutes of practice to figure it all out.

2019 acura RDX back

Blacked-out trim, 20-inch wheels and oversize exhaust tips are features of the sporty RDX-A-Spec. (Photo: Acura)


The 2019 Acura RDX has been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and awarded the organization’s highest rating of “Top Safety Pick +.”

The RDX received “good” ratings – the institute’s top mark for crash test performance – in all six of the institute’s crash-worthiness tests.
Additionally, the RDX’s standard AcuraWatch suite of safety technology earned the IIHS’ highest “superior” rating for its performance, while the crossover’s base headlights were rated “good.”

Safety ratings for the 2019 RDX from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration have not been issued. NHTSA does not test every new vehicle every year.

Fuel Efficiency

The 2019 RDX’s smaller, turbocharged engine and advanced transmission make a difference at the pump as well as on the road, but it’s a small one.

The Environmental Protection Agency rated the 2019 RDX in front-wheel drag at 24 mpg combined, 22 city, 28 highway (27 mpg highway for the heftier A-Spec trim). Subtract 1 mpg in each category for all-wheel drive models.

That’s a 1-mpg improvement over 2018 RDX models in the “combined” and “city” categories.

Last Words

The new RDX doesn’t have the most room, the largest cargo box, the best fuel economy or superior handling of all the crossovers in the small luxury segment.

But it comes close to the leader in each category and sets the standard in others, including seat comfort, audio system quality and infotainment interface. And none of the competitors combine so many attributes in such an attractive package and at such an attainable price point.

Editor’s note: To facilitate this report, attended an event where American Honda Motor Co. hosted travel and lodging.

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