Review: 2020 Acura RDX Finally Becomes Serious Luxury Player

October 18, 2019 by Jerry Hirsch, @Jerryhirsch

For more than three decades, Honda’s upscale Acura brand has chased the German premium nameplates, trying to produce vehicles that ably combine panache and luxury.

It’s gotten close a couple of times, notably with its introductory Legend sedan and the original NSX sports car, only to fall back into a premium purgatory floating between Buick and Lexus.

Massive improvements have put the 2020 Acura RDX back in the race. That’s why the third-generation RDX is now Acura’s best-seller and accounts for 40 percent of the brand’s sales volume.

BIG IMPROVEMENTS

Introduced a year ago, the redesign made improvements, including an Acura-exclusive platform that has a stiffer body and chassis. The crossover is no longer a rebadged version of a Honda, Acura’s corporate parent. The interior underwent upgrades in both design and materials, giving the all-wheel-drive RDX a real luxury feel.

2020 Acura RDX

Acura has equipped the RDX with a new direct-injected and turbocharged 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. (Photo: Acura)

A recent road trip through California’s Central Coast wine country to the San Francisco Bay Area proved that the new RDX had surpassed Asian competitors such as the Lexus NX and Infiniti QX50. Improved handling and suspension allow the RDX to finally approach the German luxury compact crossover trio: the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC and Audi Q5. Deciding between the models comes down to a pricing decision – the Acura is a touch less expensive – and personal taste. Buyers won’t go wrong with any choice among those four crossovers.

IT STARTS WITH THE POWER

The RDX starts with its powertrain. Acura equips the crossover with a new direct-injected and turbocharged 2-liter, four-cylinder engine. It mates the motor to an exceptionally smooth, new 10-speed automatic transmission. Gear changes are almost imperceptible. It avoids the acceleration lag that plagues some of its rivals, even the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC.

The Acura engine produces up to 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. The numbers beat the standard engines on the German competitors. The turbocharged powertrain also produces V6-like performance. But there’s a cost. One knock on the RDX is its fuel economy. The EPA rates the 2020 Acura RDX at 21 mpg in city driving, 27 on the highway and 23 combined. The comparable all-wheel-drive versions of its German rivals all do better. The BMW is significantly better at 24 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

Acura’s so-called Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system and its use of torque vectoring provide the driving dynamics that allow the RDX to rival the Germans. The all-wheel-drive system is rear-biased. It sends 70 percent of the power to the rear wheels in normal driving conditions. Moreover, all of the axle torque can go to either the left or rear wheels when cornering or in conditions that need more traction on one side of the vehicle.

2020 Acura RDX

One area in which the 2020 Acura RDX is lacking: fuel economy. (Photo: Acura)

NIFTY ENGINEERING

The system shines when driving through the curvy, hilly roads that make up large sections of California’s wine country. The agility comes from giving power to the outside wheels on a turn while also braking those on the inside. It’s nifty engineering. Others have similar systems, but they typically limit it to their most expensive models.

Although still cluttered, a problem with Acuras and Hondas, the interior is quiet and comfortable. Noise intrusion was a problem in previous RDX generations. That’s finally solved.

While the RDX shines in most areas, there’s still room for improvement. In the higher trim levels, Acura packs the interior with high-quality and soft-touch materials. But there’s still too many seams and surfaces that at times abut and clash. The RDX lacks the simplified elegance of the 2020 Mercedes-Benz GLC or the organized cockpit of the Audi Q5.

TOUCHPAD

Acura also has forsaken a touch screen for its new True Touchpad Interface that uses a touchpad in the center console to the right of the driver. It is mapped so that when the operator touches the lower left corner or upper right corner of the pad, there is a corresponding connection on the dash-mounted screen. The theory is that the driver can operate the information and entertainment system primarily through touch or voice. That reduces the need to take eyes off the road. That should be less distracting. And perhaps after thousands of miles of practice it is. But it is a complicated system to learn and use. It also ignores current consumer preferences.

2020 Acura RDX

Acura would have done better to have let its infotainment system connect to users’ phones. The touchpad has a steep learning curve. (Photo: Acura)

An ever-growing number of drivers want to plug their phone into the car, call up Apple Carplay or Android Auto and go from there. There’s a good reason. The phone-linked system is more intuitive than anything automakers have yet designed. It follows the same rubric people use all day long. And since they know it so well, connecting the systems to a high-resolution touch screen on the dash probably is more straightforward and less distracting in the long run. The RDX allows for Apple Carplay and Android Auto, but controls run through the touchpad.

Americans love compact crossovers. Mass market versions such as the Toyota RAV4, the Honda CR-V and the Nissan Rogue are the best-selling vehicles after pickup trucks. The luxury slice of this segment is smaller but just as competitive. With its new RDX, Acura has moved into the top tier in the luxury segment and needs to be on any shopper’s consideration list.

Jerry Hirsch July 29, 2019
The redesigned 2020 Subaru Outback is sure to please previous owners of a versatile vehicle that is capable on pavement and off-road.

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2 Responses

  1. Charles

    For anyone considering the RDX–I lease a 2019–here’s a little-known but critical fact about the True Touchpad Interface: the “mapping” only works as advertised with native Acura apps. It is NOT mapped to work with third party apps such as Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, etc. So what does this mean? When using native Acura apps, where you place your finger on the touchpad will correspond to the same place on the screen. Touching the lower left of the pad, for example, will generate “a touch” on the lower left of your screen. And the whole pad is mapped this way to generate corresponding touches and “clicks” on the screen that correspond to wherever your finger is touching on the pad. This is actually a pretty ingenious and intuitive interface. BUT… try using Apple CarPlay or Android Auto, which most smartphone users will want to do, and the touchpad turns totally dumb. Where your finger rests on the pad is only randomly related to what is touched or clicked on your screen. You never know. It’s incredibly glitchy, jerky and sometimes completely unresponsive. It’s dangerously distracting and frustrating on every drive, and there is no “learning” how to use it, because the lack of mapping makes the touchpad and screen interaction random every time. This is a mind-boggling oversight on the part of Acura that they have yet to give any indication of correcting and–if I had to do it all over again–I would not lease the RDX because of it. Having owned a Lexus RX prior to the Acura, I was accustomed to the Lexus mouse controller, widely reviled (for good reason) as the worst infotainment interface in the auto industry. But the RDX, in my opinion, is considerably worse than that.

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  2. Tank

    Although it’s a nicely appointed vehicle, it can’t be seriously considered as a luxury vehicle. The cabin is quiet compared to a CRV but not compared to luxury competitors from Audi Lexus or BMW. Leather is cheap. The tech on board is subpar due to the glitchy Google driven interface and touchpad. Lane keep assist and other convenience features are unreliable at best. What Acura has going for it is it’s assumed reliability, powerful engine and amazing SHAWD, too bad those gains are made null by the terribly slow 10 speed tranny. These things are selling like hot cakes to people based on price and what the specs offer on paper, not what the car actually offers in practice. I’m assuming most actual owners will eventually come to the same conclusions as me and trade it in on a real luxury car once their term is up.

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