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2019 Acura RDX First Drive

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

Whatever you think of the burgeoning crossover segment doesn't matter. The people have spoken and crossovers have won — compact crossovers are the fastest-growing segment in all of automobiledom.

The good news is that the competition among them has resulted in efforts like the all-new 2019 Acura RDX.

All-New Platform
While the RDX's mission as a premium, do-everything two-row crossover hasn't changed, everything else about it has. From stem to stern, nothing carries over from the model it replaces. Acura targeted the high end of a crowded premium compact crossover class — think Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC, Volvo XC60 — when developing the 2019 RDX, which means a boost in performance and handling while retaining its core values of comfort and space.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

The 2019 RDX marks the model's third generation and debuts a new, Acura-specific platform that will underpin some of the automaker's future cars. The new RDX is a shade lighter and quite a bit stiffer than the one it replaces. Larger than its predecessor, the new model gains more rear legroom and cargo volume thanks to a 2.6-inch-longer wheelbase (now 108.3 inches) and 2.4 inches more overall length (186.8 inches). It's also 1 inch wider and 0.7 inch taller. To get an idea of how grown-up the new RDX is, consider that its new wheelbase mirrors that of the previous-generation MDX, its bigger brother.

The RDX's basic hardware isn't revolutionary. A five-link rear suspension replaces the outgoing model's trailing-link setup for more precise handling and better ride control. Up front, all RDXs receive variable-ratio steering that quickens steering as you crank the wheel and reduces the turns needed for maximum steering angle. The steering rack itself is of the dual-pinion variety, which allows engineers to more finely dial in steering characteristics.

Turbo Four-Cylinder Only
Gone is the outgoing model's V6 engine, but that's no cause for concern. In its place is the same turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine sourced from parent company Honda and found in the top-level Accord and, in more juiced-up form, in the Civic Type R.

In the RDX, this engine generates 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, and it requires premium fuel. This is a bit less peak power but more torque than the outgoing V6. The difference is particularly stark at low revs; at 1,600 rpm, the turbo-four churns out some 40 percent more torque than the V6. The four-cylinder is the only engine available, and it mates exclusively to a 10-speed automatic transmission. All RDXs are offered in front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD).

Despite a modest weight gain (additional equipment offsets weight savings elsewhere, so front-wheel-drive models gain 46 pounds and AWD variants swell by 112 pounds), the new RDX shaves 0.5 second off the sprint to 30 mph and a few more tenths off the 0-60 mph dash.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

Next-Generation AWD
The latest iteration of Acura's optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system now acts quicker and can cope with more torque. As before, SH-AWD continuously adjusts the proportion of torque delivered to the rear axle. On, say, a freeway cruise at constant speed, the front wheels do most of the work and the rear wheels essentially come along for the ride. But the system can route up to 70 percent of the engine's torque to the rear if there's sufficient weight transfer-induced traction available, as during a hard launch on dry pavement.

SH-AWD separates itself from other AWD systems by its ability to direct any fraction of the torque arriving at the rear axle to either rear wheel. Combined with a rear differential that's more slightly overdriven than the front, SH-AWD can help make the RDX turn even as it provides more traction. It's a mighty clever system.

One Trim Level, Four Packages
Like all Acuras, the new RDX is offered not in trim levels but as a single trim available with one of four option packages: base, Tech, A-Spec and Advance. The carmaker keeps it simple by limiting stand-alone options to all-wheel drive and a few dealer accessory items.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

Standard equipment on the 2019 RDX includes an absolutely colossal panoramic sunroof and the formerly optional AcuraWatch suite of driver aids. Base models are quite well-equipped with dual-zone automatic climate control, a power liftgate, and 12-way power-adjustable and heated front seats. The Tech package adds a host of creature comforts (navigation, parking alerts, leather upholstery, additional driver aids, upgraded sound system). The A-Spec delivers understated flair with its 20-inch wheels, wider tires (20 mm), ventilated seats, a stunning 16-speaker, 710-watt surround-sound system, plus blacked-out exterior trim and unique cabin trim.

Topping the range is Advance, which offers thicker carpet and acoustic front door glass for more silencing, continuously variable dampers, a hands-free liftgate, 16-way power-adjustable front seats, heated rear seats, a heated steering wheel, a customizable and interactive head-up display, and the surround-sound system.

All-New Infotaiment Interface
Perhaps the most conspicuous aspect of the 2019 RDX is its True Touchpad Interface (TTI), Acura's all-new infotainment interface. First shown at the 2016 Los Angeles Auto Show as the "Acura Precision Cockpit," this touchpad-based system marks a clean-slate rethink of how to interact with a vast array of in-car features.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

A 10.2-inch high-definition display sits high atop the dashboard, out of arm's reach. It's not a touchscreen and there's no knob. Instead, TTI incorporates a Post-it-size, slightly curved touchpad that sits at the base of the center stack. Unlike other touchpad-based interfaces that involve shoving a cursorlike selector around, TTI relies on absolute positioning. In other words, the touchpad area corresponds to that of the screen.

For example, touching the upper-left corner of the touchpad highlights the tile at the upper-left corner of the screen. Release your touch and the highlight disappears. This emulates the intuitive layout of a touchscreen, with the key difference that selections are made by pressing lightly on the touchpad.

Our time spent with TTI was promising. Unlike a touchscreen that requires you to guide your finger to a desired icon, TTI can be operated at a quick glance or even using peripheral vision. It offers the intuitive interaction of a touchscreen with fewer of the "glance time" issues of such a system. It's also very responsive. There's a bit of a learning curve to TTI — we initially kept trying to move the highlighted portion around like a mouse — but only because it is different, not because it's difficult.

Driving the New RDX
We spent a day driving RDX A-Spec and Advance models, all equipped with all-wheel drive. On the road, there's little to fault the decision to abandon the V6. The turbo four-cylinder's quick-spooling turbo generates plenty of oats down low, even from a stop. Gear changes from the 10-speeder are subtle and it makes short work of summoning the right gear for conditions to avoid busy-shifting.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

Turning the prominent Dynamic Mode selector knob (front and center on the dashboard) incrementally sharpens various chassis and powertrain functions. In default Comfort mode, the powertrain is willing yet innocuous, just the thing for routine driving. Sport mode is pretty lame; on A-Spec models, it adds some steering heft and makes the exhaust louder, and it also slightly firms up the dampers on Advance models.

Sport+ noticeably ratchets everything up another notch, including a more aggressive shift schedule and a livelier SH-AWD calibration that turns this trucklet into something that can make surprisingly short work of a canyon road.

Steering heft, quickness and on-center stability rate well, but feel is on the mute side. Even with the standard dampers, the RDX keeps body roll at bay and changes direction with an eagerness that belies its size and weight. Yes, this is a crossover that exhibits a degree of precision, yet its ride quality is compliant and isn't upset by midcorner bumps. When it comes to balancing a comfortable ride with satisfying handling, the RDX delivers.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive

The new cabin is plenty attractive. The Advance package's leather, open-pore wood and metal accents convey a convincingly upscale impression. The seats are terrific, too. Rearward visibility isn't great, however, and forces you to rely on the surround-view camera. Nevertheless, the RDX's practicality remains impressive. The cabin is truly spacious, even in the back seat, and cabin storage options abound. Same goes for the bring-everything cargo area that combines plentiful volume with clever in-floor storage cubbies and back seats that fold nearly flat.

Fuel Economy and Pricing
Fuel economy for front-wheel-drive models is 24 mpg combined (22 city/28 highway), while AWD costs 1 mpg across the board. The wider tires of A-Spec models reduce highway mpg by 1 mpg further still.

The new RDX's price is a real strong suit. It starts at $38,295 (including destination) for base front-drive models, which is unchanged from the outgoing AcuraWatch-equipped model. Other packages have risen in price, but they include more features. And at $48,395, the most expensive Advance package model equipped with all-wheel drive undercuts many rivals by considerable margins.

That the 2019 Acura RDX doesn't skimp on, well, anything, makes it a heck of a compelling thing. Conveniently enough, it arrives at dealers on June 1.

2019 Acura RDX First Drive