A quarter-century ago, Acura embodied the best of Japanese car culture. The NSX was a supercar that you could drive every day, the Integra married sporty handling to Honda reliability and the Legend provided executive sedan class with a pulse. Yet, over the years, Acura’s precision has wandered a little. What does the company currently stand for?
Here’s perhaps an important answer to that question: the new Acura RDX. A mid-sized crossover, the RDX accounts for nearly half of all Acura sales in Canada, and is core to the brand’s identity. The old one was basically a Honda CR-V with a V6 and a bit more leather, but this new one has a personality.
As you’d expect, the redesigned RDX provides more of everything versus the outgoing model. It is longer, wider and more spacious inside. The available feature list is longer, and the gearbox has more gears. However, it’s not the additional equipment that makes the RDX stand out; it’s the decisions made by Acura in building it.
First, there’s the enormous drive-mode selection knob, which is placed centrally in the dashboard, as though intended to be used every single day. Other manufacturers also provide different drive mode selection switches, but usually these are tucked away. Further, the RDX defaults to sport mode, rather than a comfort or eco setting.
A sporty nature is what made Acura a household name back in the 1990s, but the company was never about big power. The new turbocharged four-cylinder engine in the RDX is less smooth than the outgoing V6, but it provides excellent low-end torque and fits the character of the vehicle. If you had a second-hand Integra in university, the RDX's four-cylinder grumble on startup provides a bit of familiar charm.
However, it's the handling that'll really put you back in the seat of your battered old Integra. The RDX's chassis is specific to Acura, not shared with any Honda product, and it's very stiff, with a multi-link rear suspension and available adaptive dampers on this Platinum Elite trim.
On the damp, sweeping corners of the scenic Cascade loop in Washington, the RDX was happy to hustle quickly through the hairpins, in a manner that put you in mind of the best old Acuras. There’s more than a bit of invisible engineering trickery going on here, with the company’s SH-AWD (for “Super Handling all-wheel-drive”) capable of sending 70 per cent of the power to the rear wheels, and all of that power to either the left or right wheel.
This last lets the RDX tuck its nose into corners with surprising eagerness. The combination of boosted low-end power at corner exit, all-wheel-drive and excellent braking all came together in a well-sorted package. The only weak point was the dedicated winter tires equipped on the vehicle for the trip – this route is usually closed for snow at the tail-end of November. On dry pavement, the 20-inch wheels and 255-series tires of the sportiest A-spec variant would make the RDX a very quick vehicle indeed.
That’s great news if you’re shopping in this segment and looking for an upscale choice that neither bores you to death, nor kills your wallet with options pricing. It’s even better news if you’re already a fan of Acura, and have been wondering when they were going to get their act together. Practicality is still here. The fun-to-drive feeling has returned. With the RDX, Acura is back.
- Base Price: $43,990
- Engines: 2.0-litre four-cylinder turbo
- Transmission/Drive: 10-speed automatic/All-wheel
- Fuel economy (litres/100kms; city/hwy): 11.0 / 8.6
- Alternatives: BMW X3, Lexus NX300
Acura's new corporate grille finally looks at home on the RDX. The styling is slightly busy, especially in the A-spec cars, but the overall effect is cohesive with the new longer wheelbase and shorter overhangs. It is recognizably an Acura product, rather than a dressed up Honda.
Despite looking slickly designed with control surfaces mounted high up, the RDX's cabin provided plenty of practical-minded storage. The centre console has a pair of deep bins, and young rear passengers had plenty of room to stow books and the like.
The turbocharged 2.0L engine is similar to that found in the Honda Accord, and here makes 272hp at 6500rpm. This is slightly less than the old V6, but the stout 280lb-ft of torque more than make up for any power deficit. The 10-speed automatic is mostly well-programmed, but did occasionally clunk clumsily into gear at lower speeds.
Acura's touchpad interface has a steeper learning curve than some other systems, but is not as fussy as Lexus' touchpad. The system responds quickly, and begins feeling fairly natural after several days of use. However, it's still easy to accidentally enter an incorrect command and have to backspace.
Featuring a total of 881L of space, the RDX’s trunk is cleverly laid out and flexible. A small cubby on the driver’s side provides storage for everyday items such as reusable grocery bags, and a larger underfloor storage bin can be easily accessed to keep those grocery bags from sliding around when full.
Surprisingly fun to drive and light on its feet, with a driver-centered, practical cabin. The RDX feels like Acura is finally getting its mojo back.
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