2020 Acura RDX Review

Liz Kim | Oct 28, 2019

Introduction

Crossover SUVs are still selling like gangbusters, eclipsing formerly popular family haulers like sedans, minivans and traditional sport/utility vehicles. So it stands to reason that the new Acura RDX, redesigned for the 2019 model year, was expected to be popular.

And popular it is. A year after the all-new RDX arrived, it is officially the best-selling model in the company’s lineup, and by Acura’s numbers it is also the second best-selling luxury SUV and the third best-selling luxury vehicle among all premium models in America.

2020 Acura RDX A Spec Red Front ViewDoes the RDX deserve to dominate in this manner? Now that owners of the latest version of the SUV have participated in the J.D. Power 2019 Automotive Performance, Execution, and Layout (APEAL) Study, we’ve got data related to the redesign. We’ve also evaluated a 2020 Acura RDX equipped with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, Performance Red Pearl paint, and the Technology and A-Spec option packages. The price came to $47,195, including the $995 destination charge.

What Owners Say…

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the Acura RDX, it is helpful to understand who buys this compact premium SUV, and what they like most and least about their vehicles.

According to J.D. Power data, 44% of Acura RDX owners are female, compared to 45% for the compact premium SUV segment. Owners of the RDX have a median age of 57 years (vs. 58), and earn a median annual household income of $147,965 (vs. $156,990). The RDX is more popular with members of Generation Y (22% vs. 18%), and less popular with members of the Baby Boom and Pre-Boomer generations (56% vs. 60%).

Acura RDX owners share the overall sentiments of all compact premium SUV owners, agreeing and disagreeing with various aspects of vehicles and ownership along nearly identical lines. Where they diverge is with regard to maintenance costs and flashy design.

Based on the 2019 APEAL Study, 88% of Acura RDX owners agree that they avoid vehicles that they think will have high maintenance costs (vs. 81%). Additionally, 78% of RDX owners agree that they like a vehicle that stands out from the crowd (vs. 84%).

Owners say their favorite things about the RDX are (in descending order) the seats, exterior styling, driving dynamics, interior design, and visibility and safety. Owners indicate their least favorite things about the RDX are (in descending order) the engine/transmission, storage and space, climate control system, infotainment system, and fuel economy.

What Our Expert Says…

 In the sections that follow, our expert provides her own perceptions about how the Acura RDX measures up in each of the 10 categories that comprise the 2019 APEAL Study.

Exterior

Acura elevates the styling of the RDX by taking the familiar shapes and angles of its other SUV, the MDX, and wrapping them tautly around a structure that appears to be the beneficiary of a two-month Peloton trial. The result is sleeker, curvier and more attractive, easily commanding positive attention.

The test vehicle wore extra-cost Performance Red Pearl paint, and thanks to the A-Spec Package had a trendy blacked-out and sporty look. No doubt, these cosmetic upgrades lent it a rakish stance.

Interior

Slip inside the RDX A-Spec’s cabin and you’ll be impressed with the attention to detail when it comes to fit-and-finish. There are few missteps, with tight fitment and high-quality materials that are visually and tactilely pleasing. The test vehicle had black leather upholstery with perforated suede inserts, and both white contrast stitching and white piping to give it a bit of extra pop.

The center stack, with its amalgamation of buttons, knobs, and an infotainment system trackpad looks busy. This is mainly a function of Acura’s adherence to a waterfall-style dashboard rather than a horizontal orientation that provides more real estate for the controls. I wasn’t a fan of the red gauges that come with the A-Spec Package because they don’t provide enough contrast for a clear read.

Seats

Seat comfort ranks at the top of the list of RDX owners’ favorite things about the SUV, and I have to agree. The front seats are extremely comfortable, with just the right amount of support and bolstering and plenty of adjustments to help you find an ideal perch. The top of the center console is positioned just right to serve as an armrest, and the heated and ventilated front seats take the sting away from a baker of a day.

The RDX’s rear seats aren’t as impressive, with a flat bottom cushion lacking in support and hard seatbacks that are a too reclined. Because the RDX is a compact vehicle, a third passenger would make things tight, but there’s a good amount of legroom for those long of limb. Rear vents are always appreciated, and the RDX includes two rear USB charging ports.

Climate Control System

Acura houses the buttons and displays for the climate control system in their own little module, separated from the rest of the center control panel elements by an aluminum outline. The system proved effective at cooling the cabin quickly, and the Auto function that automatically turns on the front seat heating and ventilation as is deemed necessary is a thoughtful touch.

Infotainment System

Acura RDX owners rank the infotainment system as their next to least favorite thing about the SUV, and that’s easy to understand.

To control the entertainment and information features, Acura provides a touchpad that takes a long time to get used to. Unlike with touchpads on laptop computers, for example, the one in the RDX doesn’t correlate finger movement on the pad with cursor movement on the screen.  Instead, you must push on the area of the touchpad that corresponds with the same area on the screen. Ultimately, you’ll get used to it, but it does have a steep learning curve.

The display itself is mounted several inches deeper on the top of the dashboard from the center control panel, and is not touch sensitive. Acura could easily mount the screen closer, and make it touch-sensitive. At least the voice control system works reasonably well, and the system includes both Apple CarPlay and Android Auto.

Storage and Space

Pop open the RDX’s rear liftgate and you’ll find 29.5 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind the rear seats. Folding the rear seats will give you a maximum of 58.9 cu.-ft. That doesn’t sound like much, but the bins on the side of the cargo floor, as well as the large bin under the floor, proved very useful for holding grocery bags upright and smaller items in place.

In the cabin, center console space wasn’t generous but was usefully configured. Also, Acura provides a large storage area underneath the center console, providing a place to put items out of sight of prying eyes.

Visibility and Safety

When it comes to crash safety, the 2020 Acura RDX gets a Top Safety Pick+ rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) for calendar year 2019. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) gives it a 5-star overall rating, but the frontal-impact results measure 4 stars for the driver and front-seat passenger. So there is some work to do in order to earn the highest marks across the board.

With great visibility from the driver’s seat, and the RDX’s comprehensive suite of standard active safety technology, the goal is to avoid a collision in the first place. The test car’s driver assistance and collision avoidance systems worked with greater refinement than what’s in other Acuras, but still isn’t as natural in terms of operation as some competitors.

Engine/Transmission

At the heart of the RDX, a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder engine produces 272 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 280 lb.-ft. of torque between 1,600 rpm and 4,500 rpm. If it feels a bit flat as the tachometer needle swings past peak torque, that 2,000-rpm gap is the reason why.

While the turbo four could use a broader torque curve to make it more satisfying, it provides reasonably quick acceleration, especially from a standstill. Those wishing for a bit more control can make use of the quick-thinking 10-speed automatic’s paddle shifters, and putting it into Sport mode will also delay upshifts and make best use of the power band.

The test vehicle had Acura’s torque vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. It can put up to 70% of the engine’s power to the rear axle, and from there all 70% can flow to a single rear wheel. When driving the RDX with enthusiasm, you can definitely feel the effect of SH-AWD.

You also might notice the overly optimistic exhaust note as you’re exercising your right foot. That’s thanks to a digital soundtrack, which is a sweet little detail but not nearly as fulsome as an authentic engine note.

Fuel Economy

It’s no wonder that fuel economy is the least favored aspect of RDX ownership. The test vehicle averaged 19.7 mpg during a week of mixed driving conditions, and got 19.9 mpg on our test loop. This is a far cry from the EPA’s projection of 23 mpg in combined driving based on ratings of 21 mpg in the city and 26 mpg on the highway.

Disappointing fuel economy is a common trait of both heavy and turbocharged crossover SUVs. The RDX is turbocharged, and in spite of its status as a compact model it weighs in at 4,015 lbs. Maybe what it really needs is a V6 engine that doesn’t need to work as hard.

Driving Dynamics

Around town, the RDX impresses with its agility, making this SUV feel even smaller than it is. This is a clear advantage when driving in high-traffic areas or squeezing into small parking spaces. During the daily drive, the suspension tuning delivers a nice, compliant ride over imperfect roads.

It’s even more enjoyable to drive on canyon roads, displaying impressive amounts of athleticism as it bites into tight corners and trots out with an impish grin. The steering is heavily weighted but precise, and the brakes are progressive and predictable.

Impressively, the RDX boasts 8.2 inches of ground clearance. While this Acura doesn’t prompt you to take it boulder bashing, it can traverse gnarlier roads than lower riding ‘utes.

Final Impressions

Acura has created a winner with the 2020 RDX. Its youthful appeal and affable nature, in style and substance, and in execution and drivability, appeals not only to younger buyers but makes the Acura brand appealing to more consumers in general.

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