2021 Acura RDX Review

Christian Wardlaw, Independent Expert | Dec 04, 2020

Introduction - Find the best Acura deals!

There is more to the 2021 Acura RDX than good looks and an affordable lease payment. This compact premium crossover SUV is appealingly packaged, roomy for people and cargo, technologically advanced, safe in a collision, and enjoyable to drive.

Last redesigned for the 2019 model year, the Acura RDX sees no changes for 2021 aside from a new limited-production PMC Edition. Only 360 examples will be hand-built in the same Acura facility that constructs the company’s NSX sports car, and they’ll all wear exclusive Thermal Orange paint shared with the NSX. The price is $51,000, plus a destination charge of $1,995, which is higher than normal to account for special shipping requirements.

The rest of the lineup continues as it was in 2020. The 2021 Acura RDX comes in a standard level of specification to which buyers can add a Technology Package, an A-Spec Package, or an Advance Package. They all have a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, an automatic transmission, and front-wheel drive. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is available in exchange for $2,000. Prices range from $38,200 to $48,000, not including the PMC Edition.

2021 Acura RDX A-Spec White Front View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

For this review, J.D. Power evaluated an RDX A-Spec equipped with SH-AWD and extra-cost paint. The price came to $47,625, including the $1,025 destination charge.

What Owners Say… - Find the best Acura deals!

Before we discuss the results of our evaluation of the 2021 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, 56% of Acura RDX owners are male (vs. 54% for the segment), and the median age of an RDX owner is identical to the segment at 59 years.

Owners say their favorite things about the RDX are (in descending order) the exterior styling, driving feel, feeling of safety, getting in and out, and interior design. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank highest in comparison to the premium compact SUV segment:

  • Ability to hold personal items
  • Getting in and out of the front seats
  • Ability to carry everything
  • Getting in and out of the second-row seats
  • Driver’s seat comfort

Owners indicate their least favorite things about the RDX are (in descending order) the driving comfort, powertrain, setting up and starting, infotainment, and fuel economy. Specifically, these five things about the vehicle rank lowest in comparison to the premium compact SUV segment:

  • Fuel economy/driving range
  • Smoothness of engine/motor
  • Sound of engine/motor
  • Brake performance
  • Usefulness of other infotainment functions

In the J.D Power 2020 Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, the RDX ranked 11th out of 14 premium compact SUVs.

What Our Expert Says… - Find the best Acura deals!

In the sections that follow, our independent expert provides his perceptions about how the 2021 Acura RDX measures up in each of the ten categories that comprise the APEAL Study.

Exterior

Though Acura began applying its Diamond Pentagon grille design to its cars and SUVs back in 2017, the all-new 2019 RDX was the first of the company’s products to get the latest Precision Crafted design language. It wears the look well, and though the RDX is an SUV, Acura doesn’t resort to tacked-on rugged design cues in an attempt to convey its suitability for “active lifestyles.”

2021 Acura RDX A-Spec White Rear View

Photo: Christian Wardlaw

Choose the A-Spec Package, and performance is the theme even if it includes nothing more than larger, wider, and lower-profile tires compared to other versions of the RDX. It looks the part, though, with exclusive bumper designs, smoked lighting treatments, dark chrome trim, black window surrounds, and larger and more prominent exhaust outlets. Color choices are limited, but Apex Blue Pearl is an exclusive paint color.

The PMC Edition essentially combines the A-Spec’s look with the Advance Package’s equipment, and it wears an NSX-sourced Thermal Orange paint job.

Interior

In addition to serving as an exterior design pivot for Acura, the current-generation RDX’s interior sets the tone for future models from the company. For example, the approach to controls, infotainment, and instrumentation heavily influences the all-new 2021 Acura TLX sedan. But the redesigned 2022 Acura MDX will take the concept further in terms of sophistication

2021 Acura RDX A-Spec Dashboard Red Seats

Photo: Christian Wardlaw.

Rendered in high-quality materials, the RDX A-Spec’s interior features front sport seats in black or red leather with black simulated suede inserts, red contrast stitching, and unique piping. They face a dashboard trimmed in dark aluminum, and the A-Spec features a black roof liner material, sport steering wheel, sport pedals, sport instrumentation, red ambient cabin lighting, and red control illumination.

The control layout emphasizes design over user experience. For example, the Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) driving mode control knob and the transmission buttons are prominently positioned on the dashboard, taking up an inordinate amount of real estate. Also, in a bid to limit driver distraction, the RDX’s infotainment system does not offer touchscreen control, which requires placement of a True Touchpad Interface (TTI) where storage might otherwise reside.

Nevertheless, Acura provides separate climate controls and both a volume/power knob and tuning buttons for the stereo. This helps to limit interaction with the TTI.

Acura’s approach to interior design compromises practical storage space. There is a sizable tray underneath the transmission pod and TTI pad, but it is not easily accessible while driving. Still, owners find plenty of room for stashing their stuff, according to J.D. Power data.

Most RDX models have simple white-on-black instrumentation that is easy to reference with a glance. The A-Spec has red markings on silver dials, and during the day the low-contrast design is hard to read. This is not a problem at night.

Getting In and Out

If you prefer to sit up high in a vehicle, the RDX A-Spec’s sport-bolstered front seats and rakish windshield pillars can impede entry and exit to some degree. Position the seat lower and choose a version of the SUV with the standard seat design, and this is unlikely to be an issue.

Getting into and out of the rear seat is easy. Among premium compact SUVs, the door opens wide and the comparatively flat seat cushion is mounted lower in the vehicle.

Open the power liftgate, and the RDX supplies 29.5 cu.-ft. of cargo space behind the rear seat. That number doesn’t tell the whole story, because the RDX offers a handy well to the left of the load floor and three separate compartments underneath the floor. It is an exceptionally useful space.

Fold the rear seats down, and you’ve got 58.9 cu.-ft. of volume (or the advertised 79.8 cu.-ft. if you use the floor space and move the front seats all of the way forward). Again, the space is roomy and useful, and the resulting load floor is fairly flat due to the low rear-seat cushion.

Setting Up and Starting

When you get into the RDX and push the engine start button, an artificially amplified engine note adds to the experience. But, before you drive, you need to set the RDX up. 

Aside from seat, steering wheel, and mirror positions, you’ll need to program the advanced driver assistance system and infotainment system settings. This process involves using the 7-inch driver information display and its corresponding steering wheel controls, and the 10.2-inch infotainment screen and its corresponding touchpad.

Either way, the process takes longer than might be typical as you learn via trial-and-error how the controls work. This is especially applicable with regard to the True Touchpad Interface (TTI). In fact, rather than make you excited to drive the RDX, it might just make you frustrated.

Infotainment System

After a week and hundreds of miles of driving, we acclimated to using the TTI. And the RDX’s natural voice recognition system is often, but not always, effective. But at no time did we stop wishing for a touchscreen display. 

The flawed user experience is unfortunate because otherwise the infotainment system is light years ahead of what Acura has been offering. Though slow to initially load, once it is fired up it provides crisp, clear, and appealing graphics. Over-the-air software updates keep it fresh, and it includes Apple CarPlay, Android Auto, Wi-Fi hotspot access, and AcuraLink connected services. With an active Remote Link subscription, you can even take advantage of Amazon In-Car Delivery, which allows a delivery driver to place your order in the RDX’s trunk.

Navigation is standard in all but the standard RDX, and both the A-Spec and Advance Packages include a 16-speaker Acura/ELS Studio 3D premium sound system. It’s pretty terrific.

Keeping You Safe

Fitted with standard AcuraWatch advanced driving assistance systems (ADAS), the 2021 RDX includes everything you might expect except for blind-spot warning and rear cross-traffic warning. Those features are unavailable without choosing one of the three option packages.

Though it represents a significant improvement over previous iterations of AcuraWatch, the technology in the RDX is not the latest and most comprehensive version that the automaker installs in the new TLX sedan. No doubt, an upgrade is likely to arrive along with a refresh for the 2022 model year.

In crash-testing, the RDX earns a “Top Safety Pick+” rating from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration gives the RDX an overall 5-star rating.

Powertrain

Acura offers one powertrain for the 2021 RDX. It’s a turbocharged 2.0-liter 4-cylinder generating 272 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 280 lb.-ft. of torque from 1,600 rpm to 4,500 rpm. A 10-speed automatic transmission with paddle shifters powers the front wheels, and Acura’s torque-vectoring Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system is an option.

Drivers can calibrate the powertrain’s behavior using the oversized Integrated Dynamics System (IDS) knob in the middle of the dashboard. Driving mode selections include Comfort, Sport, Sport+, and Snow, and they adjust the engine, engine note, transmission, and steering. With Advance trim or the PMC Edition model, the IDS also adjusts the adaptive suspension.

Owners appear dissatisfied with the engine’s sound and smoothness, but in the tested A-Spec it did not strike us as a point of contention. Perhaps people who used to drive the previous-generation RDX, which had a quieter and smoother V-6 engine, are finding the 4-cylinder to be less satisfying.

Thanks to a broad torque curve, the RDX feels quite quick. Occasionally, such as when stomping on the accelerator to pass on a two-lane road, it can feel a bit winded. And the transmission really ought to offer rev-matched downshifts when using the steering wheel paddle shifters. Otherwise, the RDX offers pleasing performance. And the torque-vectoring SH-AWD simply adds to the fun when the road turns twisty.

Fuel Economy

The EPA rates the RDX A-Spec with SH-AWD to return 23 mpg in combined driving. During our testing, it averaged 21.2 mpg. Based on that real-world result and the RDX’s 17.1-gallon fuel tank, you can travel up to 362 miles. You’ll likely stop before then, though, right around the 320-mile mark.

Driving Comfort

When you get settled into the Acura RDX A-Spec, you’ll be quite comfortable if you’re lucky enough to score the driver’s or front passenger’s seat. With 12-way power adjustment, heating, and ventilation, the front seats are the best seats in the house.

Rear-seat passengers are not as lucky. The bottom cushion is mounted too low and is shaped too flat to provide proper leg support. Making matters worse, the rear seatback is angled too much, forcing an uncomfortable position. It is not a happy place to be.

Driving Feel

When you buy an RDX A-Spec, you might expect that Acura massaged it for improved handling. You would be wrong. 

Aside from the standard 20-inch wheels and 255/45 performance all-season tires, it is identical to the standard and Technology Package versions of the SUV. Upgrade to the Advance Package, and the RDX features an adaptive damping suspension but comes with smaller 19-inch wheels and tires. 

Since the adaptive suspension and the 20-inch wheels are included on the RDX PMC Edition, that’s the one to get for the best blend of ride and handling. If you beat 360 other people to it, that is. And you don’t mind spending 53 grand for it. And you like orange paint.

Given the promise and potential here, the RDX A-Spec deserves an option package containing the adaptive suspension and a good set of summer performance tires. 

However, even without them, the RDX displays generous and predictable handling limits thanks to clear communication with the driver, quick and accurate steering, and confidence-inspiring brakes with good pedal feel. Power out of a corner or a curve, and the SH-AWD squirts the SUV onto the next straightaway with delightful enthusiasm.

Undoubtedly, the RDX A-Spec is fun to drive. But it could be even more fun.

Final Impressions - Find the best Acura deals!

Putting the frequently irritating True Touchpad Interface aside, it is easy to recommend a 2021 Acura RDX. From its appealing design and comfortable front seats to its roomy cargo area, strong safety ratings, and enjoyable driving dynamics, it is a well-rounded compact premium SUV.

Christian Wardlaw is a veteran digital automotive journalist with over 25 years of experience in test-driving vehicles. In addition to JDPower.com, his work has appeared in numerous new- and used-car buying guides, newspapers, and automotive industry trade journals.

The opinions expressed in this review are the author’s own, not J.D. Power’s.

No portion of these reviews may be reproduced, distributed, publicly displayed, or used for a derivative work without J.D. Power’s written permission. © 2021 J.D. Power

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