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As the luxury arm of Honda, Acura has long struggled to gain recognition as a big-time player in the premium market. Despite a reputation for fun and reliable vehicles, the brand has had a hard time convincing buyers that its products are worth the premium over the equivalent Honda.
Enter the RDX, the most earnest attempt yet to change that perception. Completely redesigned for 2019, the compact crossover is going to duke it out with the luxury big dogs. After a week with an A-Spec model, we're convinced that the RDX is finally prepared for that kind of battle.
The most common retort when you talk about Acura is that the cars are just "Hondas with leather" or warmed-over mainstream models. That simply doesn't apply to the RDX. A new platform is Acura-exclusive for now, meaning the compact RDX doesn't share its bones with the Honda CR-V.
Acura has struggled to get interiors right. To undercut rivals, we've often seen Honda tech and faux-premium materials. Now, Acura says its new models won't play that game. Things that look like wood are wood; things that look like metal are metal.
The result is an unmistakably luxurious interior befitting a $46,495 SUV, complete with a new infotainment system that won't show its face in any Honda. In order to mount a large screen up high, the company designed a new touchpad interface.
Unlike the much-bemoaned touchpad in Lexus' cars, the RDX's True TouchPad system doesn't require guesswork. The touchpad is mapped 1:1 with the display, meaning that clicking in the top left corner of the pad will select whatever is in the top left of the display. It's a clever solution that allows the the screen to be in the driver's eye line while the controls remain in easy reach.
Plus, after a hard-learned lesson, Honda products have volume knobs again. That's important, because the RDX is also the first application of Acura's new ELS Studio 3D Premium Audio system, which sounded fantastic. It's one of the best around, even if the 3D moniker is a tad gimmicky.
I couldn't find a situation where the RDX didn't feel at home, with the car's quiet cabin and fantastic suspension making highway runs and twisty drives pleasant. Couple that to an all-wheel drive system that can vector torque between the rear wheels to assist in turning — similar to the setup in the brand's NSX supercar — and you have an honest-to-God fun crossover.
A well-motivated one, too. The engine is a 272-horsepower version of the same four-cylinder block that does duty in Honda's rowdy Civic Type R. It works perfectly with the 10-speed automatic, delivering smooth power around town without sacrificing honing fun.
All of this is available at a price that far undercuts its competition. The RDX is a stellar value proposition.
Of course, there are sacrifices to be made. The RDX's interior, while a massive step forward for the brand, is still less elegant than those of the class leaders.
And despite the badge not being something to shout about, the RDX displays the Acura "A" with about the same subtlety as a fireworks show. It basically dominates the front end, an unwelcome distraction in the otherwise-stellar design. Some of that is practical, as the badge hides sensors for the active safety suite, but it feels ostentatious.
The handling is fantastic but it's a shame that you don't get much road feel through the steering wheel. Dial in some more feedback and you'd be able to run with BMWs through the canyons.
Finally, the RDX handles its power so well that I'd love to see Acura be a bit more ambitious with the A-Spec line. 272 horsepower is assuredly enough, but when Mercedes sells a GLC 63 with 476 horsepower in the same class — with massive margins, I might add — you have to wonder if Acura is missing out by not offering a faster version.
The RDX starts at $37,300 before destination charges. All RDXs come with a panoramic sunroof, the True Touchpad infotainment system and a dynamic drive-mode selector. You'll need to spend $2,000 to get all-wheel drive, but it's worth it for the way it transforms the RDX's handling.
The $3,200, technology package is a near-necessity, bringing real leather seats and additional safety tech like blind spot monitoring. AcuraWatch, the company's suite of adaptive cruise control, automatic emergency braking, lane keeping and more is standard on all RDXs. Next, you can option the A-Spec or Advanced packaged. Advanced is the top-end, but you get most of the important goodies with A-Spec. The A-Spec package is also cheaper and looks better, so I recommend spending $3,000 on it.
Coincidentally, that's exactly how my tester was equipped. All-in, the total is $46,495 when you include the $995 destination charge.
Acura has long been a brand lacking direction. When it debuted the NSX supercar, it promised that it heralded a new direction of performance and design for the brand. To be honest, I didn't believe Acura.
I'm happy to have been wrong. Acura made good on the RDX promise, a monumentally important product that proves it can make its mainstream products desirable again. If this is where Acura is headed, good things are in store.
Driving Experience: 4.5
Price as tested: $46,495