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2019 Acura RDX First Drive

Canada’s beautiful West Coast, more specifically Vancouver Island, was the chosen setting for Acura to invite a few members of the automotive press to take part in the Canadian launch of its new 2019 RDX, the compact SUV now on its third generation. With the number of models labeled utility growing by the day, the introduction of this nimbler, but especially more accessible, SUV is simply excellent news for Honda’s luxury division.

Ironically, Acura has been hesitant to expand its portfolio in the crossover/SUV category: The RDX is accompanied only by the MDX in the company’s lineup. This in sharp contrast with Ford, Buick and even Nissan, for example, whose rosters are replete with utility models.

A new skeleton
New model, new platform is the golden rule, at least in this case! Acura came up with an all-new architecture that has never been used for any other Acura products. More rigid than the one that underpins the old model, it is also wider, making for a more stable vehicle. This greater solidity is good news for those who buy the 2019 RDX, because the model comes with a standard panoramic sunroof – and this can sometimes mean cracking later on in the life of the vehicle. Note that during the first drive of the 2019 edition, no such sound was audible inside the vehicle.

A Type R engine… or almost!
Those who know the model well may recall that when the SUV was first introduced in 2007, it came with a 2.3L 4-cylinder engine (the first turbocharged motor for the brand), and that for the second generation Acura switched in a 3.L V6, a smoother-running, more “American” solution.

For 2019, however, Acura is dropping its 6-cylinder in favour of the 2.0L 4-cylinder turbo already seen in the Civic Type R and the Accord 2.0T sedan. In the RDX, that engine does cause the model to lose a few horses in comparison with the V6 (272, down from 279), but gives it considerably more torque (280 lb-ft instead of 252 lb-ft).

But while the 6-speed manual gearbox that manages the Type R is certainly excellent, Acura engineers decided – wisely, for that matter – to opt for a 10-speed automatic transmission first seen in action in the Honda Odyssey not that long ago. This unit allows for manual shifting using the paddle shifters affixed behind the steering wheel.

Also worthy of note is that Acura has integrated in the new RDX the fourth version of its SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive); it is helped along by a vectoring control system to allow torque to be distributed where needed.

Finally, an updated interior
The Acura brand is known for its conservatism, especially as it concerns the interiors of its vehicles. We won’t get carried away and call the changes in the RDX revolutionary, but care has definitely been taken to revitalize the cabin environment.

For instance there’s the Acura Precision Cockpit dashboard, first presented as a concept in Los Angeles in 2016. Those familiar with it will recognize the famous/infamous buttons for shifting gears – not a universally well-received innovation. But like in the NSX, a little higher up is that rotary knob that changes the character of the vehicle with a simple turn.

Which means, you can change quickly between Snow, Comfort, Sport and even Sport+ modes; this last one sharpens the reflexes of the RDX to the max, altering the power steering, engine response, traction control and stability system, etc. Guaranteed smile on the face of the driver as a bonus…

Note that the Platinum Elite edition, which carries the heftiest price tag, $54,990, gets an adjustable suspension that firms up or not depending on the mode driven in. It’s a shame that the sportiest-looking version of the model, the A-SPEC-badged trim, can’t be had with this specific suspension.

For navigating through the many applications included in the infotainment system, Acura is introducing the Acura True Touchpad, which is quite different than the one found in Lexus vehicles. This one recognizes where the finger is placed and transposes it to the screen (in the centre of the dashboard). Which is not a touchscreen, by the way – and even if it was, it’s too far from the occupants. The precision of the touchpad is impressive, but this system still obliges the driver to take their eyes off the road, which you’ll agree is not ideal!

The comfort level provide by the seating is first-class; the front-row seats were inspired by those of the NSX, no less. A little more support would have been nice, but in that respect it’s important to remember the wide-ranging target market of this model. The second-row seating is comfortable as well and cargo space is generous, especially with the seats folded down.

Refreshed design  
The new 2019 RDX sports a wholly new silhouette, one inspired by the most recent models produced under the Acura banner. The SUV also becomes the first Acura utility model to get the A-SPEC badge, a style package (lots of black elements and oversized alloy wheels in anthracite) that has proven popular with Acura car buyers. The MDX will get the same treatment later this year.

While it’s not the extravert of its category, the RDX can claim to follow the philosophy inaugurates by the Precision concept, presented in Detroit in 2016.

The RDX, sporty?
One thing’s for sure. In recent years SUVs have been getting continually refined, to the point where you almost feel like you’re driving a sports car when you’re at the wheel. In the case of the RDX, the big change is due to the arrival of the 4-cylinder turbo, which simply transforms the character of this mass-market SUV. For starters, the particular sound emitted by the engine is far from unpleasant – especially as it comes at you through the audio system speakers! The transmission is also a model of efficiency, producing fast and effortless shifting through the range, even in Sport+ mode.

This translates into very impressive accelerations for a general-use powertrain. It will interesting to see if Acura dares to add a Type S version to its RDX range to better compete against the Audi SQ5, BMW X3 M40i and others. We’ll have to wait and see!

The RDX handled very well during the paces we put it through on Vancouver Island, the roads of which were slippery due to some recent spring rain. Equipped with a solid all-wheel drive system and an SUV that operates with confidence, the few hours spent in the SUV were pleasant from beginning to end. The steering is weighty and precise, and perhaps more importantly the chassis is very rigid even when cornering at speed.

The last word
Third time is definitely the charm for the RDX, without a doubt. Modernized in every way, it is also, crucially, the most fun to drive of any RDX made to date. That new touchpad is not the most intuitive to use while driving, though if you’re at a stop it’s no problem at all. As for the durability of the powertrain, our feeling is that it will hold up well to long-term use, even if it is fairly new.

The first units of the new 2019 RDX should be arriving at dealerships by or on June 15, and carry a starting price of $43,990.

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Photos of the 2019 Acura RDX