You know that uncomfortable feeling that washes over you when an adult tries too hard to be hip? That’s the feeling I get when I see advertising from Acura. It’s patronizing, forced, and inauthentic. Which is a shame because as I found out first hand, they’re building at least some vehicles that are none of those things. You already saw Mr. Clavey’s take on the TLX, let’s find out if the Acura RDX is any good. Does it share it name with an explosive component because it’s that exciting, or for some much, much, worse reason?
Acura ditched the revolting first generation RDX body style back in 2012 and now in its fourth year, the second gen RD has gained a long list of upgrades. Does the addition of Acura’s signature JewelEYE LED headlights, LED taillights, and new range-topping Advance trim make the RDX more appealing than the competition?
From a design standpoint the answer is a resounding NO, or perhaps more appropriately, NEIN. The Audi Q5, BMW X3, and Mercedes-Benz GLC are all more expensive, but they’re worth the extra dough. The RDX is better suited to compete with the Cadillac XT-5, Lexus NX, Volvo XC60, and even the Mazda CX-5. Hell, I’d throw a loaded Subaru Outback 3.6R in the mix as a competitor as well.
Even in my Advance package equipped tester, there was just not enough of a luxury feel to make me think for a second that it was on the level of any of the German options, or worth spending considerably more on than the other alternatives I mentioned. It’s not that I expected to find leather covered surfaces all around the interior or anything, but during my time with the RDX I could not for the life of me find one interior appointment that said “this is a luxury item”. Perhaps that’s not so much about Acura coming up short, and more about other automakers upping their game. If you’ve been in an upper trim level Kia or Hyundai lately then you know what I’m talking about.
And yet, the RDX isn’t completely devoid of some redeeming qualities. The 10 speaker Acura/ELS sound system offered one of the best in car audio experiences I’ve had in recent memory. Lows are felt in your bones, mids are very clean, and highs are headphone crisp. If thump in the trunk is important to you, there’s plenty to be had thanks to a side panel mounted 10” sub. I listen to a wide variety of music, and there was no particular genre that sounded noticeably better than another, which is the hallmark of a great system.
The access point to that system however is outdated, and overly complicated. Menus are a pain in the ass to go through, the touch screen reaction time is poor, and the actual navigation map is archaic. It brings nothing to the table, adds no discernible value to the vehicle, and that’s a big problem for a vehicle that expects to be relevant in today’s market. Still, you get through the annoying interface, get your phone hooked up and let Jimmy Page wash away the anger you feel when trying to program directions.
Aside from being an excellent space to let the Led out, inside the RDX is also a very safe space. The unimaginatively named AcuraWatch system is included with the Advance Package, and brings with it Collision Mitigation Braking, Adaptive Cruise Control, Forward Collision Warning, Lane Departure Warning, and Lane Keeping Assist. While these things may not be wildly desirable to automotive enthusiasts like myself, they’re damned important to anyone with kids, whether those kids are going to be passengers, or driving the car themselves. The debate over whether future generations should learn how to drive in vehicles without any of these safety systems—so they don’t come to rely on them too heavily—will become a large one in the next couple of years.
When it comes to the RDX, I say the more safety systems the better, pile them on. It’s not a sporty vehicle that begs to be driven fast by any means. However, aside from the sound system, the thing that impressed me the most was how damn quick the RDX is. The new 3.5-liter V-6 makes 279 hp @6200 RPM, but it’s the 252 lb-ft of torque @4900 RPM that really matters. The traditional 6-speed automatic does an OK job of finding the right gear on its own, but more often than not, I found myself using the steering wheel mounted paddle shifters with the now mandatory “sport mode” engaged. To be fair, the Sequential SportShift was quite snappy, and I carved up my fair share of on-ramps, and executed some lane changes that would cause my father to raise an eyebrow, but that’s where the sporting aspirations of the RDX end. I guess for some folks that would count as spirited driving, hopefully I never hit a point in my life where that’s the case.
Apart from a stout engine, and a great stereo, there’s sadly nothing particularly noteworthy about the RDX. My tester was equipped with a new AWD system that has been tuned to allow a greater maximum rear torque bias, which according to Acura “further enhances dynamic stability and all-weather performance”. In reality it’ll be the thing RDX drivers cite as the reason why they thought they could take that corner at 40 mph during a snowstorm, and why for the life of them, they can’t figure out how they ended up in that ditch. At least front seat occupants have heated seats to keep them warm while they wait for a tow-truck or a friendly person with a Subaru to pull them out.
Remember what I said about that uncomfortable feeling you get when an adult tries too hard to be hip? Well lately Acura has been boasting about being the number one selling luxury brand among millennials. Let’s break that statement down, starting with the fact that millennials can be as old as 35 right now, which happens to be the age when people usually give up on their dreams and settle for a life of mediocrity. Is there anything more mediocre in the luxury world than an Acura?
There’s also the cadre of millennials who end up in an RDX begrudgingly. They aren’t in a financial position to get the car they want, and their parents are being totally lame and will only buy it for them if it’s something safe, reliable, and unassuming. Something like an RDX. Life is tough.
Finally there’s the core audience, people who don’t care what they drive, so long as it has some semblance of luxury. These people used to buy wagons or SUVs, but now they buy crossovers. Crossovers are inoffensive vehicles, they allow their drivers to operate with anonymity, but remain comfortable while doing so. The additional ride height allows a crossover driver to feel more important than their plebian hatchback cousins, but without being gaudy as they would surely be in an SUV.
Crossovers are sold as being sporty, but not reckless, functional, but not dowdy, attractive, but not sexy. They don’t excel at any one thing in particular, but they’re pretty good at a lot of things. The problem is the entry level luxury game has changed, and Acura is still playing by the old rules, worrying about the same old competition. Instead of boasting about being the economical choice in the segment, they need to think about what segment they’re really in.