Acura is on a quest to push the brand forwards by focusing on performance. They’re calling their new vision for the brand Precision Crafted Performance, stemming from the new NSX and the Acura Precision Concept, and it will help focus and drive the brand’s upcoming models. The company started with some strong mid-cycle refreshes, and then it moved on to putting together a totally new Acura RDX.

The RDX is in a hot segment right now. The small luxury crossover segment has some well-respected, high-selling vehicles in it, including the BMW X3, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLC, and the Volvo XC60. Acura listed those as the RDX's main competitors. According to Acura, one in four luxury vehicles sold in the last year was from this segment. That bodes well for the brand and the new RDX.

2019 Acura RDX

Still, the 2019 RDX has some ground to cover if it wants to be a major success. Acura noted the current RDX customers bought the model because they trusted the brand and found the vehicle to be a very rational choice. For the new model, the company wanted to shift that a little and add more emotion and excitement to the vehicle while not losing any of its current customer base – easier said than done.

We saw the new RDX prototype at the Chicago Auto Show and knew some of the specifications of the vehicle, but were itching to get behind the wheel. Acura recently invited us out the Whistler, BC, to test out the RDX, and we left for Canada excited to see what the model could do.

Stylish, Sophisticated, and Comfortable

2019 Acura RDX
The Acura RDX Dragon Tail taillights add some visual drama to the rear.

Acura is on to something with its new exterior styling. In an age when everything more or less looks the same, the RDX manages to stand out. Even if you don’t like the styling of this crossover, there’s no denying its visual panache. Acura’s large grille, with the huge “A” badge in the middle, is the focal point of the front end. To either side, the updated Jewel Eye headlights continue the drama.

Down the side, there are a couple character lines that give the vehicle an aggressive look. We aren’t huge fans of the rear C-pillar floating-roof styling element, and the RDX has it in the A-Spec trim. In other trims, the rear of the roofline is connected with some chrome trim. This is the only thing that we disliked about the vehicle’s exterior. Around the back, you get C-shaped Dragon Tail taillights and a license plate space that’s recessed into the liftgate. Overall, it’s an attractive package and sets the RDX apart from its more conservative-looking European competitors.

2019 Acura RDX
The large Acura badge on the grille also houses the radar for the adaptive cruise control.

The interior follows the exterior in terms of styling. It’s a little busy inside, but it’s an attractive cabin overall. The round steering wheel, the cascade of buttons and knobs in the center stack, and top-notch materials throughout the cabin make for an upscale interior. Acura used real wood and brushed aluminum inside the cabin. There is a bit of piano black plastic on the center stack, but otherwise, it features excellent materials throughout.

2019 Acura RDX
These are some seriously comfortable 16-way power adjustable red leather seats.

Comfort was an important part of the RDX’s equation. Acura made special seats specifically for the RDX. They feature an ultra-high-strength steel frame, better support, and perforated Milano leather. The seats feature 16-way power adjustability. We found these seats to be excellent. It’s nice to be able to adjust the bolsters and thigh-extension part of the seat to make it really hug your body. Pair those seats with top-in-class passenger and cargo space (31.1 cubic feet with seats up and 79.8 with seats folded and underfloor storage included), the standard panoramic moonroof, and the RDX makes for one of the most comfortable crossovers available.

All-New Infotainment System, HUD, and Sound System

the 2019 Acura RDX
A look at the Acura RDX cabin in the A-Spec trim level. 

Acura didn’t just try to make the RDX look different. It also focused on providing technology that would set it apart. When we first saw pictures of the new True Touchpad Interface we groaned. Our experience with trackpad-style interfaces is not good. Lexus has been doing this in its vehicles for a while and it doesn’t work well.

Acura’s system is different, though, instead of the touchpad working like a laptop’s trackpad, it functions like a touchscreen, meaning what you see on the screen is what you get on the touchpad. If you have navigation in the top left corner of the screen, simply push the top left corner on the touchpad to go there. You don’t need to drag your finger around the pad to get to where you want. This allows you to operate the infotainment system with less effort than a traditional trackpad.

The RDX's center stack
The center stack and dashboard are a little busy, but the interior materials are top notch.

After only a few minutes, we found ourselves able to operate the system without looking where our fingers were. The touchpad is contoured and features raised edges that allow you to feel where you are. As you can imagine, the more time you spend with the system, the easier it is to use. The interface responded quickly to inputs and is pretty easy to figure out. We think Acura could have some trouble educating customers about this system, but once they figure it out, they’ll likely really like it.

Another big part of the system is its customizability. There’s a long list of apps you can choose from and the home screen features your favorites. You can place any app or contact on those home screen, meaning your favorite apps or contacts can be one button push away. The system comes with Apple CarPlay (Android Auto is likely coming at a later date), AcuraLink services, HD Radio, satellite radio, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and a 10.6-inch screen.

2019 Acura RDX
The slight curve of the touchpad makes it easier to use. 

Acura didn’t just stop with the infotainment system. It also included a head-up display on the top trim level that’s impressive, too. It’s interactive and you can access apps through the head-up display by using the steering wheel controls, meaning you won’t have to take your eyes off the road or your hands off the wheel.

In addition to the HUD and infotainment system, Acura has three different audio systems for the RDX. A 9-speaker audio system is the standard offering. From there, Acura gives you an ELS Studio 12-speaker audio system, and the top-of-the-line system is the ELS Studio 3D 16-speaker system. The ELS Studio systems were created by multi-Grammy Award-winning producer and engineer Elliot Scheiner. The system is exclusive to the RDX.

The 16-speaker system (available on A-Spec and Advanced trims only) was the only one we tested. It’s truly marvelous and provides fantastic sound quality to all areas of the cabin. There’s even slim overhead speakers and a special patented Acoustic Motion Control external amplifier. This system is one of the best we’ve experienced.

Better to Drive Than Ever Before

2019 Acura RDX
In profile, you can really see the aggressive character lines running down the RDX's side. 

All trim levels of the RDX (base, Technology, A-Spec, Advanced) come with the same 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine that makes 272 hp and 280 lb-ft of torque. That engine is mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission, and the vehicle can be had with front-wheel drive or Acura Super Handling All-wheel Drive. In front-wheel drive, buyers can expect 22 mpg city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 mpg combined. The all-wheel-drive version of the RDX feature Acura’s latest generation of its torque vectoring all-wheel-drive system and loses only about 1 to 2 mpg for city and highway, depending on the model.

The engine is smooth and powerful. There’s little turbo lag, and the10-speed does a good job of kicking down to a lower gear quickly when you go to pass someone. It’s a quick crossover, but it doesn’t feel sports-car fast. That’s not what this crossover is for, though. It’s a practical crossover with some fun injected into it in the form of a turbocharged mill and good handling thanks to a quality chassis and suspension.

2019 Acura RDX
The RDX may have a lot of tech in the cabin, but it still has real analog gauges. 

We found the RDX to be one of the better to drive crossovers out there. Acura was not shy about saying that BMW’s X3 was its benchmark for driving dynamics, and Audi’s Q5 was its benchmark for any NVH concerns. The RDX challenges both admirably at their own games. It feels better rounded overall, but we think the BMW still has the edge when it comes to handling. Acura is very close behind it, though, and the rest of the package could sway some premium crossover shoppers away from the European brands.

The RDX features an entirely new platform. A spruced up Honda CR-V this vehicle is not. That new chassis will likely underpin some other future vehicles in Acura’s lineup. It’s also what makes this RDX actually fun to drive. It feels taut, smooth, and eager on the road. The steering is precise and confidence inspiring around bends, and there's plenty of power on tap. Power delivery is smooth. The brakes are strong but a little more on the mushy side of things. You have to press the pedal down harder than some of the RDX competitors.

We tossed the model around a bit on the beautiful mountain roads of British Columbia and found the RDX ready to handle whatever we threw at it. The vehicle does have its limits, and it's not completely void of understeer, but it’s right at the top of the segment when it comes to spirited driving.

2019 Acura RDX
The Acura RDX can handle gravel or other low traction environments with ease. 

After the street drive, we got to play in some gravel to really test out the new generation SH-AWD system. Slipping and sliding around showed us that the model will be able to handle all kinds of inclement weather. It's more than capable enough to handle the demands that 90 percent of the RDX customers will ask of it. The model can shift up to 70 percent of its power to the rear wheels and then channel up to 100 percent from side to side to move the RDX along when driving in low-traction environments.

One thing that impressed us is that the model's drive modes feel surprisingly different. In comfort mode, the RDX is smooth and relaxed. In Sport mode it feels more excitable and in Sport + mode the vehicle’s right up on its toes and ready for action. We didn’t encounter snow, but the RDX also has a Snow setting that adjusts things to try to keep you moving along during the winter months, too.

A Top Contender in the Segment

2019 Acura RDX
The Advanced trim level and the A-Spec side by side. 

What struck us about the RDX is that it’s actually hard to single out any one thing that it’s clearly best at. That’s not a bad thing. The vehicle is very well-rounded, and we’d be surprised if Acura didn’t achieve its goals with this model. It’s the most spacious in its class from a passenger and cargo standpoint, has the strongest engine performance, a bunch of new technology, new edgier styling, and Acura said it expects to get top safety marks.

The new Acura RDX (front wheel drive) starts at $38,295 including a $995 destination charge. That beats the BMW X3, Mercedes-Benz GLC 300, Audi Q5, and the Volvo XC60. All-wheel drive models beat the competition, too. The base RDX with SH-AWD comes in at $40,295 including a $995 destination charge.

The only way we see the new RDX not working out for the brand is if customers dislike the styling or the infotainment system. The styling may turn some more conservative people off, and the tech might be a little too different. That said, Acura is targeting a slightly younger market with the 2019 RDX, so we think those buyers might not be turned off by those aspects of the vehicle. Also with the model undercutting the competition on price, we wouldn’t be surprised to see people shopping at their local Acura dealer instead of going to BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, or Volvo.