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Driven: 2019 Acura RDX Elite offers superb drive dynamics

The 2019 Acura RDX Elite is powered by a 2.0-litre, turbo, four-cylinder engine.
The 2019 Acura RDX Elite is powered by a 2.0-litre, turbo, four-cylinder engine. - Richard Russell

After “the most extensive redesign in more than a decade”, the third generation RDX puts some distance between Acura and its Honda parent.

The 2019 RDX introduces a new design language that will appear on other Acura products, and rides on a new platform exclusive to Acura.

The split is not complete though. The RDX ditches the 3.5-litre V6 in favour of a more powerful turbocharged four-cylinder, both from Honda’s extensive engine collection. Lots of other bits and pieces beneath the surface also come from Honda.

The compact luxury utility vehicle segment is hot. The RDX is not only Acura’s entry in this growing field, it is the brand’s top seller. Replacing an already-popular vehicle is a tough challenge. But the development team pulled it off.

The new platform allowed a longer and wider vehicle with more room inside. Although marketed as a compact, it is larger than most wearing this designation.

The redesign is complete inside and out, from road to a plunging roofline. The result is a distinctive vehicle that stands apart from the pack without resorting to controversial looks.

The interior is similarly distinctive, from the heads-up display to the transmission controls. A massive sunroof and exceptional seats are standard on all trim levels, as is a unique touch pad controller for the Android-based infotainment system. The Elite test vehicle also boasted hand-wrapped stitched leather surfaces on the instrument panel, doors and centre console, as befits a luxury vehicle.

The RDX has the usual screen for the infotainment system, perched high above the instrument panel. But, thankfully, it also has actual buttons to control major functions and/or voice-activation so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road as long scrolling through screens to adjust the temperature or volume.

The transmission is controlled by a somewhat fussy arrangement of buttons and a toggle for reverse. These controls are placed high on the centre stack freeing room beneath where the traditional shifter would lie, for a giant storage bin. There is a similarly useful one beneath the floor of the spacious cargo compartment.

A smooth, well-controlled ride and excellent sound insulation make the RDX a pleasant long-distance runner. For the enthusiast, this is a utility vehicle that does not eliminate the joy of driving. Sport is the default drive mode, an indication of the development team’s intent.

The turbocharged four-cylinder engine produces 28 lb.-ft. more torque than the 3.5-litre V6, 40 per cent more down low in the rev range where it is most useful. Maximum output occurs at only 1,600 rpm.

The result is instant and linear response. Pay careful attention to the speedometer because power delivery is so smooth and sound suppression so complete, you can easily and quickly exceed posted limits.

The new 10-speed automatic plays an important role in this performance, with buttery smooth shifts and a gear for every occasion. It is programmed to skip several gears when down shifting.

Press on the accelerator when pulling out to pass and, instead of waiting for it to sequentially go down several cogs to get to the right one, it does so directly, from 10th to 7th, for example.

Handling is exemplary for a tall vehicle, The body remains flat in corners and should you chose to do so, you can tighten things up even further by selecting “sport +” mode. Another key player in the RDX’s exceptional driving dynamics is Super Handling AWD.

This is more than a marketing tool. The system uses torque-vectoring to overdrive the outside wheels in a corner. This helps push the vehicle around the turn. It can send up to 70 per cent of engine output to the rear wheels and 100 per cent of that to either side, if necessary. That could be much appreciated in slippery winter conditions. There’s a “snow” mode as well.

Designed and engineered in the U.S., the 2019 RDX is available in five trim levels spanning the $44,000-$55,000 price range.

As expected at each point along the trim walk, there are additional features.

But all share the same drive- train and exceptional driving dynamics.

The specs

  • Model: 2019 Acura RDX Elite
  • Engine: turbocharged, 2.0-litre, four-cylinder, 272 horsepower, 280 lb.-ft. of torque, premium fuel recommended
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic, full-time all-wheel drive
  • NRCan rating (litres/100km city/highway): 11.0 / 8.6
  • Length: 4,743.6 mm
  • Width: 1,900 mm
  • Wheelbase: 2,750 mm
  • Weight: 1,834 kg
  • Price: $43,990 base, $49,990 (Elite) as tested, plus freight
  • Competition: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Buick Envision, Lexus NX, Mercedes GLC, Volvo XC60
  • Standard equipment: (Elite trim) LED headlights, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated front and rear seats, rear-view camera, keyless entry and start/stop, power seats with driver-side memory, power sunroof, 19-inch alloy wheels, 12-speaker ELS audio system, wiper de-icer, navigation system, blind spot information, rear cross traffic alert, front and rear park sensors, Milano leather seat surfaces, auto-dimming, power folding mirrors; heated steering wheel, headlight washers, hands-free tailgate,
  • Options on test vehicle: none

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