2015 Acura RDX review: Acura improves the RDX's powertrain, but forgets to also update the tech

Though the RDX uses a drive-by-wire throttle and electric power steering, the excellent driver-aid technologies present on the MDX are simply not offered here. There's no lane-keeping warning or prevention, no adaptive cruise control or precollision braking. You can't even get blind-spot monitoring or parking-distance sensors. You do get a standard rear camera, which is nice, but for a brand that typically impressed us with its advanced safety features, the RDX feels a bit spartan.

Whether that spartan feel is a pro or a con depends on what you're after.

Multi-tiered tech

The 2015 RDX gets a lot of things right where the fundamentals of going, stopping, and turning are concerned, but this is a car that gets the dashboard tech all wrong.

Starting at the top of the dashboard's center stack, there's the 8-inch display that is the home for the optional GPS navigation system. Below that is the rotary controller for interacting with the map and destination input, but the controller is separated from the color screen by another single-line monochrome LCD for the audio system and its controls.

The driver must manage three different control schemes on the Acura's dashboard. You've got buttons and knobs for audio, a rotary controller and its own set of buttons for the sat-nav, and yet a third bank of knobs in a different configuration for the climate controls below. The competition have managed to do all of this often with one unified controller, which makes interacting easier for a person doing 75 mph.

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The RDX's center stack is a mess of buttons and disparate control schemes. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

There are voice commands for destination input and song selection, if you've connected an iPod, but the system is annoyingly slow. The map's graphics just look crunchy and low-resolution, and the knob-based control scheme feels simultaneously old and unfinished. For example, when inputting an address, the system will gray-out unusable letters as it attempts to autocomplete the street name you're entering, but it won't skip over them when you twist the knob. You'll still have to scroll over every invalid selection on your way to the next letter.

The secondary monochrome display isn't much better, cramming the audio source info, climate control info, and the time into a single line that's difficult to read at a glance. In this configuration, the audio and navigation systems don't seem integrated via software although their hardware controls are intermingled on the dash.

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This 2015 model uses what looks like an older version of Acura's infotainment system. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

There are, however, a few bright spots in the RDX's tech offerings. The ELS audio system that comes as part of the Technology package is fantastic. The standard list of available audio sources is well fleshed out and includes USB/iPod connectivity, Bluetooth for hands-free calling, audio streaming, and TTS text messaging with canned responses, a 3.5mm analog auxiliary input, DVD/CD playback, and FM/AM and SiriusXM satellite radio. (There is no HD Radio available.)

Don't check the tech

It's not often that we recommend that you skip the tech, but cabin electronics just aren't the 2015 Acura RDX's strong suit. Though the ELS audio system may tempt you to check the Technology package box, resist. Until the SUV's cobbled-together tech gets a serious overhaul and redesign, you'll do better keeping it simple.

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Weigh options like HID lights and the ELS audio against the outdated navigation before opting for the Technology package. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Fortunately, the vehicle surrounding that dashboard is actually pretty good. It handles the fundamentals of going, stopping, and turning well and feels like an major improvement over the last RDX that we tested. The 2015 model probably needs to decide whether it wants to be a sporty SUV or a comfortable one, but generally I was pleased with the RDX's performance. Adding a bit of weight and feedback to the electric steering rack would improve this ride tremendously.

Acura's packaging plans are extremely simple, which is both a gift and a curse for the picky RDX owner. The 2015 RDX starts at $34,895, while the RDX with AWD comes in at $36,295. Cabin tech is an all-or-nothing affair; the Technology package includes the ELS audio (which you want), the navigation (which you don't), and a few other amenities (power liftgate, HID headlamps, and a GPS-linked, solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control system) for $3,700.

Add an $895 destination charge to our loaded-up example to reach an as-tested price of $40,890. That would be a pretty good price for this reasonably sporty premium crossover, if the competition wasn't miles ahead where cabin and safety tech are concerned.

Tech specs
Model 2015 Acura RDX
Trim AWD with Technology
Powertrain 3.5-liter V-6 engine with VCM, 6-speed automatic transmission, on-demand all-wheel drive
EPA fuel economy 19 city, 27 highway, 22 combined mpg
Observed fuel economy 21.6 mpg
Navigation Optional with SiriusXM NavTraffic
Bluetooth phone support Standard
Digital audio sources HDD, USB/iPod, Bluetooth audio, 3.5mm analog auxiliary input
Audio system Optional ELS premium audio
Driver aids Rear camera
Base price $34,895
Price as tested $40,890

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