SUVs

Acura RDX brings bold styling, touchpad tech to Detroit

Fresh-faced and bursting with new tech for 2019, Acura's popular RDX SUV points the way for the future of the brand.

Acura

Despite record sales the last three years, as a brand, Acura has largely struggled to find the momentum and brand recognition of its rivals. Crossover SUVs have been the brand's saving grace, though, and this all-new 2019 RDX looks poised to kick things into another gear for Honda's luxury division.

Actually, "another gear" might not be giving this new RDX enough credit. While the outgoing generation had a six-speed automatic transmission, the 2019 model ups the cog count by four, for a full 10 speeds. That theme -- doing more than expected -- is carried throughout the vehicle. New styling language, new platform, new engine, new all-wheel-drive tech, new infotainment, new attitude. In other words, the prototype seen here isn't just a new-generation RDX, it's a beacon of where the brand is going.

This is the first new Acura to fully embrace the styling language set forth by the Precision Concept show car that debuted at last year's Detroit Auto Show. The new design direction finally sounds the death knell for the various iterations of Acura's widely panned shield grille nose, substituting Acura's new "diamond pentagon" face instead. That look was also previewed on the recently updated 2018 RLX sedan, but the RDX embraces the new language much more fully, as evidenced in its more purposefully sculpted sheetmetal and light clusters. 

Having spent a couple of hours pawing around this prototype at a studio ahead of its Detroit reveal, I can say that I much prefer the RDX's new look to its predecessor. While I would stop short of calling it "beautiful," it looks taut, athletic, and is filled with expensive-looking details.

The RDX's interior represents no less a radical rethink, with a completely new floating center stack and infotainment system. The control array is dominated by a large silver Dynamic Mode selector knob, which affords access to the vehicle's Sport, Sport+, Comfort and Snow settings. The dial itself is unusually prominent, both in its size and location. This area of the dashboard is considered beachfront real estate by car designers, and it's space that's normally reserved for key functions like audio, HVAC and infotainment. 

It's no coincidence that the only other Acura with this type of control setup is the NSX -- the company is clearly looking to telegraph that this RDX is sporty. While I appreciate the gesture and love dynamic driving experiences, I suspect owners would've been better served had Acura designers used that space for a more frequently-used control. At the end of the day, the RDX is a family-oriented luxury crossover, not a sports car.

The 2019 RDX's cabin is all-new, including infotainment.

Acura

Speaking of new controls, the RDX is the first car to feature Acura's new True Touchpad interface. Sitting on the transmission tunnel ahead of the pushbutton gear selector, its claim to fame is "absolute positioning" -- the touchpad and the main screen have a one-to-one relationship, so if you touch the pad in the upper right corner, it'll be the upper right corner on the screen, and so on. Unlike some competing systems, there should be minimal need for swiping to-and-fro (although the touchpad does support pinch and zoom and multitouch functionality). 

In my limited in-studio exploration of the system, it seemed to be significantly more intuitive than Lexus' Remote Touch equivalent, but still perhaps less so than a conventional touchscreen (it is a shorter reach, admittedly). The real test will be how easy it is to use the touchpad while driving. 

Of course, if you never warm to the True Touchpad, you may just want to speak your commands instead: Acura says the RDX's voice recognition system is much improved, allowing for more casual speech.

The True Touchpad interface will be the new RDX's make-or-break feature.

Acura

Overall, the cabin appears significantly more modern and luxurious than today's RDX, with nicer switchgear and authentic materials (what feels like metal is actual metal, what feels like wood is actual wood, etc.). There's even some particularly nice design work, including curved matte-finish veneer panels on the door reminiscent of similar pieces on the outgoing Audi A7. Acura isn't disclosing interior and cargo dimensions just yet, but promises that cabin room is improved.

I did have the chance to test out the new Panasonic-developed 16-channel, 710-watt Acura ELS Studio 3D stereo system in the static, non-running vehicle, and found its clarity and imaging to be excellent, with vocals delivered nicely at ear level in part because of four novel in-ceiling speakers that sit astride the standard panoramic moonroof. Let's hope the company's engineers have done their homework on keeping the cabin quiet so that it's possible to enjoy the system's high fidelity.

The new RDX's rear end looks much sportier and more dynamic than its predecessor.

Acura

On the powertrain front, Acura has nixed its 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V6 in favor of a 2.0-liter turbocharged four backed by the aforementioned 10-speed automatic. Acura isn't disclosing output or efficiency metrics yet, but I've driven and liked this powertrain combination before in the new Accord, and expect similarly refined operation here.

Front-wheel drive will be standard, with optional foul-weather security coming courtesy of a next-generation version of Acura's torque-vectoring Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive. The system features a redesigned rear differential that allows for it to handle 150 percent more torque. Coupled with an engine that should have more of that torque located down low in the rev range, I'm anticipating 0-60 times in around 6 seconds flat.

Naturally, a full slate of active safety features will be on offer -- collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control and lane-keep assist will all be standard (previously they were part of an options bundle). Other features, including a birds-eye 360-degree camera system will be optional.

The new-generation RDX will continue to be built in Acura's East Liberty, Ohio plant. No word on pricing yet, but the model is expected in showrooms midyear.