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

More powerful and more efficient, about the only part of the 2015 Acura RDX that isn't improved is the abysmal dashboard tech.

Antuan Goodwin Reviews Editor / Cars
Antuan Goodwin gained his automotive knowledge the old fashioned way, by turning wrenches in a driveway and picking up speeding tickets. From drivetrain tech and electrification to car audio installs and cabin tech, if it's on wheels, Antuan is knowledgeable.
Expertise Reviewing cars and car technology since 2008 focusing on electrification, driver assistance and infotainment Credentials
  • North American Car, Truck and SUV of the Year (NACTOY) Awards Juror
Antuan Goodwin
7 min read

The 2015 RDX starts with a great engine tucked into a solid chassis. Under the hood, the new 3.5-liter V-6 outputs a maximum of 273 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque. You won't always need all of that power all of the time, so the RDX's V-6 has a neat trick that helps it to save fuel.


2015 Acura RDX

The Good

The 2015 Acura RDX's V-6 engine features seamless cylinder management that helps save fuel. The standard six-speed transmission shifts smoothly and quickly. The optional ELS audio system sounds fantastic.

The Bad

The distracting dashboard tech features too many different control schemes and feels cobbled together. Almost no driver-aid tech is available. Electric-assisted steering lacks feel. The on-demand AWD system reaches a 50/50 split by reducing available peak power.

The Bottom Line

The Acura RDX becomes a simpler, more refined SUV for the 2015 model year with a new engine and AWD system, but terrible dashboard tech hurts the bottom line.

A V-6 that's sometimes not

In low-demand situations, such as when cruising at low speeds in the city or coasting along on the highway, the V-6's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system can reduced the engine's displacement by shutting down a few of its cylinders. When you're poking through the toll plaza line or creeping through a parking lot, the RDX can drop down to an inline three-cylinder by shutting down one of its banks. When you're coasting along at the speed limit on the highway, it can shut down two cylinders at opposing corners of the V's two banks to run as a V-4. And when you need the power for accelerating or climbing, it can seamlessly fire up all six pots for the maximum output. What's most notable is how smoothly and constantly it switches between these three modes depending on the needs of the engine. If no one told you about it, you'd probably never know that your RDX's engine was a transformer.

The old 2.3-liter turbo has been replaced with a V-6 that's sometimes a V-4 or an I-3. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

At the business end of the V-6's crankshaft is a six-speed automatic transmission that features sport and manual shifting modes, the latter augmented by standard paddle shifters. This one is not at all a bad automatic. In its sport mode, it fires off quick gear changes and even holds the current gear when braking for a turn (rather than upshifting in mid-apex) to help keep the SUV settled. In its standard mode the shifts are still quick, but become smoother and less obtrusive.

2015 Acura RDX (pictures)

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Intelligent Control all-wheel drive

The 2015 RDX is available with all-wheel drive, but not the Super Handling all-wheel drive system that we've seen in the Acura TL and MDX models and previous generations of the RDX. This is a new on-demand system, basically a 100-percent front-wheel drive setup under cruising conditions that can send up to 25 percent of available torque to the rear axle during dry acceleration and cornering.

However, when the road gets wet and slick, something theoretically odd happens. In really slippery conditions, the Intelligent Control AWD system reduces engine output to the front wheels to bring the system to a nearly 50/50 torque split, albeit at a lower total output. It's less sophisticated than the SH-AWD system; there's no rear-axle torque vectoring or on-demand rear power bias when cornering like you'll see on the more impressive system.

I'm disappointed to see the SH-AWD replaced with a simpler system, but more casual drivers likely won't notice. Antuan Goodwin/CNET

In this case, AWD is a safety feature rather than a performance upgrade, and should be viewed as such. Plus, the sort of low-traction situations where the RDX would need to rein in its power are probably not the sort of situations where the average driver would need a lot of torque.

Regardless of how you choose to view the RDX's new all-wheel drive setup, we can probably agree that the on-demand nature of this lighter system doesn't make too big a dent in the SUV's decent economy. The EPA reckons the 2015 Acura RDX AWD will do 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway, and 22 mpg combined; that's just 1 mpg down across the board from the front-driver's estimates of 20 city, 28 highway, and 23 combined miles per gallon. I got 21.6 mpg during my mixed cycle testing over the long Independence Day weekend.

Acura leaves a few mpgs on the table by not opting to equip the V-6 with direct injection or by using stop-start or anti-idling technologies.

A few mixed messages

The RDX's chassis feels well sorted and didn't creak or rattle over bumps, but its suspension is quite stiff, especially over small potholes and cracked asphalt. So while the RDX's frame was unflappable, the passengers within were jostled and bounced quite a bit. This over-firmness can make the RDX a bit unplanted when cornering over rough roads. Both On Cars' Brian Cooley and I noticed that the RDX seemed to skip over bumps while cornering rather than soaking them up.

At the other end of the sport-comfort spectrum is the RDX's steering wheel, which is totally devoid of road feel through its electric power-assist system. I'd expect a car that's sprung so tautly (and a Honda at that) to have a weightier steerer and a more direct feeling, but the RDX sometimes gave me the impression that it wasn't sure if it wanted to be a carver or a cruiser.

The ride is rough, but the steering is light. Is this a sporty SUV, or a comfy one? Antuan Goodwin/CNET

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.

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.

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.

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

2015 Acura RDX

Score Breakdown

Performance 7Features 4Design 7Media 4