Mountain Wheels: Acura’s hotshot RDX A-Spec adds flash to its mid-size SUV
Japanese — but designed and made in America — the 2019 Acura RDX is a mid-size luxury crossover SUV that’s had a serious attitude adjustment for its newest, third-generation models.
The somewhat small (compared to an MDX) but certainly not inconsequential RDX turns into a mutated beast that’s kind of like a tall Honda Civic Type-R, with looks that seem more like a show car come to life, especially in the RDX’s new upscale A-Spec special edition.
A slightly detuned version of that racecar, Honda’s impressive 2.0-liter turbo gives the new RDX a snappy and sparking character, with the A-Spec adding slightly ridiculously oversized rear exhaust tips that help the exhaust gain some bark and growl.
This new RDX is pretty splashy as it is, and the extra, largely darkened bits that accentuate the vehicle’s look — especially its exploding universe-styled grille, plus blackout, 20-inch wheels and a heavy-duty fashion show on the inside — make it quite impressive, even if it doesn’t exactly live up to its heady stance.
Standard RDXs start at $37,300, while my upgraded edition was fully complete at $45,500, with the only additional option a $400 charge for the Apex Blue Pearl paint job. That’s about $5,000 less and 20-30 more horsepower than European competitors including the Volvo XC60, the Audi Q5 or the BMW X3.
Like the rest of the line, the A-Spec model is fitted with a 272-horsepower 2.0-liter and the RDX’s very smooth 10-speed automatic transmission, resulting in superb takeoffs and more-than-confident cruising. Our recent experiences in other, higher-horsepower machines has clearly spoiled things as the RDX quickly reaches an impressive acceleration plateau and then kind of hangs out there, leaving you wishing for another 100 horses of overall boost. Torque is up 28 lb.-ft. to 280 total.
The architecture exists for some tuning work to match the borderline racer-boy exterior; the smaller engine very closely replicates the 279 horsepower previously supplied by a V-6, while nudging highway mileage to 26 MPG in my AWD model.
I opted to concentrate on that optional super-handling AWD system (front-wheel drive is also available the RDX) and see what it would do in a slightly slower setting, using the cabin’s most prominent shock-and-awe feature, an absolutely gigantic driving mode knob that is the very center of the RDX’s new multi-level, floating center console.
Crank that over to sport-plus and also pop the transmission into sport mode and you get much angrier and fast-moving gear changes and an overall buzziness that moves the car closer to Honda racecar territory.
I motored up Lookout Mountain road in Golden and enjoyed the RDX’s stiffness, its precise handling and its ability to hold very deep into corners, especially with its higher-performance all-season tires. A very small and fat steering wheel with chromed shift paddles feels much more at home when doing that kind of driving.
Big marks go out to RDX’s aggressive redesign, centered on a very angular front fascia, a heavily textured power-dome hood and prominent lines that sweep off the hood and wheels and apex into the rear windows. That’s given extra prominence with a strong mid-body line (and a blacked-out detail stripe, to offset things), a long roof spoiler and even fully aerodynamic bits under the rear bumper.
The LED headlamps are now packed with seven lenses apiece, with three lenses in the fog lamps, making it all very sharp.
If you go the A-Spec route, that results in bright red and wonderfully audacious leather seating and red highlight stitching, with synthetic suede inserts and even a prominent patch of suede on the dash, above the glove box. That’s a big punch to the car’s already comprehensive wraparound cockpit, dominated by the aforementioned console/arch detail.
Padded on the edges, the arch ladders up and includes small temperature controls, the giant, not especially functional driving mode knob – you’ll mistake it for audio volume a dozen times – plus the new Acura/Honda push-button transmission, and the all-new True Touchpad interface, with a padded palm rest.
I found it a challenge to use but if you’re coached correctly, it offers a fairly intuitive way to work the maps, audio and the various apps. Underneath the whole console is a large, open tray, big enough for an iPad. Audio is also a big highlight, with a 710-watt ELS Studio 3D system featuring 16 speakers, including four built into the headliner.
The RDX’s other style-over-substance choice is the instrument bezels, which are solid and silver-faced during the daylight, making it as hard to judge your speed as it was looking at one of those old Swatch watches in the 1980s. Everything crisply lights up in red at night; I had to pretty much guess my speed during daytime runs, as there’s no digital readout elsewhere.
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