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2014 Acura RDX review

Highs

  • Not too big, not too small
  • Smart yet simple interior
  • Ultra-quiet ride
  • ELS sound system is superb

Rating

Our Score 7.5
User Score 10.0

Lows

  • Transmission is a little too indecisive
  • Lacks a lot of luxury tech features
  • Exterior design feels too restrained
Acura’s compact crossover might not provide the gasoline-powered gusto of some of its main rivals, more notably BMW’s X3, but it’s smooth, quiet, and does what’s asked of it.

I’ve been critical of Acura for some time. I haven’t been a fan of its recent design language, the often labyrinthine layout of its car’s center consoles bugs me to no end and other than the brand’s excellent Super Handling All-Wheel Drive technology, the superb 2013 MDX and the “hey there Mr. Satan, need another soul because you can totally have mine for an NSX,” Acura’s lineup rarely gets my engine revving.

So to be totally honest, when the 2014 RDX rolled up I was expecting more of the same from Honda’s flashier corporate cousin. I figured it would be just another day at the office where Acura adds another model to its conveyor belt of solid cars that I’m sure to enjoy but not fawn over.

Turns out I was only half wrong.

Turning simple into sexy

As the $40,515 2014 Acura RDX rolled up, I knew was I ready to ditch the city and suburbs for some quality time with nature – specifically the Oswald Trail that leads to Short Sands beach (a popular surfing hangout) in Manzanita, Oregon. The week was a long slog but Saturday rolled around and I couldn’t wait to put the office firmly in the RDX’s rearview mirror. 

The beauty in the RDX isn’t how crazy lavish it is or how much it strokes your self worth; the beauty is in how smartly everything fits together.

Call me crazy, but I like to think SUVs – regardless of their size – are meant for more than just frequent trips to Costco and Ikea, although, man do they make it easier to do both. Sure, a higher ride height is nice for elevating visibility and egos, but where is the fun? Where is the sense of adventure? Swedish meatballs and all the free samples my shrinking self-respect will allow be damned! Of course, who says adventuring and luxury are mutually exclusive? In fact, that couldn’t be further from the truth (just look at our recent review of the Mercedes-Benz G-Wagen as proof).

While the 2014 Acura RDX’s interior is plush, the first thing I noticed was how dark it felt inside. The cabin wasn’t morose or unpleasant – just dark. Really dark. Everything from the leather seats to the leather-wrapped steering wheel, even the towering obelisk that is the center console was draped in ebony. Acura’s only other interior color is Parchment Leather if you want that safari vibe. Otherwise, it’s black. Some will find the lack of interior options boring but I didn’t mind because it jived well with the RDX’s no-nonsense approach.

A brief scan over the button layout for the steering wheel controls and center console reveals a simple yet smart design. I know I’ve been critical of Acura’s layout in the past but something in the RDX’s design just clicked for me. I found it easier to navigate my fingers around the controls this time around than I did in the TL, MDX, and TSX. Maybe I’ve just grown more accustomed to Acura’s designs? But while the RDX felt similar, it was also somehow much more approachable. And who doesn’t like approachable? The beauty in the RDX isn’t how crazy lavish it is or how much it strokes your self-worth; the beauty is in how smartly everything fits together.

Build quality felt great, too. The leather sport seats cradled me like a baby, and the car’s smart use of space, like the awesome cubby complete with sliding cover located in front of the drink holders, provided the perfect place for my phone. A voluminous arm rest, which both pilot and co-pilot can rest on comfortably, was also a nice touch. As was the cavernous storage compartment underneath that housed a 12-volt charging outlet.

Your eyes won’t exactly glaze over in awe but there is a simple charm to the RDX’s restrained aesthetic.

Around back, the rear shares the same solar-eclipse motif, a fact passengers will easily overlook given the second row’s ample leg, shoulder, and hip room. When it comes to interior space, the RDX punches well above its weight class, giving the impression of a larger SUV.

While my trip to the coast wasn’t a weekend getaway, the wife and I still managed to pack the 2014 RDX with a good amount of gear. We’re talking backpacks, folding chairs, and a few extra goodies that didn’t even put a dent in the trunk’s 26.1 cubic feet. Of course, had we needed more, the RDX kindly would have obliged, and with the rear seats folded down, that’s a good 61.3 cubic feet to play with. Next time, we’ll bring the couch.

Smart but no genius

Sadly, when it comes to tech features, the 2014 Acura RDX remains in the shadow of its bigger brother, the MDX.

A base 2014 RDX with the all-wheel drive option box ticked will set you back $35,920 (excluding destination fees), our version was equipped with Acura’s Technology Package, which added a number of niceties such as navigation, an upgraded 410-watt ELS surround sound system, GPS-linked climate control, and Xenon HID headlights, all for $3,700.

2014 Acura RDX interior tech console

Mounted above the center control panel and piping through an 8-inch LCD display sits the 2014 RDX’s navigation system. As far as nav systems go, Acura’s isn’t as snazzy as Audi’s or Mercedes’. There are no 3D maps, just a top-down view of where you’re headed. However, zooming-in with the system’s joystick-like dial allows you to get an outline of buildings and landmarks, which is helpful, especially in new areas where you may not be as familiar with your surroundings.

In addition to the standard destination and points of interest menu, Acura adds Zagat restaurant listings, complete with comments and scores, along with scenic drive database that – just as its name suggest – will route you along more scenic drives in your area. Route guidance also splits up the navigation display, allowing for an easier view of upcoming directions. It even pulls active traffic data to help avoid pesky traffic jams. These are small feature for sure, but ones that made my excursion along the Oregon coast – and my experience driving the 2014 RDX – more enjoyable.

Acura’s designers have penned a good looking car but one that fails to ignite the senses the way others in the segment do.

Like most people, I can’t stand driving long distances without some decent tunes. While the RDX offers a number of music sources: single disc CD player; AM/FM, XM satellite radio; and USB/AUX inputs, my method of choice is my phone; more specifically streaming music via Bluetooth, which is why I was pleased with how well my Lumia 920 and the RDX got along.

Some manufacturers do their best James Dean impression and rebel against the system, allowing drivers and passengers the luxury of pairing their devices while the vehicle is in motion; Acura does not (boo!) but because this is a growing trend and will likely be mandated by the government at some point, I suppose automakers figure: why not comply early? (Bunch of squares!)

Once paired, streaming internet radio through apps on your phone is a breeze. My personal favorite is Spotify but others like Pandora and Slacker worked just as well. My only gripe here is that Acura still doesn’t offer a dedicated Bluetooth button. Meaning that in order to start streaming you have to cycle through the HDD/AUX button below the center console’s monochrome panel. Is it a big deal? No, but it’s seems like an easy enough fix for future models considering how much use the Bluetooth feature gets utilized.

Perhaps the RDX’s greatest tech triumph, though, is its ELS sound system. With one speaker per door, two tweeters, one center mid-range, two rear surround speakers, and one powered by an 8-inch subwoofer, the ELS system turns the 2014 RDX into a roving concert on wheels.

Along with a 410-watt amp, ELS also adds voice control functions as well as a 15 GB hard drive that can store up 3,600 songs. Don’t want to fiddle with your phone or bulky CD cases? Load up the drive via an ordinary CD and you don’t have to. You can even create playlists and get album art and song titles from an updateable Gracenote database.

While the 2014 RDX is filled with the comfort and accouterments one would expect from a compact luxury SUV, it’s not teeming with the same high-end tech many of its competitors are. And in a segment that’s home to the BMW X3, Land Rover Range Rover Evoque, the Audi Q5 and the Volvo XC60, it’s hard to overlook such omissions as lane departure warning, blind-spot monitoring, proximity sensors, and adaptive cruise control; all features that make driving SUVs (even compact ones) a little easier and that much more glamorous.

The MDX does feature a nice backup camera with three different viewing angles and automated side mirrors, which point downward when in reverse, helping tremendously when backing into tight spaces, but adding comparable levels of tech features similar to its luxury rivals would have been great.

Easy to digest design

I didn’t get a lot of looks in the 2014 Acura RDX and I can’t say I’m surprised. Acura’s designers have penned a good-looking car but one that fails to turn heads the way some others in the segment do.

Don’t mistake that for boring, though. Up front, the signature (and at times controversial) pointed beak grille meshes appropriately with the body’s smooth lines and restrained curves. But I’ve always thought Acura’s recent design language contains more lines and sharp angles than a high-school geometry book, which is either good or bad depending on your take. Personally, I’m not a fan.

From the side, the roofline looks deceptively low, given the ample amount of headroom inside with the limited, arched greenhouse furthering the illusion.

In keeping with the front’s bionic beak design, the rear taillamps wrap around and look like two powerful eagles perched atop the chrome strip above the liftgate. Or … maybe I just need my eyes checked.

The RDX’s cabin reads like an easily digestible script and when it comes to the exterior, Acura has kept things relatively safe as well. As a result, the more muted design choice will likely appeal to the older crowd and those with families, which is a leap away from the crowds its “edgier” designs seem to attract.

Great or just good?

Behind the wheel is where everything comes together quite nicely for the new RDX. On the highway and at cruising speeds or better, road noise remains at library-approved levels inside the car’s cabin, thanks to an increase in noise absorbers in the inner fenders, door lighting housings, and spare tire pan.

The 2014 Acura RDX is a good car, even great at times, but the crossover luxury segment is teeming with talent and the RDX just doesn’t do enough to lead the pack.

The vast majority of road imperfections are soaked up by the RDX’s capable front strut and rear-multi-link suspension. Acura says it added additional reinforcements around the rear suspension as well as strengthening the joints around the front suspension sub-frame mounting in order to reduce the car’s vertical and lateral flex. I’ll have to take Acura at its word because I couldn’t tell much of a difference from last year’s model.

Greater body rigidity equates to improved handling and performance and this can be accomplished in a number of ways, one of which is the use of stronger materials, which in the case of the 2014 RDX is the use of 40 percent high-tensile steel, which is both lighter and stiffer than conventional steel.

Complaints about electronic power steering systems are all too common, especially among “purists,” and while the RDX’s EPS isn’t perfect, I found it did a sufficient job providing power at low speeds while firming up at higher ones. In parking lots and city driving, cranking the wheel was a breeze, while greater highway speeds only required slight adjustments, which limited driving fatigue over longer stretches.

Forget a plethora of engines to choose from, breathing life into the 2014 RDX is a 273 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque spewin’ 3.5-liter V6. And for the most part, it’s more than enough. Acura’s compact crossover might not provide the gasoline-powered gusto of some of its main rivals, more notably BMW’s X3, but it’s smooth, quiet, and does what’s asked of it.

Just make sure to take advantage of the car’s paddle shifters when traveling up and down steep gradients as the six-speed automatic transmission’s indecision when downshifting gets old pretty fast. Still, it’s a fairly flexible engine and one that provided ample power while passing or whenever I needed to scoot along from a standstill.

Fuel economy is important, especially in the crossover segment where engines are getting smaller and fuel economy greater. Hoping to squeeze the maximum amount of energy out of every last drop of fuel, Acura has a few tricks up its sleeve to ensure the RDX remains competitive in this department.

Using what Acura calls its Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), the RDX’s V6 is able to switch independently and run on six, four, or three cylinders depending on the current driving conditions. For example, the engine will call on all six cylinders at startup, but once you reach highway cruising speeds where maximum engine output isn’t required, two cylinders shut off, leaving four operating for improved fuel economy. At even lower city sweeping speeds, VCM even allows for just three cylinders to push along the RDX.

It’s no mileage messiah but the 2014 RDX throws up some impressive fuel figures across the board. The front-wheel drive version nets an EPA-awarded 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, while the AWD version drops to a slightly less impressive 19/27/22. Not bad, but nowhere near class-leading.

Conclusion

With the 2014 RDX, Acura isn’t reinvented the wheel here, but it’s (still) great at building them.

The 2014 Acura RDX is a good car, even great at times, but the crossover luxury segment is teeming with talent and the RDX just doesn’t do enough to lead the pack. What we have here is a compact crossover that’s not bad but still far from class leading. The design is solid but fails to captivate the way an Evoque does. The drive quality is superb but far from lively like the BMW X3 And the tech offerings are stout but far from bleeding edge like Audi’s Q5.

While the RDX is packed with just enough goodies to justify its sticker price – a cool $40,515 (including $895 destination fee), it’s not the type of car that will wow you. Despite shortcomings, I still believe the 2014 RDX is a solid choice that provides a lot of value for your dollar. I just hope Acura beefs up the RDX’s tech game because it’s seriously lacking and already left in the dust by its competitors.

Highs

  • Not too big, not too small
  • Smart yet simple interior
  • Ultra-quiet ride
  • ELS sound system is superb

Lows

  • Transmission is indecisive at times
  • Lacks a lot of luxury tech features
  • Exterior design feels too restrained