Joyride: 2015 Acura RDX

Likable but desperately bland, Acura's RDX is the Coldplay of crossovers

The Acura RDX is in many ways the consummate compact luxury crossover: a thoroughly practical and comfortable vehicle with little or no personality.

The popularity of subcompact crossovers is exploding, and just about every luxury automaker has an offering. This makes it one of the most competitive market segments imaginable, and that more than anything is the problem for the Acura RDX. This smooth-driving, and relatively affordable, premium crossover is hard to throw stones at. Unfortunately, though, despite the fact that it is only a little over a year old, already feels undistinguished.

Smooth as silk

The first generation Acura RDX was shockingly good fun, combining a feisty turbo four-cylinder with the traction epoxy of Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). Unfortunately, consumers didn’t cotton onto to the RDX’s sport-crossover characteristics. Accordingly, Acura decided to tone things down a bit when it came to releasing the new model.

This smooth-driving, and relatively affordable, premium crossover is hard to throw stones at.

Still, that isn’t a bad thing, at least when it comes to the powertrain. Acura replaced the angry turbo four, with a 3.5-liter V6 that produces 273 horsepower. Mated exclusively to a six-speed automatic, this engine is capable of propelling the RDX to 60 mph in just 6.2 seconds. Which, crazy to think, is faster than just about any BMW or Porsche from as recently as the 1980s. Still, the straight-line speed isn’t really this powertrain’s best asset.

The V6 and six-speed deliver power at all revs and speeds, with shocking and welcome smoothness. The RDX is powerful, but also relaxing, which is an excellent feature in this sort of vehicle. The RDX is also surprisingly efficient, with an EPA rating of 19 city and 27 highway mpg.

The handling may not be as sporty or aggressive, as the previous RDX, but the crossover nonetheless is planted and gratifying to drive.

2015 Acura RDX first drive side low

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of the all-wheel drive system. Acura ditched the heavier and more expensive SH-AWD system from the previous car for understandable reasons – namely, crossover buyers don’t seem to care about it. But what Acura replaced it with is – at best – underwhelming. I drove the RDX during the onset of monsoon season in Portland, Oregon, and I quickly lost track of the times when one or more of the RDX’s wheels lost traction on rain-slick pavement or wet leaves. Granted, I was pushing the RDX harder than most of its drivers will, but to me this performance does not bode well for the first snowfall.

Efficient but boring

Just as the driving dynamics are comfortable but muted, so, too, is the interior. Sadly, the interior design displays none of the flair that more recently released Acura’s display.

On my press demonstrator, the Acura’s interior was a sea of black, with nary an accent color or piece of metal to brighten things up. It didn’t look bad, but it was a somewhat disheartening place to be in already dark fall weather.

Despite the sulking Goth color scheme, Acura has at least used high-quality, soft-touch materials. Even with close to 10,000 miles on my press demonstrator, everything still looked and felt factory fresh – a testament to the build quality.

Still, the RDX is not without problems on the inside. The middle rear seatbelt is mounted on the car’s ceiling, and, according to the reports of passengers, exceedingly uncomfortable for anyone with … let’s say a ‘chest.’ There are other unforced errors, too; the front seats are well made but surprisingly small. I found it difficult to adjust my six-foot-three-inch frame into a comfortable position, thanks to the short seat bottom.

Then there is the tech. I have my problems with the latest two-screen iteration of the Acura-Link infotainment system in the 2015 TLX, but I feel I owe it an apology after using the system it replaces. The old system in the dash of the RDX combines low-grade graphics with a truly frustrating interface, particularly when it comes to trying to sort through audio menus. I will at least say this in its favor: when it comes time to use the backup camera, the screen is at least sufficiently large and high resolution to offer a good view.

Conclusion

In total, the Acura RDX is an extremely competent compact crossover. Dynamically it is far from exciting, but delivers smooth, comfortable, and efficient performance. Unfortunately, it also lacks the personality or style of some of the other compact crossovers on the market, notably the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60.

This leaves the RDX as a solid choice for people looking for a comfortable, upscale, but unassuming transport. That at least is in line with what most compact crossover buyers seem to be looking for.

Highs

  • Smooth and powerful V6
  • Good fuel efficiency
  • Well-built interior

Lows

  • Outdated tech
  • Small front seats
  • Underwhelming all-wheel drive
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