Exactly five years after I first drove the Acura RDX, I find that it is not aging well. The turbocharged engine delivers decent power, but it’s not linear in its delivery, and the five-speed automatic is a dated device. The ride-and-handling balance is ho-hum, and the suspension crashes over bumps. The steering is dead on-center. There’s a distinct lack of a “premium” feeling to the RDX, especially when compared with the newer entries in this segment like the Volvo XC60, the Audi Q5, the Mercedes-Benz GLK, and the BMW X3. Heck, there are small crossovers from non-premium brands that feel more of-a-piece than the RDX does, like the Chevy Equinox, the Hyundai Santa Fe, and the Volkswagen Tiguan. The RDX is definitely overdue for a re-do.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
The Acura RDX is a decent-looking compact crossover — from the B-pillar back. Unfortunately, its nose just seems all out of proportion for its size. I didn’t mind the same front-end treatment on the MDX because that vehicle has the size and heft to carry it off, but it just doesn’t fit on the smaller RDX.
The most notable feature on this vehicle is the turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In a straight line it delivers power almost instantaneously, but it produces an inordinate amount of torque steer when you accelerate from a stop. As others have noted, it might have been less noticeable if our test vehicle was equipped with all-wheel drive. If I were thinking about buying an RDX, I’d make sure to get one with the SH-AWD system.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
Wow. Are you guys serious? I just love the interior of the RDX — the great spacious feeling delivered by the low cowl, the cheerfulness and clarity of the instrument cluster, and the exceptional execution of the center-stack controls. The buttons and rotary dials have the look and feel of premium home-audio equipment. I want to keep changing radio stations just to touch the buttons.
Agreed, though, that the cabin — especially the back seat — feels old school. Plenty of room, though.
Jean Jennings, Editor-In-Chief
Like many Acuras, the RDX suffers for being a ‘tweener. Its size and pricing put it roughly in the same category as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5, but its exclusive reliance on four-cylinder power and its overall disposition are much closer to the cheaper Mini Countryman and other “sporty” compact crossovers. This leaves the RDX ill-equipped to compete in either class — it lacks the refinement and premium feel to compete with BMW or Audi, and yet is too expensive (and too big) to square off against sportier, cheaper crossovers. Acura hurts itself further by making its excellent all-wheel-drive system an extra-cost option while BMW and Audi make it standard. As such, our $36,480 test model suffers from steering-wheel-tugging torque steer not unlike what you find in a $20,000 Nissan Juke. As Joe notes, the ride doesn’t help matters — the rear suspension in particular jumps over speed bumps. The interior hews more toward the Honda Civic and CR-V than other Acuras.
Despite all this, the RDX isn’t a bad vehicle. The interior, although lacking in materials quality, is very comfortable and well thought out. I particularly like the deep, lockable center console. Like many Honda vehicles, it’s easy to see out of, thanks to a low beltline and relatively thin pillars. The steering is also typical for Honda — accurate and quicker than most. The turbocharged 2.3-liter engine isn’t as refined as Audi’s class-leading turbo four but it provides excellent mid-range passing power and would, I suspect, benefit immeasurably if paired with a modern transmission and all-wheel-drive.
A redesign that addresses the interior quality and ride would do wonders for this vehicle. The real work, though, should be done in the marketing department. Acura needs to decide whether the RDX is a zippy, sporty compact crossover, in which case it needs a cut in size and price, or the brand needs to commit to competing against the big boys and develop a vehicle that can meet them head-on.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
I haven’t driven an Acura RDX for probably four years, and I can’t say I’ve missed it in that time. The small premium crossover market has been inundated with newer offerings from Audi, BMW, Infiniti, Mercedes, Volvo, and others since Acura brought out the RDX. And each of those competitors has brought with it more technology, better powertrain choices, or better interior execution (if not all three).
I didn’t have any issues with the performance of the five-speed automatic transmission, but the power delivery of Acura’s turbo four-cylinder isn’t nearly as linear or as refined as I’d like. It’s not so much that Acura’s engine is bad, it’s that the Audi 2.0T is amazing and comes with an eight-speed automatic that enhances the experience even more. Oh, and thanks to the more advanced direct injection and wider gear-ratio spread on the Audi, the 20/27 mpg city/highway ratings for a Q5 2.0T absolutely trounce the RDX’s 17/22 mpg figures when equipped with SH-AWD.
Acura’s biggest problem with the RDX is that it is the oldest offering in a suddenly very competitive segment. The RDX isn’t so far behind the other small luxury crossovers that it isn’t worth a test drive, though. As much as we all like the Audi Q5, I’m willing to bet that an Acura dealer has a lot more wiggle room on price than Audi does right now.
Phil Floraday, Senior Web Editor
Phil hit the nail on the head, I think: the RDX is a good vehicle that has simply been outclassed by all the competition that has flooded its segment in the past several years.
What I want to know, though, is why Honda has not installed the RDX’s feisty turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder all across its lineup? This company normally does things in a very calculated, careful manner, but it seems very strange to me that it would go through the expense of developing this engine — which, despite a lack of refinement, is a lot of fun to drive — for use in only one model. This engine would probably need to be detuned a bit for duty in the Acura TSX, the Honda Civic, or other front-wheel-drive applications, however. It’s already putting out more power than the RDX’s front wheels can handle. Thankfully, Acura’s excellent SH-AWD system is available in the RDX.
Potential buyers would have a harder time equipping an RDX to avoid the ultra-stiff dampening in our test car. The RDX does have very sporty handling, but other manufacturers are able to deliver similar sportiness without such a harsh ride. In SH-AWD form, the RDX could be a nice option for people living in snowbelt states where the roads aren’t too bad. But is it the best choice on the market? Probably not.
Rusty Blackwell, Copy Editor
2011 Acura RDX Tech
Base price (with destination): $36,480
Price as tested: $36,480
2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine
5-speed automatic transmission
4-wheel disc brakes with ABS
Vehicle stability assist
Tire pressure monitoring system
Sport seats with perforated leather
XM satellite radio
MP3/auxiliary audio jacks
Heated front seats
Auto-dimming rearview mirror
Power moonroof with tilt feature
Xenon HID headlights
Heated outside mirrors
Remote keyless entry
Acura navigation system with voice recognition
Acura/ELS surround sound system with 10 speakers
AM/FM/6-disc DVD-A, CD, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Options on this vehicle:
Key options not on vehicle:
SH-AWD system — $2000
19 / 24 / 21 mpg
Size: 2.3L turbocharged DOHC I-4
Horsepower: 240 hp @ 6000 rpm
Torque: 260 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm
Curb weight: 3743 lb
Wheels/tires: 18×7.5-inch aluminum-alloy wheels
235/55R18 all-season tires