By Jim Bray
The turbo is gone, replaced by a normally aspirated V6 engine, but the heart and soul of Acura's small SUV/Crossover still beats as it always did: a nice vehicle that will stroke your luxury proclivities very well.
As long as you don't mind frustrating interfaces and numerous nannies, though in this way the RDX is no different than other Honda/Acura products and a good part of the competition that I've tested.
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Acura Canada's sample RDX wore the Elite badge, so it was pretty much loaded - and it does have a lot of nice stuff in it. And all for a tad less than 50 grand Canadian, which might seem like a healthy hunk of change (and, to be fair, it is) but is quite competitive in this niche. You'll pay more for the Lexus NX 200t F Sport or RX 350, for example, both of which start at just over $50K. Naturally, it depends on the configuration of the vehicle to get an apples-to-apples comparison between the RDX and its many competitors, which also include such vehicles as BMW's X3 and Audi's Q5.
For model year 2016, the RDX has been given nifty Jewel Eye LED projector headlamps and LED taillights, more power for its V6, and what Acura refers to as "class leading safety" via the standard AcuraWatch system and "a host of new luxury features and technologies," according to the company. The base RDX now starts at a MSRP of $41,990, which is an increase of $300 over the 2015 version, yet the manufacturer says the 2016 model offers "substantially more value for the money considering all the added luxury and safety features."
The AcuraWatch suite of safety and driver-assist technologies includes Adaptive Cruise Control (which slows you down far before it needs to, under normal use), Collision Mitigation Braking System and Forward Collision Warning (which virtually yells "BRAKE!" at you via a display on the instrument panel if the car thinks you're approaching another vehicle too quickly, even if you aren't), Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warning. There's also an admittedly nifty multi-angle rear view camera, and the 2016 RDX also features numerous changes to its Advanced Compatibility Engineering body structure to improve frontal collision performance.
Once again I could do without some of the new safety features, such as lane departure warning, but inflicting them on the consumer does seem to be the rule rather than the exception these days - and with pretty well every manufacturer, not just Honda/Acura. It's a trend I'd like to see stopped - if you need all this stuff perhaps you should consider taking public transit rather than driving, or wait for autonomous vehicles - but I seem to be a voice barking in the wilderness. The more of these things that are added to cars the less incentive there is for "drivers" to actually pay attention to what they're doing behind the wheel, and that doesn't strike me as much of an enhancement to safety.
Then there's the law of unintended consequences. These nannies are pushed by well-meaning but fuzzy thinking folks who want us to live in a little cocoon of safety but they're actually making vehicles more complicated (and therefore heavier and more expensive) and not taking into account whether or not they actually do any good. And they could end up doing more harm than good. A case in point is daytime running lights, which have been mandatory in Canada for years - but only for the front of the car. That's led to the common sight of people driving with no taillights illuminated because the DRL's illuminate their path ahead, and that can lull the driver into thinking the lights are on all around the vehicle, which isn't true - and is, in fact, an accident (a rear ender) waiting to happen.
Do we really need more drivers who are blissfully unaware of the responsibilities of driving a motor vehicle?
Anyway, that's not a rant about the RDX, just an acknowledgement that it suffers from the same kind of nannies that are becoming ubiquitous these days, much to my chagrin.
Moving from the original RDX' turbo four, which I liked a lot, to the V6 means there's no turbo lag any more (not that it was a huge issue anyway), and it also means you also get more oomph. The current power plant is Honda's ubiquitous 3.5 litre V6 i-VTEC engine and it's a lovely thing indeed.
The engine features Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which can deactivate three of the car's six cylinders while you're cruising, to save fuel. Peak horsepower and torque are now 279 (up six) and 252 lb.-ft. (up one), respectively, with a broader torque curve for better acceleration. There are also new, active engine mounts, as well as updated steering and a stiffer suspension. The standard all-wheel-drive system has been retuned to give you a greater rear torque bias, now sending up to 40 per cent of the torque to the rear wheels. This means that, while the RDX still has a front drive-favouring bias, it's now a tad more stable and dynamic.
The 2016 RDX has also been given restyled fascias front and rear, a new three-dimensional grille treatment and new wheels. It's a handsome vehicle, and it still looks like an Acura, which to me is a good thing now that awful looking last generation TL has been retired.
RDX's are also tweaked inside, including high-contrast silver trim (though the trim around the left and right vents reflects too much in the outside mirrors) plus stuff like a standard power tailgate, eight way power passenger's seat and second-row air-conditioning vents. There's also a new, 4.2-inch Multi-Information Display with expanded, customizable information readouts (such as average vehicle speed, fuel economy, fuel range, tire pressure monitoring system (TMPS) and turn-by-turn navigation prompts if you have the nav system.
The Technology package adds stuff like perforated leather seats (including rear seat heating), a remote engine starter, the once-great ELS audio system with 410 watts - and, unfortunately, Acura/Honda's confusing, dual-screen On-Demand Multi-Information Display. The package also adds a handy rear cross traffic monitor, power folding mirrors and rain sensing wipers.
The Elite Package gives you unique 18 inch machined alloy wheels with painted gray inserts, front fog lights, front and rear parking sensors, ventilated front seats (I always find that seat ventilation makes me feel as if I've wet myself, though once again this isn't an Acura thing), and auto-dimming side mirrors.
The RDX is a very nice vehicle to drive - perhaps not as sporty as I'd like but that's definitely picking at nits. We tooled around the countryside in it and, nannies and confusing interfaces notwithstanding, I enjoyed it very much. I used to complain about what seemed to be thousands of buttons and knobs on Honda/Acura vehicles, but the company has now taken steps to correct that, unfortunately it's via a dual screen system with a knob-controlled upper screen and lower touch screen, and sometimes I have the dickens of a time figuring out how to access various features. Whatever happened to Honda making it "simple," as they used to advertise?
Acura was the first of the Japanese carmakers to go head to head against the luxury vehicle establishment from Europe, setting the stage for Toyota and Nissan to introduce their Lexus and Infiniti brands, and they've made some terrific vehicles during that time. I think they forgot their roots for a while during the past 10 years or so, however, but the good news is that they appear to be working on that. Once they figure out the interface issues (and they're not alone here, either!), they'll give the competition an even better run for your money.
Copyright 2015 Jim Bray
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