Acura is replacing the visually and dynamically bland last-generation RDX, recasting the small crossover as a striking, purposeful thing. The Acura RDX A-Spec model tested here looks better than a frosty Asahi with a side of gyoza. It features blacked-out accents, gray 20-inch wheels, and bazooka tubes for tailpipes. The interior matches the sheetmetal’s allure with polished-metal pedals, contrast stitching, and no-cost red leather with black suede inserts. Black leather is also available.
But while we dig the A-Spec’s looks, the performance is more B- or C-spec. Acura needs to free up the RDX’s hardware to do its best work. Beneath the aluminum hood’s cutaneous horns is Honda’s turbocharged 2.0-liter inline-four, replacing the previous RDX’s 3.5-liter V-6. Its 272 horsepower is down seven compared with the outgoing engine, but torque swells 28 lb-ft over the six-cylinder’s peak to max out at 280. The new four sounds great, even if it is an audio track streamed into the cabin. A paddle-shiftable 10-speed manages gearshifts smoothly if a bit lethargically.
The generous torque curve moves the 3997-pound SUV around town effortlessly. In Sport Plus mode—Comfort, Sport, and Snow are your other choices—and with the accelerator pressed to the firewall, the all-wheel-drive RDX reaches 60 mph in 6.6 seconds and the quarter-mile in 15.2. Both figures are average for small luxury crossovers, but the increased number of shifts doesn’t do this ute any favors. Compared with the last-gen RDX, this new one requires an extra 0.4 second to reach 60 mph.
When driven with mild aggression, the RDX A-Spec feels swift on its feet and is quick to change direction. The steering is direct and linear, and Sport Plus mode adds a little welcome heft. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive can shunt up to 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear; from there, a torque-vectoring differential can send 100 percent of that torque to either side. SH-AWD does an excellent job assisting turn-in, but, ultimately, it’s good hardware wasted. When pressed, an aggressive stability-control system governs any genuine fun. Wider 255/45R-20 Goodyear Eagle RS-A tires help increase skidpad grip by 0.04 g over the last gen, but this ute’s 0.81 g still trails almost everything else in the class, and the new tires howl when pushed. They only manage a 177-foot stop from 70 mph—also on the underwhelming end of the segment—and the soft brake pedal makes smooth stops tricky.
The structure is stronger than before, but the firm suspension tuning and 20-inch wheels send impacts into the cabin. Adaptive dampers, included only on the top-level Advance package, would be a welcome addition to the A-Spec.
A single 10.2-inch display replaces the previous RDX’s dual infotainment screens, and there’s a new gimmick to control the revamped system. Just below the push-button shifter, the True Touchpad Interface makes the execution of even basic tasks feel counterintuitive. The inclusion of a volume knob and tuning buttons is the system’s only saving grace.
With LED headlights, adaptive cruise control, lane-keeping assist, and a pile of other amenities for $46,495, the Acura RDX A-Spec undercuts competitors from Audi, BMW, and Lexus by thousands of dollars. While the A-Spec branding is an overpromise, the RDX is full of highly impressive stuff. It just needs to be liberated.