The RDX encompasses everything that is important to a wide variety of buyers.
Having debuted in 2006 with a unique powertrain for its segment, Acura’s RDX has gone on to become one of the most popular premium crossovers in our market. Originally being shown as the RD-X concept in New York in 2006, the RDX was intended to compete against a fast-growing segment, one that now includes the BMW X3, the Mercedes-Benz GLC, the Lexus NX, among others. I drove an RDX two years ago and came away maintaining that it was one of the best-driving utes in its class, if not a bit dated. I was tossed the keys to a 2016 Acura RDX Elite to see if a mid-cycle refresh would help maintain the positive image it has earned.
The last RDX was a delight to drive, but since driving its newer, more aggressively styled rivals, it began to look far too conservative and plain. The 2016 model receives a full front-end restyle, which reflects the latest design language Acura has been applying throughout their lineup. The front end now looks a lot like the sharp TLX and refreshed 2016 ILX. Even the base $41,990 RDX gets Jewel Eye LED headlights and LED taillights similar to its larger brother, the MDX, with sharp lines and similar cues used throughout the body. The front bumper is redesigned with crisper looking fog lamps, too. Our Elite tester came bearing 18” alloy wheels in a style that is limited to this top-trim model.
I found the first-generation RDX particularly interesting because it offered a 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder, the only Honda/Acura product ever to be sold with forced-induction until the latest Civic. The second generation did away with this exclusive powertrain in favour of a V6. Under the hood of this 2016 model is still Acura’s 3.5L SOHC V6 with VTEC technology. However, it has been severely reworked in order to add direct injection with a 7,000rpm redline. Output is 279 horsepower at 6,200rpm, and 252 lb-ft of torque at 4,900rpm.
These numbers may seem like a marginal improvement, but from my observation, this bump is exactly what the RDX needed. Direct injection means much more responsiveness at lower RPMs, which also translates to less of a need to downshift or more effort. This motor seriously flies, and leads one to wonder why more competitors don’t offer a naturally aspirated V6. Other than the BMW X3 and Infiniti QX50, nearly all of the players in this segment offer boosted four-cylinders instead. Though these four-pots may be responsive enough and boast slightly improved fuel economy, there really is no replacement for displacement.
In typical Acura fashion, the 3.5L is buttery smooth in operation, and the six-speed automatic transmission does an extraordinary job of sending power to the road. I’m glad that Acura has stayed with the six-speed rather than going to the ZF nine-speed that is becoming a staple in the latest Acura/Honda products. There are paddle shifters on the steering wheel for those who take advantage of their RDX’s capabilities and take it through their favourite driving roads. The paddles also pack rev matching on downshifts, and the RDX sounds fantastic through shifts. It’s during acceleration and quick cornering that you learn just how lightweight the RDX feels; it almost shrinks in size as you go faster.
What I found really surprising about the RDX is how dynamic it is to drive. Even when compared to the X3, which hails from a manufacturer with the tagline “The Ultimate Driving Machine”, the Acura’s razor-sharp steering and torque delivery makes it a sincerely fun pick as an only car. Developments to the all-wheel-drive system allow it to push power to the rear wheels more easily, allowing for even more fun when in the spirit. It’s worth mentioning that the new system is no longer Acura’s trademark SH-AWD setup. Thanks to the MacPherson struts in front and a traditional multi-link setup in the rear, the ride quality is firm but very pleasant for a crossover of this size.
After spending about 1000km behind the wheel of this crossover, I couldn’t help but notice that the one downside to the lovable V6 is fuel economy. Even still, the trade-off isn’t bad enough to make me wish that Acura would toss a smaller, boosted motor into the RDX. Plus, Variable Cylinder Management is capable of shutting down cylinders at steady speeds for added efficiency. Doing an approximate 75/25 mix between highway and city driving, I was able to wrangle 9.7L/100km out of the RDX on premium 91-octane fuel. Not bad at all, and not nearly bad enough for me to want a diesel model. This engine is just perfect as it sits.
It’s also very quiet on board the new RDX. Thanks to active engine mounts helping refinement, a particularly quiet powertrain, and great cabin insulation, the Acura is a very pleasant place to spend hours on end. It’s not Lexus quiet – stepping on the throttle in “Sport” mode produces a roar that reminds you that you picked the “fun” choice in its segment, but the RDX is still quieter and smoother than the Infiniti QX50’s roaring 3.7L as well as the Audi Q5.
There are no surprises with regards to the interior in the 2016 Acura RDX. The interior remains largely the same, with high quality materials used throughout and near-perfect ergonomics. There is now a dual-screen layout as in other Acura and Honda models, with a new touchscreen that controls navigation input, settings, and various other tasks. It works decently enough, but the larger screen still has a very dated look to it and requires an update both in resolution as well as overall responsiveness. The seats are heated and ventilated and are some of the most comfortable seats in the segment. They aren’t the softest, but provide excellent upper and lower back support.
Also noteworthy for the 2016 refresh is the addition of the AcuraWatch safety suite. This setup essentially groups together all of the safety goodies and nannies, including but not limited to lane keeping assist, forward collision warning (with automatic braking), lane departure warning, and adaptive cruise control. I commend Acura’s wanting to bundle all of this together and keep overall pricing down rather than leaving them as pricey individual options. For those who want the fully loaded model but don’t care for the intervention of the technology, these systems can all be disabled.
The base RDX in Canada starts at $41,990, and comes generously equipped including the high-tech lighting, power sunroof, tailgate, 360-watt sound system, rear view camera, power seats, and leather. The base model also includes the AcuraWatch safety group. Stepping up to the $44,990 Tech trim adds navigation, remote start, ELS surround sound, heated rear seats, and AcuraLink connectivity. I expect the Tech to be the volume-selling trim. Our top-trim Elite comes in at $46,590 and adds fog lights, unique alloys, ventilated seats, and auto-dimming mirrors. Seeing as my test was in the winter months, I didn’t get a chance to experience the cooled seats, but I will say that the factory remote starter is a great touch for Canadian buyers.
The Acura RDX came onto Canadian shores earlier than most of the players in its class. It encompassed everything that is important to the typical young family – premium touches, a reliable powertrain, and a brand with a reputation for longevity and reliability. This latest model maintains all of that, while providing a high fun-to-drive factor, good looks, and a powertrain that’s even more solid than the last. I have no doubts in my mind that the 2016 Acura RDX Elite will continue to be one of the leaders in the premium crossover game across North America.