Big-time luxury at a better value than the competition.
Acura has carved out a successful little niche in the luxury crossover segment with just two offerings, the MDX and the compact RDX. Their formula of offering big-time luxury at a better value than the competition has served them well. The RDX has represented a lot of this growth and for 2019 was totally refreshed to be even more competitive. This is all good, but the competition in this segment doesn’t rest, so in an effort to stay at the top Acura has introduced the eye-catching A-Spec version. We spent two weeks with it through the holiday season to see how the 2020 Acura RDX A-Spec would handle the family travel and winter season.
The standard RDX is one of the better looking compact SUVs on the road. The sculpted and sporty lines, Acura’s diamond pentagon grille and exterior LED lighting really set it apart from typically dreary looking peers. The A-Spec package takes a good vehicle and makes it even better with bolder fascia, prominent dual exhaust tips and 20-inch Shark Gray rims. Our tester came finished in Apex Blue Pearl, a color with a history on Acura’s performance vehicles, combined with red leather sport seats. It makes for a very eye-catching little crossover that garnered lots of looks.
The interior of the RDX is decidedly less special than the exterior, but is still a very nice place to spend time. Red leather seating aside, there are lots of black soft-touch plastics and rubbers, with touches of polished aluminium. Overall materials are on par with expectations at this price point, but not as overtly luxurious as pricier options on the market, or even the new Lincoln Corsair. The A-Spec sport seats look great and offer plenty of support for more spirited driving, and the package also adds a red illuminated gauge cluster that harkens back to Acura’s legendary performance cars. The A-Spec steering wheel is also a very nice perforated leather sport wheel that feels great.
Despite its compact classification the RDX feels quite roomy and airy inside, especially with the full-length panoramic roof letting the sunshine in. The cargo area is downright huge; it easily handled our son’s stroller and enough baggage for a day-trip. There is also a slick under-floor storage system in the cargo area for smaller items to be kept out of sight. It’s a similar story in the rear seat area with a surprising amount of leg and headroom, enough to keep two adults in comfort. Up front there is plenty of space thanks to a deep center console storage bin under the armrest, big cup holders with a side tray, a large storage bin under the floating console and deep door pockets. It’s easy to find secure places to keep all the daily carry items.
My main gripe with the interior, which also happens to be my biggest issue with the RDX in general, is the infotainment system. All RDXs get a large 10.2-inch screen that dominates the dash, and is controlled by a touchpad at the front of the console. The intention of keeping controls close to the driver’s natural position is appreciated, but the system is anything but intuitive. The touchpad is overly sensitive and distracting to operate, if not downright dangerous to use while driving. I found the system to be by far one of the most frustrating that I’ve experienced recently. This is a shame because it offers lots of features such as Apple CarPlay and a 4G LTE mobile hotspot. Our A-Spec tester also came with navigation and a 12-speaker ELS sound system which sounds quite good. Interestingly though, the system is not compatible with Android Auto.
If the infotainment is the RDX’s low point, the driving experience is a definite high point. All trims are powered by a 272 horsepower turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder and a 10-speed automatic transmission and SH-AWD. The 2.0’s healthy horsepower and 280 lb-ft. of torque at 1,600-4,500 RPM give it plenty of punch both in the city and for highway passing. The turbocharged four is smoother than expected, and the RDX accelerates briskly and with grace. Under hard acceleration engine noise is piped into the cabin through the speakers, which provides an even sportier feeling for those more enthused about driving quickly. The 10-speed tends to be a bit reluctant to downshift, but running it in Sport mode does remedy that, though the response from the paddle shifters remains slow.
The steering feel is some of the best in the segment, with crisp response, sharp turn-in and decent road feel. Through the nice perforated leather steering wheel, the RDX gives a very confident and athletic on-road feeling, which any enthusiastic driver is sure to appreciate, even if the RDX is only the family hauler. Our tester did not come with the adaptive dampers available on the Elite trim levels, but did a good job of keeping the cabin isolated from all but the biggest imperfections in the road, remaining firm and stable even when driven with gusto. From behind the wheel, the RDX delivers one of the sportiest and most car-like driving experiences of anything else in the luxury compact SUV segment. It does give up a little bit in terms of cabin noise and ride quality to get there, but for someone who wants to have a little fun on their drive, the RDX could be a strong favourite.
While I am a fan of the RDX’s turbocharged four cylinder for performance, it does require some compromise in terms of fuel economy. After a week of mixed driving, with less traffic than typical on my tests due to the holidays, I observed an average of 11.4L/100km. This lags the numbers typically achieved with competitive SUVs in busier conditions. Acura also recommends premium fuel in the RDX for maximum performance. At the end of the day, a slight fuel penalty is a small price to pay for someone who appreciates the performance, but for those buyers more focused on keeping operating costs down, the RDX doesn’t offer any more efficient engine options – which may be a miss for some.
For drivers interested in safety, the RDX comes standard with the AcuraWatch suite of safety assist technologies including forward-collision warning and automated emergency braking, lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control. Where the RDX has typically shone brighter than its competitors is pricing, and 2020 is no exception. A base model starts at an aggressive $43,990 and at that price comes well equipped with luxuries like the panoramic roof, LED headlamps, power tailgate and remote starting. The Tech trim adds navigation, blind spot and rear cross traffic systems, the ELS stereo, rain sensing wipers and more high-tech gadgetry for $47,290.
The A-Spec trim like our tester comes to $50,790 and includes all appearance and interior goodies, plus ventilated front seats, heated steering wheel and power folding mirrors. Next is the Elite at $50,490 which adds heated rear seats, auto-dimming side mirrors and exterior puddle lighting along with upgraded perforated leather seating. Lastly, the full-jam Platinum Elite at $54,990 gets the adaptive dampers and a list of true, and unnecessary, luxury features such as a heads-up display, surround view camera, rear camera washer, 16-way adjustable seats with contrast stitching and an even further upgraded 16-speaker ELS sound system. It’s true that the RDX isn’t exactly a poor-man’s SUV, but it does offer significant savings, over the majority of its similarly equipped competitors that can reach well beyond the $60,000 mark.
The 2020 Acura RDX A-Spec does a good job of handling the tasks of a typical family SUV, but it also delivers a confident and engaging driving experience that a lot of comparables are lacking. The A-Spec package also offers a way to differentiate the RDX from the slew of small SUVs on the road, paying homage to Acura’s sporting heritage while saving some cash over the competition. For those reasons, the RDX would be one of my top picks in the segment, and if you could get used to the tricky infotainment system, it really could be the leading choice for many families.