Acura guns for the sports luxury SUV market with the RDX

Almost there.

The Acura RDX (starting at $37,400) got a much-needed redesign and infusion of tech for the 2019 model. The SUV went from a boring box to an aggressive-looking, less-expensive competitor to the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. But is the transformation more than skin deep?

One of the big features Acura has been touting for the redesigned RDX is the updated infotainment system with the True Touchpad interface. Instead of the touchscreen that has become the norm, the automaker has decided to use a trackpad on the center console to interact with the SUV's features. But unlike the trackpad on your laptop or in Lexus' vehicles, the pad is a one-to-one scale mapping of the display.

In other words, if you place your finger in the top left corner of the pad, you're selecting that corner on the 10.2-inch display. Pick up your finger up and place it on the bottom right corner and you're selecting the bottom right corner on the display. It's absolute positioning and while it takes a day or so to get used to it, it's actually a refreshing alternative to the pointing and tapping of touchscreens.

The advantage is that you can build muscle memory like you would with tangible buttons and knobs. The edge of the pad has a ridge to help orient you and you can select items from the screens without having to look at the display or the touchpad. The cushioned handrest in front of the pad helps keep your hand in the same position as you use both the main and smaller secondary touchpad (placed directly to the right of the main one and controls the ride-side of the display) and associated home and back buttons.

The infotainment system itself resembles a tablet with all the features laid out in a grid. It has quick access to most of the items drivers care about: media, navigation, phone, etc... I do feel like it's missing a proper customizable home page that surfaces features, but the secondary picture-in-picture in the display does offer additional information like navigation, a clock and what song is playing.

The only real issue I had with the system was that swiping left and right to switch screens didn't always work. Getting the right amount of pressure onto the pad to move pages horizontally was tricky and even after a week, my fail rate was about 20%.

Plus, the system does support CarPlay, but the smartphone integration doesn't work with the absolute position feature so you're stuck tapping and dragging having to determine your "location" based on what's highlighted which isn't ideal.

Behind the wheel, some of the driver's assistance features are on par with other cars in this price range (especially the adaptive cruise control), but it can't hold a candle to the slightly pricier Audi and BMW. The adaptive cruise control system is smooth in traffic and on the open highway. It does a fine job adjusting the speed of the RDX when a car merges into its lane without slamming on the brakes. The lane keep assist though, it needs some tweaking.

On straightaways, it does a fine job keeping the car in its lane. But anything more than a mild curve on the highway and it can't handle the angle. I also encountered issues with the system just not recognizing lane markings enough to be enabled. Fortunately, the RDX can still identify when you veer out of a lane. Which frankly is more important, but it would be nice to use the lane keep assist more often while stuck in traffic.

Meanwhile, unassisted driving in the RDX matches its new aggressive exterior. The 2.0-liter VTEC turbo-charged 4-cylinder engine pushes out 272 horsepower and 280-foot-pounds of torque. It's quick off the line and the torque makes overtaking slower drivers a breeze. Plus when you put the hammer down, in Sport mode, the RDX has a satisfying but subdued growl.

The RDX Acura dropped off was equipped with the company's SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive). Yes it's a wacky name, but I sort of love it and on the road, I'd opt for the $2000 option of having all four wheels working at once over the standard front-wheel drive. It enhances the traction around corners and in inclement weather. I found the vehicle adept at handling twisty mountain roads for a vehicle its size. Sadly, our trip into the mountains to test the vehicle's ability to handle snow was canceled because there was too much of it in Tahoe and the roads were closed.

The biggest issue while driving the RDX was the 10-speed automatic transmission. It's entirely too aggressive at slow and medium speeds. It always seemed to be shifting gears up and down far too often while I was casually driving around town. When pushed, it flies through gears with aplomb, but slowing down it never seems to know where it wants to be. A quick fix to that was to put the SUV into Sport mode. Which isn't typically what I use while driving through town.

But no matter where you go (or what gear you're in), the RDX is a head turner. The previous generation was a boring, bland affair that was easily forgettable. The 2019 model, on the other hand, is bold with dynamic angles and a falcon-like profile that looks like its ready to cut through the wind while hunting rabbits, gophers or inspiring the Star Wars universe.

The interior is more civilized and comfortable with touches of luxury. It's not on par with the inside of the pricier Audi Q5 or BMW X3, but it's close. Plus, the comfy, heated seats were a welcome relief when I hurt my back (never get old).

The rear cargo area with its 31.1-cubic feet of space when the rear seats are up is enough for shopping runs, camping expeditions or tossing a mid-size drum set in to. With the seats down, snowboards and Ikea dressers fit comfortably.

The RDX slots nicely into an urban or suburban lifestyle with a design that'll impress your artsy friends while having enough room to drag their latest canvas to the pop-up show at a dilapidated train station. The vehicle's updated infotainment's input method is a refreshing alternative to touchscreens and joins a more aggressive design. It's an inexpensive alternative to German offerings and there are some tradeoffs for that value. But, if you're cool without having all the fancy bells and whistles in your car, the RDX is worth considering when shopping for sport luxury SUVs.

2019 Acura RDX
2019 Acura RDX
2019 Acura RDX
2019 Acura RDX