For those of us quietly seduced by the constantly evolving automotive sector, seems like only yesterday Honda introduced its upmarket Acura brand to the U.S. This coming March marks the 30-year anniversary of Japan's first luxury brand, targeting such established names as Cadillac and BMW. By the close of the 1980s, Nissan joined in with its Infiniti division while Toyota answered with Lexus.
The quest for luxury buyers only intensifies as South Korean's largest automaker, Hyundai, adding its own stand-alone luxury brand, Genesis last year.
This week's tester, the five-passenger Acura RDX compact crossover first arrived in 2007. In the 2013 model year, the five-door cruiser underwent a complete second-generation makeover and in 2016 receives a welcome mid-cycle refresh, first unveiled at the 2015 Chicago Show (this year's edition opens to the public Saturday, Feb. 13 and continues through Sunday, Feb. 21). Now standard in all RDX trims: heated front seats, rear air conditioning vents and power rear hatch. Optional is an all-new Advance Package with rain-sensing wipers, ventilated front seats and front/rear parking sensors.
Diminutive upmarket crossover rivals from Asia include Nissan's newly named QX50 (known as the EX prior to the 2014 model year) and Lexus' newly introduced NX crossover (debuting in 2015).
It's a good time to be a compact crossover of any ilk as the category enjoyed an unprecedented surge in 2015 as the auto industry's fastest growing segment. Auto dealers enjoyed the sales uptick as well.
Acura's RDX shares similar understructures with Honda's CR-V, but RDX dons a more potent V-6 under hood compared with CR-V's four banger. Having close relations with the CR-V has its perks; it ranked as the best-selling crossover of any size in 2015 and the eighth-best vehicle ringing up a cool 345,647 in U.S. sales. Ford's full-size F-150 light-duty pickup once again took top honors.
Expect a few more horsepower in the mid-cycle update. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine ups the ante to 279, six more than last year. In addition, fuel economy tweaks up a bit thanks to a revamp of Acura's Variable Cylinder Management, which temporarily quiets three of the six cylinders during select lower stress situations (such as highway cruising). Highway economy improves by one in both front drive and mid-west friendly all-wheel drive offerings. The V-6 connects up with a smooth-shifting six-speed automatic transmission; no manual shift is available.
Acura's RDX prioritizes a smooth, quiet ride over sports-tuned, slalom-ready handling, enjoyable as a versatile commuting throughout the Chicago's suburbs. Expect predictable, responsive braking thanks to a seven percent reduction in stroke ratio. Both front drive and Midwest-friendly rear drive are offered and qualify as the two basic trims. Three major options packages are available with both drivetrains.
Front-drive RDX pricing checks in at $35,370. Our all-wheel drive tester started at $36,870, and added the three available packages including technology package, AcuraWatch and new-for 2015 Advance Package for a bottom line of $41,870 before destination charge.
AcuraWatch includes driver assists such as radar-enhanced cruise control, lane keep assist, lane departure warning and a braking system which automatically deploys when sensing an impending crash. The technology package adds dual multi-function screens, rear cross traffic alert and blind-spot monitoring.
Exterior styling remains contemporary yet stylish. Acura, however, does take advantage of creative opportunities made possible by incorporating light emitting diodes (LED). In front, array of five small, square be-jeweled diodes step up from the grille area within cat's eye-shaped housing reaching side fenders. Once the sun sets, front lighting illuminates into a notable line design with light-pipe enhancements. Other Acura sedans and crossovers incorporate this eclectic light show. All this light-bright artistry flanks a three-dimensional front grille with shield-like Acura Plate and logo residing front side of a honeycomb grille.
Rear tail lights also utilize three artistic diodes, within red hued narrow horizontal housing. The profile benefits from high character lines and narrow side windows framed with chrome-like piping. Rear side cargo windows adopt a triangular shape. The hatch window smartly features a wiper and a top-side spoiler extension helping keep snow away and driver perception clear. Side-view mirrors include secondary blinker bands. Drivers enjoy good road perception in all directions.
The newly standard power rear lift gate rises with the push of a key-fob icon, interaction with exterior , electronic touch plate or push of dashboard button (no hands-free option yet), but head clearance remains limited because of the compact stature.
Compact crossovers such as RDX and CR-V have not only grown in stature, but size as well over the generations, much to the general comfort of occupants. Generous headroom in front and back and a wider footprint allow for three occupants in row two for short-term excursions. Cargo room behind second-row seats measures a segment impressive 26.1 cubic feet. Fold down the 60/40 split seatbacks semi flat onto cushions, and haul 61.3 cubic feet of stuff.
Electronic push-button start comes standard. The three-dimensional instrument panel features two circular analog gauges out front illuminated with white backlighting flanked by deeper set vertical quarter circles including a right-side fuel gauge and a left flank temperature gauge. An expanded 4.2-inch digital info screen (with AcuraWatch package) resides between the large chrome-trimmed center gauges with readout options (average fuel economy, average speed) summed by a right-side steering wheel prompt button.
Next redesign, Acura needs to add a power tilt and telescope feature to the current manual-mode steering column. All luxury transports, regardless of size, deserve such niceties.
The two-toned interior features contrasting black and silver hues interspersed with brushed aluminum dash trims. The two-tiered glove box door saunters down with the push of a left-side button. Dual, inline cup holders reside to the right of the floor-mounted mechanical six-speed transmission while ahead lies a port area with USB and iPod plugs and retracting cover for stowing portable electronics. When shifting into reverse, the left-side mirror tilts down, highlighting some hidden regions.
A two-screen multi-function center dash display (available with technology package) includes a deep-set non-touch eight-inch upper window with extended shade brim featuring interactive navigation map, rear backup and clock display. Other mode selections get summoned by a large circular center dial and push button below the second touch screen, which is largely reserved for audio/portable-electronic business and temperature readouts. A black, stand-alone stalk-like volume knob also turns the audio system off/on with a gentle push. While impressive looking, this design takes a few more clicks and twists to reach a desired command than others available.
As mentioned earlier, the V-6's highway fuel economy improves by one mile per gallon in 2016. Front drive RDXs now register 20 mpg city and 29 mpg highway while all-wheel-drive versions rate 19 mpg city and 28 mpg highway; decent for a six-cylinder in this segment. Keep in mind Acura recommends premium 91 octane fuel for optimal results.
The refreshed 2016 RDX calls East Liberty Ohio its production home. The RDX's kissing cousin, the popular Honda CR-V began production there in 2006.
At a Glance2016 Acura RDX
Price as tested: $41,870
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 184.4 inches
Width: 73.7 inches
Height: 65.0 inches
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
City/Highway economy: 19 mpg city/ 28 mpg highway
Assembly: East Liberty, Ohio