Now in its third generation, the RDX is a big deal for Acura. Sales-wise, it’s the most popular vehicle in the luxury brand’s portfolio, and it’s one of the best-selling vehicles in the luxury segment overall. As much as we love and lust after the NSX, it’s the RDX that represents the way forward for the Acura brand. So when Acura recently tossed us the keys to a 2020 RDX A-Spec, we got inside to see just where Honda’s luxury arm is headed.
Launched for the 2019 model year, this newest RDX is the first vehicle penned under Acura’s newest design language. Gone is the “beak” that was loathed by most of the auto press, and in its place is a pentagonal grille that brings a sense of normalcy back to the brand. Angry-looking headlights come standard, and they flow nicely into the muscular front fenders. Crisp character lines convey a sense of movement, and the floating roof keeps things looking interesting in the back.
This RDX is also the first SUV to benefit from Acura’s performance-inspired A-Spec appearance package, which adds a bit of attitude in the form of gloss-black accents, 20-inch wheels and massive exhaust tips. Frankly, the standard RDX doesn’t do much for us, but we are smitten with the A-Spec version. It transforms the RDX from SUV to angry sci-fi robot, which appeals massively to our inner nerd.
Same goes for the interior. Things inside the RDX A-Spec are all black and aluminum, with the same crazy angles you’d find on the most extreme Gunpla Mobile Suit Gundam model. The requisite red contrast stitching is present here, as are red seats, evoking the cabin of the legendary Acura Integra Type R. Also bathed in red are the startup and shut down screens, whose animations remind us of the title treatment to Stranger Things, but with a Formula 1 soundtrack. It’s all incredibly cool to look at, though we can’t help but wonder how well things will age as time goes on.
For the driver, the RDX’s cabin does a lot of things right, from the comfortable, supportive seats to the fat, grippy steering wheel. There’s plenty of adjustment available, so it’s easy to find that perfect driving position, too. Too bad about the entertainment system, though.
The third-gen RDX is the first to get Acura’s new True Touchpad interface, which uses a split touchpad to control the large, high-res, split-screen display. We like the idea of using two different zones to access different features. However, we’re not a fan of the system “losing” and resetting our place in the menus should we ever lift our finger. It’s incredibly frustrating, and it distracts us from the road. Maybe it’s something one can get used to, but even after a week with this system, we’re still getting lost. Oh well, at least the high-end ELS Studio 3D audio system still sounds great.
Driving the RDX is a mixed bag — or at least, it was at first. Again, there’s a lot of technology that went into the development of this latest version, and Acura is quick to point out that the handling and performance was directly inspired by its awesome NSX.
The chassis of the RDX is stiffer and lighter, and our tester is equipped with Acura’s proven Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system. Power comes from an all-new turbocharged 2.0-litre inline four that’s rated at 278 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. The 10-speed transmission is a smart piece of engineering as well, able to jump down as much as four gears at once should extra oomph be needed.
But when driving the RDX A-Spec, it all feels average. It goes well, it turns okay, and the ride is comfortable. But the excitement that this sporty A-Spec package suggests is ultimately missing.
But then we twisted that Dynamic Mode dial up to “Sport” and things got a whole lot different. Gone was the sedate SUV and in its place was an eager, athletic machine. Throttle response sharpened up, as did the steering feel. We began to feel connected to the RDX and the road itself, and our levels of enjoyment ramped up significantly. This is some of the old-school driving magic that got us hooked on the Honda and Acura brands back in the ’90s, and we’re glad to see that this magic still has a place in modern society. From this point on, we’ll just opt to keep the RDX A-Spec in sport mode and pretend that Normal mode doesn’t exist.
After spending a week in the 2020 Acura RDX A-Spec, we get why it’s a success. It’s attractive, practical, fun to drive, and it feels more premium than its $46,000 MSRP suggests. Best of all, average transaction prices are much, much less. If you don’t need the sci-fi robot looks, the standard RDX with SH-AWD is selling in the mid-high $30k (USD) range, and it’s mechanically identical to the A-Spec we’re talking about here. As it stands, the 2020 RDX is one compelling package, and if this is a taste of things to come from Acura, we can’t wait to see what comes next.