Return to form.Acura was one of the first automakers to capitalize on the idea of a sporty crossover when it first unveiled the RDX way back in the late aughts.
Those early models had some punch, but as time went by, the RDX wasn't unlike so many ex-athletes – the weight kicked in and performance ebbed away. Other sportier options came into the market and, suddenly, the RDX, once one of the only options for anyone who wanted a fine-handling turbocharged crossover, became severely overshadowed.
Since its debut in 2018, the latest RDX has been changing that. It found a workout routine that works – it now has more power than anything in its class and has the handling to go with it. Highway cruising allows time to appreciate the comfortable seats and Acura build quality.
The competition is fiercer than ever in this category, but the well-rounded 2021 Acura RDX has no trouble holding off assailants, even with pricing that far undercuts the German competitors. Base RDX models cost just north of $39,000, while fully-equipped examples sticker around $50,000.
Performance puppy. Like most cars these days, the RDX gets its power from a 2.0-liter turbo four-cylinder. That alone isn't impressive or surprising. But the outstanding thing about Acura's mill is its power output.
At 272 horsepower, it's the most potent option you can buy in a compact luxury crossover. And did we mention this engine is shared with the Honda Civic Type R?
Acura puts its surplus horsepower to good use. 0-60 mph happens in a quick 6.5 seconds, and in the real world, that translates to brisk takeoffs from a stop and effortless passing power on the highway. The 10-speed automatic transmission is a willing accomplice in all this, snapping off gear changes with authority and not afraid to downshift up to four gears at once.
Multiple driving modes and a well-tuned chassis mean twisty roads are something to look forward to. Tellingly, two of the three driving modes have the word 'sport' in them, a clue to what the RDX is all about. Keep it in the middle mode, Sport, and you get a crossover that deftly balances crisp handling and well-timed shifts with a firm but comfortable ride.
All-wheel drive isn't standard, but well worth the $2,000 upcharge. It doesn't just send traction rearward; it also can vector the torque from side to side, sending specific dollops of the stuff to each wheel. The advanced system can send up to 70% of power to the rear tires, and of that up to 100% can be sent to either rear wheel.
Befitting an Acura, plenty of sound-deadening has been stuffed throughout the RDX, so any unwanted sounds from the powertrain are well masked. It's quiet and composed at speed, banishing wind and engine noise and quickly scuttling the effects of lumpy, broken pavement.
The only sore spot here? Gas mileage. Even in its most efficient form, don't expect better than 22 miles per gallon city, 28 mpg highway, and 24 combined. All-wheel drive cuts that down to 21/27/23 mpg (city/highway/combined). More efficient options are out there.
Cossetting cabin. Inside, the Acura feels the part of luxury compact crossover. Fine materials are slathered across most surfaces, and build quality is tight – no loose-fitting pieces or unattractive panel gaps here. The vertically-oriented, button-happy design might not be everyone's cup of tea, though.
While some five-passenger crossovers are such only by technicality, that's not the case here. Despite not having an adjustable rear seatback, there's still 38 inches of rear leg room and a tall roof. The floor doesn't have much of a drivetrain tunnel either, further reducing the discomfort of sitting three abreast.
Behind those rear seats is 31.1 cubic feet of cargo space, though that improves to nearly 80 cubic feet when the seats are folded down. There's also a little cubby under the load floor that's good for another two cubic feet worth of laptop bag or snow brush.
Infotainment woes. Infotainment displays can make or break a car these days. With the Acura, we can't call their system a deal breaker, but it certainly wouldn't sway us to sign the paperwork.
Our biggest gripe with the system is its lack of a touchscreen interface. All commands are routed through a touchpad interface. Per Acura, the system is supposed to be more intuitive than the typical touchscreen; we think this current digital age has made pinching, tapping, and swiping second nature. Reorienting to the Acura's touchpad to navigate the seemingly endless menus is a tedious pain.
Thankfully, Apple CarPlay and Android come standard. We'd just use that to circumvent Acura's home brew system. It makes the 10.2-inch display much easier to use and navigate.
All that said, we can't help but praise the 16-speaker ELS audio system. It sounds great and should impress any audiophile.
Safety raves. In terms of safety, the RDX is hard to beat. The NHTSA and IIHS both gave it their top marks; five stars from one and a Top Safety Pick Plus from the other. Interestingly, the IIHS preferred the base headlights over the LEDs used in the Advance trim.
Standard safety equipment includes automatic emergency braking, forward collision warning, adaptive cruise control, lane keeping assist, and lane departure warning. Blind-spot monitoring comes on all but the base model, and top-shelf models get a surround-view camera.
Final thoughts. Despite a frustrating infotainment design, the 2021 Acura RDX is a real crowd-pleaser. Its affordable pricing, excellent handling, lively engine, and impressive safety sheet provide a great balance of performance and livability. Get it in the Technology or A-Spec guise and be on your way.
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