2018 Acura RDX Elite Road Test Review

August 16 2019, North Shore Acura

2018 Acura RDX Elite Road Test Review

A great luxury SUV for an even better deal than usual

I'd like you to contemplate something for a moment. The RDX just passed six years since the current second-generation design went into production in March of 2012, and two years since its subtle yet effective facelift in 2016. Nevertheless, Acura Canada found more compact luxury SUV buyers in 2017 than all but one of its competitors. So what does the RDX have that the others don't?

Obviously premium SUV buyers like the RDX' styling, its sharp, sporty lines and standard LED headlamps plenty distinctive, while that latter feature brings up another important point, value for money.

LED headlights and V6 engine highlight the standard value proposition

The RDX, which starts at $42,390 before discount, is one of few compact luxury SUVs with standard LED headlights, while it also comes standard with a powerful V6, a pricey option with its rivals if available at all. One could argue this pro as a con with regular unleaded hovering above the $1.50 per litre mark in Greater Vancouver, but so far rising pump prices haven't negatively affected SUV sales, so this may be an issue for its turbocharged four-cylinder 2019 RDX successor to address.

Yes, if you want a new RDX with a V6 you'd better act quickly. A six-cylinder may show up as an option sometime in the future, but so far Acura hasn't mentioned anything. For all we know the current 3.5-litre V6 with its smooth, linear 279 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque, not to mention its well-proven six-speed automatic transmission, will be relegated to Acura's history books when the new third-generation RDX arrives in BC dealerships later this year.

Still, six-cylinder powertrains can be quite efficient when burdened with sizeable curb weights, the RDX tipping the scales at 1,781 to 1,797 kilos depending on trim. The relaxed nature of the larger engine can actually save fuel in real world driving, especially when hills and highways are a factor. Even when comparing Transport Canada five-cycle fuel economy ratings the 2018 RDX fares pretty well at a claimed 12.4 L/100km city, 8.7 highway and 10.7 combined next to its 2.0-litre turbocharged competitors, most of which average about 10.0 L/100km combined. The RDX' impressive efficiency is partially due to its still innovative yet long-time use of Variable Cylinder Management (VCM), which automatically shuts down three of its six cylinders when under light loads like coasting, while no one will argue against the sportier V6 exhaust note and more premium feel.

$3,000 discount brings the base price down to $39,390

So like I said earlier, make sure to snap up a 2018 RDX if you prefer V6 performance and refinement, the latter aided by Active Control Engine Mounts (ACM), and while you're at it you'll benefit from an automatic $3,000 discount provided via "Customer Incentive Dollars," this bringing my RDX Elite tester's suggested retail price down from $47,390 to $44,390. If you'd rather get into something more basic, the reduced entry-level RDX price comes in at $39,390, or alternatively the mid-range RDX Tech can be had for $42,390.

Yes, for less than $40k a base RDX comes with the aforementioned V6 and auto on/off Jewel Eye LED headlights, plus standard LED taillights, all-wheel drive, 18-inch alloys, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, ambient cabin lighting, a leather-wrapped multi-function steering wheel, heatable eight-way powered front seats with powered lumbar support, two-position driver's memory for the seat and side mirrors, a colour TFT multi-information display, a HomeLink garage door opener, an auto-dimming centre mirror, dual-zone automatic climate control, a rearview camera with guidelines, Bluetooth phone connectivity with audio streaming, SMS text message functionality, a 360-watt seven-speaker audio system, satellite radio, a powered moonroof, a powered tailgate, and more. That's superb value, even without the $3k discount.

RDX standard safety is unparalleled for the price

Those who prioritize safety over creature comforts will notice I haven't even delved into the subject yet, the RDX loaded with all of the segment's expected active and passive safety features as well as an impressive array of standard AcuraWatch driver-assist systems that would cost thousands more with some competitors, these including Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC), Forward Collision Warning (FCW), autonomous Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), Lane Departure Warning (LDW), and Lane Keeping Assist System (LKAS). This gives the Canadian-spec base model IIHS Top Safety Pick status (these systems are optional in the U.S.) and a best possible five stars from the NHTSA. Are you starting to understand why the RDX is so popular?

Mid-range Tech trim increases the RDX' safety net with Blind Spot Information and Cross Traffic Monitoring, as well as a plethora of convenience and luxury items like remote engine start, rain-sensing wipers, a larger 8.0-inch LED backlit display with navigation and voice recognition, dynamic guidelines for the backup camera, a separate On-Demand Multi-Use touchscreen display, advanced AcuraLink smartphone connectivity, Siri Eyes Free, a 10-speaker 410-watt ELS Studio audio upgrade, a more advanced GPS-linked, solar-sensing system for the climate control, leather upholstery, heatable second-row outboard seats, and more for a mere $3,000 added to the bottom line.

Lastly, my RDX Elite benefited from sportier looking 18-inch alloys, fog lamps, auto-dimming side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, and ventilated front seats, all for only $2,000 extra.

This is where I should remind you about the top-line RDX Elite model's $44,390 asking price (less discount), which despite its full load of features is still less expensive than most of its rivals' base prices. To be clear, the Q5 starts at $44,950, GLC at $45,900, Volvo XC60 also at $45,900, and BMW X3 at $46,700. Some others in the class are priced a bit lower, but not by much.

Impressive fit and finish plus loads of interior room

If the RDX were undeserving of your time and attention its proposed value would be a nonissue, but it remains a good-looking SUV with a nicely finished interior and strong performance. Starting inside, a generous supply of leather-like padded soft-touch surfaces can be found in all the appropriate places, as can de rigueur fabric-wrapped roof pillars and high-quality, tight fitting, well-damped switchgear throughout. All of the aforementioned features work well, its navigation particularly accurate, while its seats are comfortable and supportive front to back, with rear seat roominess especially good.

Likewise, the RDX can haul more cargo than most competitors thanks to 739 litres of capacity behind its rear row and 2,178 litres when its 60/40-split rear seatbacks are folded down, and that's one of the easiest procedures in the class due to standard cargo wall-mounted levers that drop each side automatically.

Performance and ride quality strikes an ideal balance

As for performance, the V6 provides more off the line jump than the majority of base challengers, and while its six-speed automatic might be down a couple of gears by modern-day standards, the torquey engine hardly needs as many shift points to optimize performance. In fact, most won't notice this supposed shortcoming at all, as it swaps cogs almost unperceivably unless getting hard on the throttle, at which point it does so with nice positive engagements, enhanced by standard steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters for more hands-on command, plus Grade Logic Control that regulates throttle and braking on steep hills. This is joined by standard Hill Start Assist, which locks the brakes so you won't roll backward before applying the throttle.

Pulling back on those paddle shifters is especially enjoyable when the road starts to wind, allowing more engine control for powering out of corners and then setting up the next turn. The RDX' well-engineered independent suspension helps most in this respect, thanks to a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear setup that's kept in check via Amplitude Reactive Dampers that minimize fore and aft jounce as well as transitional roll while maintaining a smooth, comfortable ride at all times. Plenty of sound deadening materials along with Active Sound Control (ASC) aid in refinement too, giving the RDX the kind of upscale experience premium buyers gravitate toward.

RDX delivers unbeatable luxury SUV value

So now you know why the RDX still sells so well in spite of its seasoned design, and hopefully you can also appreciate that it remains an impressive luxury SUV despite its low price point. No doubt the upcoming 2019 RDX will be a wholly better compact luxury utility, but there's certainly no reason to put off buying the current version now, and as noted there are a number of reasons that might make this purchase even more advantageous. The standard V6 is definitely a performance and refinement bonus with little if any negative hit to fuel economy, and the model's marketplace longevity has got to aid long-term reliability expectations. Topping it all off, the RDX' standard suite of advanced safety features can't be beat, making it a no-brainer purchase for smart luxury SUV shoppers. All added up, I've got to slot the 2018 RDX onto my highly recommended list. Too bad there are so few of them left.