2016 Acura RDX Review: Redesigned and More Refined
Rolling around the Whole Foods parking lot, the RDX is at peace in its natural habitat: Five older models of the RDX pull in and out of parking spots around it, their well-to-do drivers eyeing the silver stallion with looks of longing. This is the soccer mom station wagon of 2016, offering enough room for both kids and pets, along with all of the amenities you could want in an Acura, as it showcases more tech, power, and complementary features than any other incarnation prior. It’s the kind of crossover that stands out enough to glean a few nods of recognition, while remaining complacent enough that it does not attract too much attention while speeding.
I, for one, have been waiting on this car with baited breath for quite some time: I’m the proud owner of a first generation RDX, and was thrilled when I heard that I was going to get the latest and greatest installment for an entire week. It doesn’t come with a turbocharged K23 powerplant like mine did, or the clever Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), but we can get to that later since there have been a lot of updates to this car that make a lot of sense.
Our loaded 2016 RDX came with AcuraWatch, lane departure warning systems, an accident avoidance set-up, and blind spot monitoring leading the charge alongside a multi-view back-up camera that warns you of approaching traffic. It gets a slightly more powerful engine to go with its marginally larger cabin, there are also rain-sensing wipers, air conditioned and heated front seats, an eight-way power passenger seat, as well as front and rear parking sensors. Infotainment, ELS audio, navigation with real-time traffic, and every kind of imaginable connectivity can be had in this top tier “Advance Version.”
But there’s something missing from the equation with this car. For as good as it is, there is very little fun left with this one — the reason why millions of Americans loved the RDX when it first hit the market in 2006. Nine years later, a lot has changed; it’s now a far older, more mature version of its previous self. Long gone are the fun-filled, turbocharged days of old, where quirkiness and luxury made love beneath a two-ton blanket of stamped Japanese steel. Those days are done, and in their place resides reliability, technology, safety, and predictable power. This isn’t a bad thing, it just means that the RDX is officially settling down, and as with all things in life, this can be both a boring and rewarding at the same time.
Built for sensibility’s sake, the 2016 Acura RDX features a mountain of improvements over the previous generation which for many RDX enthusiasts spelled the end of all things “R” in the badge. It may not be a neck-snapper, but throwing 279 horsepower at the pavement from a 3.5-liter V6 motor isn’t half bad, and unlike other compact crossovers, slapping the shifter into “Sport Mode” proves that both RPMs and throttle response will lean a hair toward the aggressive side. The suspension and handling are predictable and dutiful, and while they may not warrant a thrilling drive, it is nice to feel both somewhat connected and comfortable at the same time.
This vehicle has Variable Cylinder Management, which means it can run on three of its six cylinders at any given time to save fuel. Due to this development, Acura boasts that this new model can now hit 28 miles per gallon on the highway and see 19 in the city. Having a six-speed gearbox aids in this pursuit, and paddle shifters are there on the column if housewives want to get a bit frisky beneath the bonnet.
The RDX has good visibility, doesn’t ride too low or high, and carries with it those bejeweled eyes that everyone is talking about. It now has a facelift that matches a new grille and light-piped rear LED lamps that give off a very neat glow at night. On the inside, the pull-latches in the cargo area easily drop the rear seats, and the headroom and legroom departments in all five areas is sufficient, to say the least.
All of the car’s controls are pretty easy to locate and operate, and while the buttons on the steering wheel feel a bit flat-faced compared to the first generation, they aren’t difficult to reach for or overly sensitive to the touch. The center stack is a lot more compact than the original RDX, but everything is still in a logical position, and touch screen capabilities make navigating easier at times. Auxillary, USB, and accessory power jacks lay tucked up front in a sliding pocket drawer, and more ports can be found once the center armrest is lifted. Air circulation in the backseat is solid, and having both keyless entry and a power lift-gate is a godsend for suburban shoppers everywhere.
At $43,420, the 2016 Acura RDX is a nice ride for anyone wanting a lot of comfort for the money. It offers practically everything you could want and need in a luxury compact-crossover, all backed by Honda reliability and safety. This is a car for proper people, who like order in their lives, and don’t want to get too far out of their comfort zone for fear of being accused of being immature, or unsavory in some way. Which leads us back to the RDX being a grown-up version of its prior self, and why Acura needs to realize that playing it safe isn’t always the best bet.
When I got the chance to test and review the Lexus NX 200t F-Sport back in April, I was on cloud nine: this was just the kind of compact crossover that makes you feel alive when you drive it, and popping it into Sport Mode really kicked its turbocharged butt into gear when you wanted it. This is the reason why I still think the first generation of the RDX will always be the best, because it wasn’t afraid to be a bit rowdy. But while it remained undeniably devoted to the luxury end of Acura, many people complained that the suspension was too firm, that its turbocharged engine was a hair loud, and that it didn’t get great gas mileage. These are all fair points, but at least it had soul, and carried with it a sense of self that didn’t really care what all the other cars in the parking lot thought, because while it may have blended-in pretty well in the design department, anyone who got behind the wheel of a first gen was in for quite the surprise.
The RDX of today is this well-designed, polished blend that sits somewhere between an under-sized MDX and an ornate CR-V, with a layout that has been downgraded in certain ways, and upgraded in others. It doesn’t utilize deep gauge pods anymore, but a flat, white-looking set of gauges instead, with no more cupholder door covers, or a center console deep enough for a small briefcase. Sure, the RDX uses its AWD system well, but it’s just a shadow of the award-winning SH-AWD setup from the older generations, where power and stability were constantly shifting between wheels to supply safety and performance. Here is a car that gets more horsepower but less torque than its ancestor, doggedly attempting to hold on to its youth, but only coming across as someone who is trying too hard to show that they’ve still got what it takes.
But after driving the 2016 RDX every day for a week, I can’t really say that I blame it. This is the rational progression one comes to expect in life as you grow older, realizing that cutting corners in some areas makes it possible to excel in others. There are a dozen different safety and tech features on this thing that I wish came on my 2007 RDX, along with a ride that is both smooth and silent. It just won’t ever be offered with an aggressive Acura A-Spec aero kit like mine did, and it will forever be getting confused for its big brother, the MDX, since their headlights look so similar.
So would I recommend the 2016 Acura RDX with all the bells and whistles? Absolutely. This is a great car, and offers everything a regular at Whole Foods could want in a compact crossover, because as we grow-up so do our cars, and Acura recognizes this fact. But if for whatever reason you still have a few wild hairs, and prefer shooting your bourbon instead of sipping it, I recommend looking at a pre-2012 RDX, as they’re as reliable and fun as the day is long. Sinking into the suburban substrate isn’t for everyone, so maybe take this new model for a spin and then drive an older one, because trial and error breeds progression, and that’s why Acura will always advance.