Acura RDX ute revs up the brand

Henry Payne
The Detroit News

Acura jump-started its brand at the Detroit auto show Monday with an all-new RDX compact SUV. Aimed at luxury’s hottest segment, the RDX brings its trademark value — but wraps it in a more stylish package.

The Acura RDX makes its premiere at the Detroit auto show.

Bowing at the North American International Auto Show -- and culminating a two-year design exercise that introduced a supercar, a design concept, and interior concept at auto shows from coast to coast -- the RDX for the first time brings together Acura’s new design direction on an all-new platform.

The show car is labeled "RDX Prototype," but a spokesperson said little will change to the production vehicle, set to launch this spring.  The debut trim will be a sport-trimmed A-Spec model, showing Acura's commitment to returning to its performance roots. All vehicles going forward will feature A-Spec and Type-S badges -- the latter a racy high-horsepower model.

“Beginning today, RDX will fully implement Acura design inside and out,” said General Manager John Ikeda, with the RDX in stunning red behind him onstage. “The future for Acura starts here.”

Gone is the controversial Acura chrome beak — also derisively called the bottle opener — which came to symbolize Acura’s detour into passion-less vehicles that lacked visual separation from their Honda parent. Honda has come back from its own identity crisis with the critically acclaimed Civic and Accord — and with the RDX, Acura is poised to do the same.

Though the midsize, three-row MDX crossover and TLX sedan had previously received the “diamond pentagon” grille pioneered by Acura’s Precision Concept at the 2016 Detroit show, the RDX is the first vehicle to apply the concept’s new design language comprehensibly across a new skeleton.

The RDX ditches the Honda-like gills on the front and rear fascias for a more singular look derived from the hybrid NSX superccar. RDX engineer Steve Hansen says the dash-to-axle ratio has been increased, pushing the wheels to the corners of the chassis so that the dramatic fascia (complete with signature Acura “Jewel Eye” LED headlights) flows comfortably into the RDX’s sculpted flanks.

“Dragon’s tail” lights punctuate the Acura’s rear end underneath a tapered “floating” roof design.

Under the hood, a new, 2.0-liter VTEC turbo brings 40 percent more torque and is mated to a quick-shifting 10-speed transmission — a first for the segment. Acura’s advanced SH-AWD, torque-vectoring-all-wheel-drive system promises good traction in Michigan blizzards.

More dramatic than the exterior is the RDX’s class-leading interior space and totally redesigned “floating console” — echoing the Acura Precision Interior that debuted at the Los Angeles Show in 2016. The design is anchored by the distinctive trigger shifter seen in other Acura’s like the NSX supercar.

But most telling is Acura ditching its confusing two-screen infotainment system — replaced by a remote screen controlled from a touch pad. Acura says the pad maps the screen 1:1 — so-called “absolute positioning” — so your finger is always in the same place on the pad as the cursor is on the screen.

For all its changes, the RDX remains a bargain with a suite of standard options that have made it consistently competitive in class — and racked up seven straight years of sales increases.

Likely to start in the mid-$30,000 range, the RDX comes with standard driver-assist and safety systems like collision mitigation, lane-keep assist, and adaptive cruise control.

Also standard — a panoramic sunroof.

The 2019 model is the first RDX to developed in the U.S. by designers in LA and an engineering team in Raymond, Ohio. All RDX models for the North American market will continue to be built in the company's East Liberty, Ohio, plant.

Henry Payne is auto critic for The Detroit News. Find him at or Twitter @HenryEPayne. Catch “Car Radio with Henry Payne” from noon-1 p.m. Saturdays on 910 AM Superstation.