Test Drive: 2016 Acura RDX Elite

This review begins with a tale of automotive woe. You see, our family vehicle is a Mercedes ML BlueTEC diesel-powered SUV. It’s a nice rig but after the last repair bill, I entertained the idea of replacing it with a Japanese SUV; something new, and hopefully, eternally reliable.

My list of potential replacement rides included Infiniti’s QX50, Nissan’s Murano, and Acura’s RDX. The last RDX I tested was a 2013 model, which I liked save for its front-wheel biased “slip-and-grip” all-wheel-drive system with Intelligent Control.

For 2016, Acura has retuned the AWD setup, and in doing so increased rear torque bias. Now up to 40% of total torque can be directed to the rear wheels; thus reducing front wheel slippage on wet and slippery surfaces before the rear wheels jump into service, but not eliminating it.

Despite this moderate gain in traction, a more crucial test was yet to come.

Would our rather ungainly – and all too large – family mutt fit comfortably in the cargo-hold of the RDX? Though the Murano passed this stage with flying colours, the QX50 failed miserably due to its undersized cargo bay.

A picture is worth a thousand words, so have a look. With 739 litres of volume behind the rear seat, the answer is “yes,” but barely.

So, is an RDX on its way into my garage? No. I came to my senses and realized that throwing good money after bad (or is that bad money after good?) is not all that prudent.

The ML has been running well since the replacement of all things BlueTEC, plus it rewards with remarkably good fuel-economy. Significantly better in fact than that which the RDX is returning, and it requires premium fuel rather than less expensive diesel.

In addition to a more equitable split of torque front-to-rear, Acura has endowed the vehicle’s 3.5 litre SOHC i-VTEC V6 engine with a little more authority. It’s up six horsepower to 279, and up one pound-foot of torque to 252. To be honest, I can’t feel it. The RDX seems just as quick and capable as it did in 2013, and that’s a compliment.

Fuel-efficiency is enhanced with Acura’s Cylinder Management technology, which deactivates three cylinders when power demand is low. Fewer pistons popping means less fuel burning, or so the theory goes. I averaged 13.6L/100km of mostly city driving, which failed to impress me.

Nonetheless, there’s plenty about the RDX that does impress – remember, it earned a spot upon my coveted list of potential Mercedes ML replacements.

For 2016, Acura added their AcuraWatch bucket of safety and driver-assistance technologies. The list includes Adaptive Cruise Control and Collision Mitigation Braking with Forward Collision Warning. Also in the bucket is Lane Keeping Assist and Lane Departure Warning, combined with a multi-angle rearview camera setup.

The AcuraWatch suite of nannies won AJAC’s Best New Technology Award for 2015.

Not winning any awards – at least from me – is Acura’s On-Demand Multi-Use Display, which places a touch-screen below an upper non-touch screen. Together the screen-duo fulfills infotainment duties, such as audio, navigation, and vehicle settings.

I found the touch-screen annoyingly difficult to use, imparting a sense of unnecessary complexity. Further to this, I’m opposed to touch-screens in vehicles due to the distraction their use imposes.

On the positive side, the audio system in my top-of-the-line tester was superb, while the large navigation map was clear and easily interpreted.

On the road is where the RDX shines brightest. Visibility is good all-around for an SUV. Though it’s technically a five-seat vehicle, comfort is found when the rear centre seat remains unoccupied. In such cases, there’s plenty of room for a quartet to relax and enjoy the trip.

Ride quality is good, if not a touch on the firm side, with suspension noise that’s a little too noticeable for my liking. Nonetheless, the underpinnings generate crisp, competent handling dynamics, which contribute to the vehicle’s nimble on-road feel.

Long distance cruising would be a delight in the 2016 RDX thanks largely to its quiet cabin and the moxie of its V6 engine. Most compact SUVs and crossovers are powered by 4-cylinder engines incapable of matching the polish and eagerness of the RDX mill.

Whether devouring passing lanes or climbing mountain passes, the RDX lays down a smooth effortless track that would have many less assertive compact SUVs and crossovers struggling to keep up, at least until the next gas station.

2016 Acura RDX
Trim level: Elite
Price as tested (before taxes): $48,791.00
Freight: $2,170.00
Configuration: front engine, all-wheel drive
Engine/transmission: 3.5L 6-cylinder / 6-speed automatic
Power/torque: 279 hp / 252 lb-ft
Fuel (capacity): premium (60L)
Fuel-economy ratings (L/100km): city 12.4, highway 8.7
Observed fuel-economy (L/100km): 13.6
Warranty (basic): 4 years / 80,000 km
Competitors: Audi Q3, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50, Lexus NX, Mercedes-Benz GLC

Related links:

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