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2019 Acura RDX First Drive Review: Sounds as Good as It Looks

by Jimmy Dinsmore
2019 Acura RDX First Drive Review: Sounds as Good as It Lookszoom in

    2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD Advance

  • Powertrain: AWD
  • Engine: 2.0-liter 4-cylinder turbo
  • Horsepower: 272
  • Torque (lb-ft.): 280
  • Transmission: 10-speed automatic
  • Top Speed (mph): 125
  • City/Hwy/Combined MPG: 21/27
  • Curb Weight (lb): 4068
  • Wheelbase (in): 108.3
  • Total Length (in): 186.8
  • Price as Tested (USD): $47,400

It’s not often that one of the big talking points of a vehicle involves the sound system. But that’s exactly the case with the completely redesigned 2019 Acura RDX. Don’t get me wrong, the new look of this midsize SUV are stunning. The RDX was due for a makeover and it got one, to the point where Acura has launched a brand new platform. But, Acura also has turned to a Grammy-winning sound engineer to help improve this next generation RDX. Acura is so proud of the ELS 3D sound system in the RDX that they brought some of us automotive writers down to Nashville to check it out, and for an even cooler experience in an actual recording studio.

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ELS is named after the multi-Grammy winning engineer Elliot Scheiner. He was with us in Nashville at the famed Blackbird Recording Studios. Scheiner, who is not a car person, but an audiophile through and through mentioned that today’s vehicles don’t offer truly good sound. He leant his name and reputation to the RDX and collaborated closely with Acura to ensure the vehicle and audio system were truly harmonious. There are 16 speakers throughout the vehicle. Of particular note are speakers in the roof over the front seats and the back seats, so that all passengers are ensconced in sound. According to Acura, this is the first time speakers have been mounted in the roof, but that what it achieves is offering true studio-quality surround sound.

At the Blackbird Studios, we witnessed a band named The War and Treaty cut a song. Then Scheiner (referred by everyone as Els) edited the song. We heard it in the pristine conditions of the recording studio, then went to the RDX to listen to it in the car. What was notable was how there was virtually no difference in the sound quality from the studio to the RDX with the ELS 3D Sound System. Of course, none of this matters if the vehicle isn’t improved and doesn’t drive well.

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On looks alone, the RDX is stunningly different than the previous generation. The new front end is dramatic and impressive. The grille has a geometrically interesting look that seems to radiate inward toward the Acura logo. Gone are the days of the old Acura beak look. Now the RDX looks current and certainly has intended look to go after its main rivals from Japan and Europe. In profile, it’s sexy. The streamlined appearance is accentuated by chrome that runs along the roof line, but yields at the sloping C-pillar to give a floating look. This is kind of a design fad right now within the segment, but it’s not gimmicky here, and looks sleek and elegant. The rear spoiler highlights the back end. The curved tail lights add distinction to the RDX’s appearance, especially at night.

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In addition to the new look, there’s a brand new engine in the RDX. As is the trend, gone is the V6 engine, replaced by a more fuel-efficient and just-as-powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine. The 2019 RDX has all the pep and performance with this new engine, to the tune of 272 horsepower. It actually drives more like a 300+ hp vehicle, and it’s both fast off the line and comfortable in the higher gears. A lot of the fantastic performance is due to the new 10-speed automatic transmission. This is the best transmission I’ve seen come around in a while. The shifts are seamless, and there’s no turbo lag. Also, according to Acura, it has the capability to downshift four gears at once which helps the SUV’s overall performance dramatically. Combined with the new fuel-efficient engine, the RDX has best-ever fuel economy with an EPA rating of 21 mpg/city and 27 mpg/highway. My drive to Nashville and back saw me average nearly 26 mpg.

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The model I drove was the RDX SH-AWD Advance. With the return of Acura’s Super Handling All-wheel Drive, the RDX ups its game with improved torque vectoring and new gear ratios. The integrated dynamic driving system allows for the RDX to adapt to driving conditions. Switch into Sport mode and enjoy maximum torque vectoring and spirited driving. Snow mode will be ideal for Midwest winters. Comfort mode makes the RDX a little more refined.

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In addition to the aforementioned ELS Sound System, the interior of the RDX has been redefined and is more refined. Acura shakes off any criticism it received in the past as a “glorified Honda.” That can’t be said about the 2019 RDX, which packs plenty of soft touch points and actual wood trim throughout. Acura is a luxury brand and earns that with the RDX’s new interior. There’s ample headroom and legroom in the back seat with room for three passengers. The seats are supportive but it’s also easy to find the comfort zone. Behind the second-row there’s 29.5 cubic feet of cargo room. Fold the rear seats down and there’s 58.9 cubic feet of cargo room. Both seem just about the right for a midsize SUV.

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As great as the ELS 3D Sound System is, the new infotainment interface has a learning curve. Acura employs a True Touchpad Interface (TTI) with a customizable head-up display and a 10.2-inch full HD display, and support for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. The technology on this system is impressive. And once you adjust to the TTI it becomes more intuitive, however, I prefer knobs and simple touchscreens to these more convoluted interfaces. Fortunately, the voice recognition works great and helps navigate through some of the annoyances of the system.

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The AcuraWatch features bring more safety-oriented technology to the RDX with lane departure, collision mitigation braking, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning. The 2019 Acura RDX has a starting price of $37,300 making it competitively priced. My tricked-out tester, the RDX SH-AWD Advance, had an MSRP of $48,395.

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The Nashville sound studio experience was cool. Hearing the same sound come to life inside a vehicle made my four-hour drive to Nashville so much more enjoyable. Crank up a playlist and have your own personal concert, all with the comfort and performance of Acura’s new-look SUV.

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