Editor’s note: This review was written in September 2015 about the 2016 Acura RDX. Little of substance has changed with this year’s model. To see what’s new for 2017, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
The 2016 Acura RDX is a treat, with exciting driving dynamics and a posh, comfortable interior, but its fussy multimedia system left a bad taste in my mouth.
The RDX is lightly updated this year, with fresh front and rear styling outside and a new optional multimedia system inside; several advanced safety options are also new this year. Compare the 2015 and 2016 models here.
Competitors include the Audi Q5, Lincoln MKC and Lexus NX 200t. Compare all four here.
Exterior & Styling
In the field of luxury vehicles, the Acura brand has been the automotive equivalent of Punky Brewster: shooting for bold and bright, but often coming off garish, brash and not very stylish.
Maybe it’s how Acura has tried so hard to stand out, with its ever-expanding, face-consuming shield grille that’s made its vehicles blend in. Updates to its compact SUV for 2016, however, give the RDX a styling edge. Flashy multiple-LED headlights in the automaker’s signature jewel-eye design are standard and really pop against its more chiseled front end. In back, there’s a more angular bumper and new LED taillights. It’s understated compared with the Lexus NX’s bold face and the MKC’s elegance, and it matches the Q5’s smart style.
How It Drives
The RDX is fun to drive and handles like a smaller vehicle. It corners nimbly, with little body lean, and has great zip from a stop, especially in Sport mode. A new 279-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 makes 6 more hp than last year, and fuel economy is up a smidge too. The base two-wheel drive RDX is EPA-rated at 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined. That’s the same as the base Lincoln MKC and similar to the Audi Q5 (20/28/23), but not quite as high as the Lexus NX 200t (22/28/25). All four recommend premium gasoline. The MKC offers a more powerful gas engine option, and the Q5 has upgraded gasoline and diesel engines available.
Shifts with the RDX’s six-speed automatic are prompt but not especially smooth — again, something more noticeable in Sport mode.
On the highway, the ride is fairly smooth and very quiet overall, with good isolation from wind and road noise. My only complaint is with the steering. It has a solid, weighty feel, which I like, but has trouble staying on center at highway speeds and needs too much correction.
My test model was loaded and cost around $44,000, and though the interior was nice, it didn’t impart the same feeling of luxury you get from sinking into the sumptuous Audi Q5. The RDX’s heated and cooled front leather seats felt nice enough (the heat is standard, but the ventilation and leather are optional), and the brushed metal trim looked fine, but it was missing the wow factor expected from a luxury cabin. To add insult to injury, the moonroof is downright dinky.
Backseat comfort is high, with ample headroom and legroom and newly standard rear climate vents. By the numbers, the RDX has more backseat legroom than the MKC, NX and Q5, with 38.3 inches. In terms of rear headroom, it’s midpack. With 38.1 inches, it offers less than the Q5 (39.0) and MKC (38.7) but the same as the NX.
One annoyance is that the middle seat’s shoulder belt comes down from the roof, blocking visibility. The top tether anchor’s setup is the same; it also blocks visibility when used to install a forward-facing child-safety seat. Read our Car Seat Check for more information.
Ergonomics & Electronics
I imagine some blood was shed among Acura’s engineering teams when designing the multimedia system: the touch-screen camp versus the controller-knob group. Unfortunately, they both won. The RDX’s console panel is cluttered with screens, buttons and dials, and their relationship and placement are confusing. The large knob on the bottom controls the top screen’s functions, not those on the screen right above it, which is a touch-screen.
Once you figure out what’s going on where, the system is more user-friendly than the touchpad-based unit in the Lexus NX or Audi’s MMI control knob setup. I appreciate that the available navigation gets its own screen (on top), separate from the audio information (bottom screen), but there’s definitely a learning curve, and the console is a mess visually.
One thing Acura didn’t change for the RDX this year is the shifter. In other vehicles, like the MDX and related Honda Pilot, oddly placed electronic gear selector buttons replace the traditional shifter. Even without that change, though, the RDX has enough confusing buttons.
Cargo & Storage
Cargo room overall is good for a compact SUV. In front, there’s a deep center console and an additional bin near the shifter. In back, the cargo area is generous, though the floor is a bit high, so loading bulkier items feels a bit awkward.
By the numbers, the RDX has 26.1 cubic feet of space. That’s less than the Q5 (29.1) but more than the MKC (25.2) and NX 200t (17.7). The seats fold down quickly and easily via handy cargo-area levers. The Lexus NX has an optional power-folding second row — an unusual option. With the seats folded, the RDX has 61.3 cubic feet of maximum space, much more than competitors.
The 2016 Acura RDX hasn’t yet been crash-tested by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety or the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The 2015 model isn’t an IIHS Top Safety Pick, but Acura hopes to change that. The automaker says it has improved the body structure and expects the 2016 to provide better front collision protection.
A backup camera is standard. Newly available is the optional AcuraWatch suite of safety systems, which includes forward collision warning with autonomous braking, lane departure warning, adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist. Blind spot and rear cross-traffic detection systems are available in the Technology Package. Click here for a full list of safety features.
Value in Its Class
The 2016 Acura RDX starts around $36,000. The Lexus NX 200t and Lincoln MKC start a bit lower but, again, come standard with a four-cylinder engine instead of the RDX’s V-6. The Audi Q5 starts considerably higher, but comes standard with all-wheel drive.
The RDX is uncommonly generous with safety equipment availability. Several features, like forward collision warning and lane departure warning are available on the base model in the AcuraWatch Plus Package ($1,300). Some competitors offer advanced safety features only on higher trim levels. If you want navigation or heated leather seats, though, those items are grouped in fairly expensive packages and can’t be had as stand-alone options.
If you can get past the moderately annoying optional multimedia system and steep option package prices, the 2016 Acura RDX is a delight, with lively driving dynamics and a refined, comfortable — if not very exciting — interior.