Acura ditched the traditional gear shifter for a button-based one, which I don’t love but quickly got used to. The big bonus from this change is the additional storage available under the buttons; there’s a large cubby perfect for devices. The center console box is also plenty roomy.
The 2019 RDX has ample room for two adult passengers in back, and it accommodated two child-safety seats with ease thanks to accessible Latch anchors and ample legroom. Check out the Car Seat Check.
By the numbers, it’s mid-pack in terms of headroom but beats many others for legroom. The same goes for cargo room behind the backseat. The 2019 RDX has 29.5 cubic feet of space, some 3 cubic feet more than the 2018 model. It’s just ahead of the Audi Q5 (26.8 cubic feet) and BMW X3 (28.7) and much roomier than the Volvo XC60 (17.8). The seats fold easily in a 60/40 split via cargo-area levers for more room, and again the RDX is ahead of the others.
The RDX bears the unfortunate responsibility of being the brand’s guinea pig for the new True Touchpad Interface multimedia system. Like a fifth-grader’s volcano that erupts too soon at a science fair, the system is an experiment gone wrong.
To be fair, not every aspect of it is bad: The system, which has a set of touchpad controllers on the center console, has a big 10.2-inch screen high on the dashboard for optimum visibility that has crisp graphics; it’s the rest of the system that’s all sorts of wrong.
First, touchpad-based systems are not my favorite — try controlling your laptop’s touchpad while driving (just not around me) — but Acura touts its new system as more logical and easier to use than others. Challenge accepted.
True, Acura’s system is a little different from other touchpads, like Lexus’ setup, in that the touchpad is mapped to the screen, so you tap the part of the pad that corresponds to the screen, minimizing the dragging normally required by these systems just to get the selection point where you want it. Sounds logical on paper, but it didn’t actually feel that way.
The placement of the touchpad was annoyingly unergonomic and unnatural to use. What was more frustrating, however, was trying to correctly guess which touchpad spot corresponded to the screen. I was constantly in the wrong spot and then had to correct. It took me a few tries to accomplish simple tasks; some functions, like changing a station preset, took not only a couple of steps, but also lots of trial, error and correction. No one should have to listen to The Bridge (SiriusXM channel 32, mellow classic rock) for that long.
You may have already picked up on this, but there’s not one but two touchpads. To the right of the main unit is a smaller one that corresponds to a sliver of the screen. It’s used to scroll through three smaller menus (audio, navigation and a clock), and pressing down on that side of the touchpad will send one of the screens to the main one. The main touchpad also doubles as a text-input surface for navigation destinations, so you can draw the numbers and letters of your address (so how’s your handwriting?!). You can also call up an onscreen keyboard or use voice commands.
Again, all of this takes more brain power than I want to devote while driving — and much more than does turning a knob, bumping a button or tapping a touchscreen.
The system is compatible with Apple CarPlay, but Acura says Apple is responsible for how the technology will interact with Acura’s hardware. When using CarPlay, Cars.com reviewer Brian Wong said the touchpad’s connection to the screen is clunkier and there’s more lag. Android Auto is not yet available, but Acura says it’s coming soon. (Experience has proved that both smartphone interfaces are optimized for touchscreen use and are less effective with remote-operated displays.)
Some bright spots: There are still physical controls for the volume and to skip tracks back and forth, and the climate controls are separate from the multimedia interface. The clearly marked buttons sit below the screen and are easy to use. Many vehicles now integrate climate and other critical functions into their multimedia interface, so if you object to the RDX’s system, at least it’s limited to functions like audio, phone and navigation. The new system is also very customizable. On the home page, there are eight large icons and you choose what they lead to: navigation, contacts, radio station, etc. Once they’re set up that way, it’s handy. Getting them set up that way was frustrating.
Bottom line: The multimedia system is a deal-breaker for me. During the several days I spent with the RDX, never did using the system become comfortable — a tad less frustrating than my initial attempts, but overall still not worth the frustration. I don’t love BMW or Audi’s setups, either, but many automakers do this better (usually via touchscreens), and some — like Volvo’s giant touchscreen in the XC60 — are a breeze to use.
The 2019 Acura RDX earned top crash-test marks from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. It has not yet been tested by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Standard features on the base model now include the AcuraWatch safety and driver-aid technology package with automatic emergency braking, lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control; these features are optional on many rivals, like the BMW X3. A 360-degree camera system, rear cross-traffic alert and blind spot monitor are optional.
A Good Value, But …
The RDX continues to make a case for itself by being a compelling value: It starts at $38,295 in front-drive form, undercutting many competitors. The Q5, which offers standard all-wheel drive, starts at $42,475; others come standard with front-wheel drive and also start higher, with the Volvo XC60 at $40,195 and the BMW X3 at $41,995 (all prices include destination charges).
But add engaging road manners and luxurious comfort, and it’s still not enough to distract me from the anchor it carries. The RDX’s clunky and confounding multimedia system is just dead weight.
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