2022 Acura RDX First Drive | RDX redux gives us what we want

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LOS ANGELES, Calif. -- Acura’s most recent totally new models — the TLX and MDX — thwacked us upside the head with authority to let us know that Acura as a luxury and performance brand is well and truly back in great form. The redesigned RDX tried to do the same back in 2019, and while it was an above-average overhaul effort, it didn’t move us as strongly as the TLX and MDX have since.

Now, the 2022 Acura RDX is here, and it’s packing a bunch of improvements to try and both enhance the driving experience and ensure that it isn’t playing second fiddle to other Acura products in tech or luxury. The one omission, and it’s a big one, is the continued lack of a Type S variant. Both the TLX and MDX offer a high-performance Type S version with turbocharged V6 engines, and the RDX continues to go without such a model in 2022. It’s a shame, because the RDX’s smaller size means it could serve as a quality platform for a performance crossover to compete against others like the BMW X3 M40i, Mercedes-AMG GLC 43 and Audi SQ5.

That’s not to say that Acura has neglected the driving experience for 2022. The one performance improvement comes in the form of re-tuned adaptive dampers on the Advance trim that are both stiffer in Sport mode and softer in Comfort mode. Plus, the cabin is much quieter than it was before thanks to additional sound deadening material and an enhanced Active Sound Control system. Acura says the standard car offers a 20% NVH improvement, while the Advance Package cars have even more sound deadening to deliver a 30% improvement over the 2021 model.

You’ll be able to tell the updated RDX apart from the pre-refresh version by looking at the new grille pattern and thinner chrome grille surround. Look further downward, and you’ll notice larger side intakes and a new fog light design. It’s harder to tell that anything is new from the back, but look closely, and you’ll see a redone lower bumper and rectangular exhaust outlets on every model but the A-Spec — that hangs on to its round dual exhaust tips. A couple of new wheel designs round out the exterior updates, while the interior sees a new bronze-like finish for the aluminum trim in lower trims.

Perhaps one of the most vital changes Acura made to the RDX this year is done on the equipment side, as it fixes one of the gripes we’ve had with Acuras over the past couple years. You can finally equip the Advance Package onto A-Spec trim cars. That’s vital, because Acura has long made its adaptive dampers exclusive to Advance Package cars, meaning that the sportiest-looking A-Spec trim vehicles could never be equipped with the best suspension parts. That’s still the case on the TLX, but now we have hope that Acura will remedy this wrong for its sedan, just like it’s done with the RDX.

Some of the in-car tech we’ve gotten used to in other new Acuras joins the RDX this year. That means it’s now rocking wireless Apple CarPlay and wireless Android Auto, Amazon Alexa voice services, USB-C charging ports, wireless phone charging, customizable ambient lighting (27 different themes), power-folding mirrors and expanded range on the remote engine start function up to a quarter of a mile. The frustrating lack of a digital speedometer readout in the 7-inch digital instrument cluster is also fixed, as you can now choose to view a big speedo in that area.

All of the above made for welcome additions in our drive through Los Angeles and some of the neighboring canyon roads. Upon setting out, we immediately noticed — or more accurately, didn’t notice — the cabin noise. Our test car was an A-Spec Advance Package model with the highest amount of sound deadening available, and the level of road and engine noise is clearly reduced versus the old RDX. Acura’s typically growly and grumbly 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder faded further into the background, and tire roar was at a perfectly acceptable level for highway cruising. The newly softened dampers — Acura says it’s the same damper as before, but with new zeroes and ones telling them what to do — made for a plush but planted ride over poor roads. It’s difficult to come to a final verdict on how this compares to the pre-refresh ride without driving the crossover on familiar roads, though.

Canyon carving in the RDX is good but not great. The turbo-four puts out the same 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque as before, which is enough to be punchy, but not enough to get your pulse racing like the 3.0-liter turbo V6 does in the TLX Type S. The RDX also carries on with the same 10-speed automatic transmission, outputting power to the real star of the powertrain show: Acura’s SH-AWD system. Nothing about this genius torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system changes for 2022, but it didn’t have to. The system still expertly shuffles power front and back, and then left and right at the rear (the torque-vectoring bit), overdriving the rear outer wheel to bend you around corners in a fun and engaging manner.

Credit the AWD system as the reason an RDX is such a willing partner to be danced around, too. Acura’s added aggressiveness in its damper tuning is noticeable before you even turn the wheel, as twisting the centrally-located drive mode dial into Sport mode brings an instant attitude shift in the RDX’s ride. It’s nowhere near AMG or M car stiff, but the “Sport” ride is much more obvious than it was before. However, this does not transform the RDX into some physics-defying crossover like a Porsche Macan or BMW X3 M. Its weight — of which there are just 11 pounds more of it than last year’s Advance model — is made obvious when you begin to push, and the low-grip all-season tires do this crossover zero favors. Newly-tuned brakes give it a nice, stiff pedal, and a re-done sound control system (fake engine noise) means it sounds the part. Still, there’s the potential for something even shaper, something like a hypothetical RDX Type S, even if this current range-topping handling effort is far better than many in its class.

If you just use the RDX for normal SUV tasks, it’s a lovely cruiser, and you can look more stylish in it this year, too. The sweet Phantom Violet Pearl (purple) paint that debuted on the TLX is joining the RDX palette this year, and the black/white two-tone Orchid Milano leather interior seen on the NSX is also available as an option. Those looking for added safety features will be happy to hear that Acura is adding low-speed front and rear emergency braking, a new traffic sign-reading camera and an enhanced blind-spot warning system with greater range. Acura says it should crash better with added structure to the doors and new seatbelts, too.

The freshened RDX comes with a premium, but it’s only $900 more than before, coming in with a $40,345 base price for the front-drive model. This is one of those vehicles that we’d highly recommend ponying up for all-wheel drive, however, as it completely transforms the car’s handling for the better. The AWD upcharge brings you to $42,545, but Acura makes it difficult to stop there. Being able to combine the A-Spec looks with tech and performance features of the Advance is tempting, but you’ll pay for it, as that model is the RDX’s top-end at $52,345. We’ll also note that A-Spec cars achieve the worst fuel economy of the bunch at 26 mpg combined.

If you really want to have the most special RDX out there, Acura is doing a PMC Edition painted in the NSX’s Long Beach Blue Pearl (pictured above). It’s limited to just 200 units, features Berlina Black wheels (also an NSX color), has an Orchid leather interior with blue stitching and is hand-built at the NSX’s factory in Marysville, Ohio. Every other RDX is built 8 miles away in East Liberty. The PMC will all cost you $55,295, but you’ll undoubtedly have the coolest looking 2022 RDX out there.

Even if you do fully load up an RDX like the PMC model, this SUV is still a value proposition versus a similarly loaded-up German compact crossover that will easily take you beyond $60,000 with options. Meanwhile, Acura is able to deliver a truly luxurious interior using quality materials and offer up a competitive driving experience to boot. The 2022 updates make the RDX even more compelling than before and continue to cement Acura’s place as a going concern in the performance luxury space. Now, about that Type S.

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