Acura’s product line is steadily improving these days, from the nicely-packaged mid-size TLX replacing the slightly-off TSX and TL last year, the ILX becoming a sweet-driving machine in refreshed form for 2016, and now, the emergence of another refreshed model, the popular two-row RDX crossover, making its debut at the 2015 Chicago auto show.
Whereas the freshened 2016 ILX effectively underwent through a heart transplant with a new engine and transmission, the RDX’ story is one of more subtle refinements intended to add substance and prestige. Styling changes effectively turn it into a mini-MDX, starting the Acura’s new “jewel-eye” LED-based headlamps containing a horizontal row of five LEDs underscored by a strip of LED running lamps.
Looking at the spec chart, and it appears that not much has changed, but fact is that the RDX has a new SOHC 3.5-liter V-6 that produces six more horsepower and one pound-foot of peak torque than the outgoing motor—279 hp and 252 lb-ft, to be precise. While the boost in output doesn’t sound significant, Acura boasts of a consider swell in torque at low rpm where it is more accessible in real-world driving. The engine also features new engine mounts for smoother operation and cylinder deactivation, allowing a one-mpg improvement in fuel economy, now at 20 mpg city / 29 highway for front-wheel-drive models and 19 mpg city / 28 highway for all-wheel drivers.
The engine remains connected to a six-speed automatic with manual shift paddles. Some changes were made to rear differential of the all-wheel drive system in models so equipped to make the rear wheels quicker to engage when the front wheels slip. Acura also made changes to the steering and suspension mounts to improve “driving refinement.”
Inside, the RDX (equipped with the Tech package and above) gains a redesigned center stack with a new infotainment system, adopting the same dual-screen setup found in the big brother MDX and other Acuras. The system uses a touch screen with haptic feedback for radio and apps located mid-dash, while a larger, full-color display used primarily by the navigation system perched up high, controlled by center-mounted dial or by voice. Other changes in decor include high-contrast trim, and at long last, rear-seat air vents.
The RDX will continue to be offered in base and Tech models, but Acura is attempting to woo spendier types with a new, range-topping Advance model. All feature a power moonroof, power driver’s seat, and a power tailgate; Tech models add a navigation system, an upgraded audio system, blind spot mitigation and more, while the Advance model comes with front ventilated seats, fog lights, remote start, rain-sensing wipers, parking sensors, dressier wheels, and “AcuraWatch” driver assistance features (adaptive cruise control, collision mitigation, lane departure warning, lane keeping assistance, and multi-view rear camera). Should buyers of the lesser two trims also be safety freaks, the AcuraWatch stuff is also available in a standalone package.
The 2016 RDX will start rolling off Acura’s East Liberty, Ohio, production line and then on to dealer lots this spring. Prices for the base and Tech package models are not expected to rise much from their current levels (roughly $36,000—$41,000). The new Advance model, however, could see a price tag in the mid $40,000 range, intended as it is to woo customers who might otherwise be willing to drop upwards of 50 grand for well-optioned Audi Q3, BMW X3, and Lexus NX models. We’re not sure the 2016 RDX's improvements go far enough to sway intenders bent on the prestige of a BMW or Audi brand, but the refresh should certainly keep the vehicle’s sales going strong as traditional luxury buyers look more and more favorably at crossovers.