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2019 Acura RDX: Smooth and fun, with a touch of annoyance

As we wrap up our small premium crossover comparison, the Acura RDX gets its chance in the spotlight. Its handling, acceleration and comfort shine, but difficult controls mar the experience. How does it stack up with the Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50?

The 2019 Acura RDX gets a redesign for the 2019 model year, although it takes a long, hard look to find the changes.
The 2019 Acura RDX gets a redesign for the 2019 model year, although it takes a long, hard look to find the changes.Read moreHonda North America / Acura

2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec: It handles like a dream on the skidpad ...

Price: $46,595 as tested. No options on test vehicle, but sunroof, ventilated leather seats, and Acurawatch safety features are all standard.

Conventional wisdom: Consumer Reports likes the handling, acceleration, stopping distances, front-seat comfort, fit and finish, and standard automatic emergency braking but not the controls, gear selector, engine noise, or brake-pedal feel.

Marketer’s pitch: “Polished power at every turn.”

Reality: … but handling the touchpad almost sends Mr. Driver’s Seat into a skid.

Up to date: So far we’ve tested the Cadillac XT4 and the Infiniti QX50. Now comes the Acura RDX, the final contender for the premium small crossover loving cup.

What’s new: The Acura RDX gets a redesign for the 2019 model year. Cosmetic changes can be challenging to spot at first glance, but the vehicle is no longer based on the Honda CRV.

Up to speed: The RDX gets a direct-injected and turbocharged 2.0-liter four with 272 horsepower. Yet it’s torquier than the old V6, Acura says.

It certainly feels it. The RDX was a rocket in Sport mode and felt like a super rocket in Sport+ mode. It reaches 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, according to Motor Trend, which is the same as the QX50. Why the difference?

Shifty: The segment's only 10-speed automatic transmission offers smooth shifts. Power comes through easily.

On the road: The fun aspect of the Acura RDX plays a part. This is what I thought the Alfa Romeo Stelvio would be. From the first turn, Mr. Driver’s Seat fell in love with its sporty, tight steering and its curve-hugging ability. It’s like an upright version of the Alfa Giulia, the car I’d still pick out of any car in the world.

Sport mode also offers a comfortable ride, even though a Comfort mode is also offered. (Snow rounds out the options.) Comfort seemed a hair soft, but it was not bad.

Sport+ takes handling to the next level but also makes shifting a little harsher and rough roads tougher.

Play some tunes: A Honda-Acura representative wanted to show me the new RDX at the Philadelphia Auto Show this year, so that I could see how the new touchpad works.

“Touchpad?!?” Mr. Driver’s Seat half-shouted. “The L-company has been torturing us with that for years, now you, too?”

He assured me that this was different, and I was certain at first that he was right. But after a few days of testing, I was not so convinced.

The touchpad requires very little clicking and swiping; rest a finger on the pad and it acts like a separate touchscreen closer to the driver. The screen will highlight which icon you’re about to select, so just touch that spot when you find the right one. So essentially if you’re good at giving foot rubs and back rubs (“Yeah, that’s the spot!”), you’ll nail the Acura touchpad in no time. So, pause, look over your newspaper or electronic device, and ask your mate honestly. I’ll wait.

Plays “Jeopardy!” theme: …

Back to the touchpad, though: Why bother? One morning as I tried to arrange Sirius XM to the right song, I fouled it up five times in a row. And I realized my eyes were not at all where they needed to be — on the road. A small knob would handle tuning just fine, and the other functions would be better on a normal touchscreen.

Still, sound is primo, top-notch, perfection.

Driver’s Seat: The leather-trimmed, ventilated seat offered great comfort and support, and good grip, too, for all the on-curve acrobatics I put the RDX through.

Friends and stuff: Rear legroom and foot room are superb, even for the dreaded middle seat. One shortcoming is headroom; I’m 5-10, and I found entry/exit in the back to be a headbanger.

A nice console holds all your cool stuff well up front. Cargo space is 58.9 with the rear seat folded, 29.5 in the back, the middle of our pack of three.

Night shift: Interior lights were clear and subtle, but the headlights shone just a touch too low.

Keeping warm and cool: With the outside temperature rising one test day, I found myself hunting for some cool air. That’s when I found the vents to be difficult to maneuver, a sad state of affairs for an otherwise glorious machine.

Fuel economy: I averaged right around 20 mpg during my fun, fast, hard-turning week in the RDX. It wants premium but doesn’t require it.

Where it’s built: East Liberty, Ohio.

How it’s built: A 2 out of 5 for Acura from Consumer Reports? Down two ticks from the 2018. Guess they’re not sold on all the new technology.

In the end: The performance of the RDX helps cancel out the negatives, and certainly puts it above the XT4 and QX50, but that reliability prediction gives me pause. It’s also the best value of the bunch, and the stereo sound kicks butt.

Just remember to set up the stereo beforehand, and don’t try squeezing Sturgis Kid 4.0 in the back.