Acura first began touting “precision crafted performance” some 30 years ago, and ever since it’s been a slog to convince the buying public that Acuras are more than re-badged Hondas.
Truth is, when I think of Acura, my mind goes to Sisyphus, pushing that boulder up and up muttering “we’re not Hondas,” only to have it roll down and down again (to a Greek chorus of “yes, you are re-badged Hondas.” Here in the summer of 2018, the boulder is again on the move, but we have seen this movie often, most recently five years ago.
What? Five years?
Yes, yes, that was the last time Acura types took their road show live, touting a top-to-bottom remake, from sales to customer coddling (a Concierge service), from ongoing improvements to the ILX compact entry (ILX? Acura still sells a compact car?), to the then-impending remake of the all-important MDX sport-utility and the disappointing 2014 RLX that replaced the sad-sack RL. Most important of all, we were teased with a 2013 concept version of the NSX that finally arrived as a 2017 electrified production model, to shockingly little fanfare.
Anyone who has followed the luxury car business for a few years, knows that Acura has repeatedly demonstrated an utter lack of ability to:
- make a full lineup of pure luxury cars that aren’t rooted in Civics, Accords and Pilots;
- and market them successfully with conviction and precision.
Acura has essentially been spinning its wheels for decades. In Canada, sales through August inched up a tiny bit (to 11,322 from 11,066 year-on-year), but it’s reasonable to say that Acura has not properly profited from boom that has seen luxury vehicle sales about double since 2000 as a share of Canada’s new vehicle marketplace.
The all-new 2019 RDX crossover ($43,990-$54,990) is going to change the brand’s fortunes, say Acura officials. Emile Korkor, Acura’s brand leader in Canada, says the RDX stands out for its mix of user-friendly technology and handsome design, but most important of all, it rides on a new, Acura-exclusive platform. It’s all Acura and only Acura, not to mention the powerful new turbo powertrain, and the luxurious interior.
Let’s give Korkor an “A” for honesty when he discusses where we find his “challenger” brand in 2018. Luxury cars are sold in large part based on the emotional response they engender in customers. “That’s quite, quite challenging” to achieve, he concedes.
“Acura,” he says, “is meant to be the leading edge of Honda in performance and style. We have to work that much harder on the Acura side” to get recognition.
The new RDX is a very nice crossover to drive, quick and dynamic, right-sized for city parking and pretty enough from stem to stern. But its calling card isn’t engine performance or comfortable, leather-clad seats. Instead, the new True Touch interface that is being introduced here, and will be rolled out in future Acura models, is the sexy, “oh, wow” feature.
It says a lot about the car business in 2018, that the subject of so much corporate bumph isn’t fuel economy or 0-100 km/hour times or even apex-carving steering and suspension expertise. Rather the song and dance is about a new and apparently better way to manage the infotainment interface and all those apps.
True Touch is novel and has promise, but to use it successfully, you must toss all your traditional ideas about a mouse for operating computer-like devices. And if you’re expecting to hear about the perfect touchscreen, forget it.
What Acura has engineered is something new but not necessarily better. Google the interweb and you can find hours of video on how to use True Touch, but in a nutshell it’s a device in two parts: a large horizontal colour screen mounted on the top of the dash, and a touchpad designed to mimic a touchscreen, which you’ll find at your fingertips on the centre console.
Tap that touchpad here or there and it’s as if you had tapped the touchscreen in that exact location. It’s all about tap-tap, rather than slide-slide. The pad is your direct interface with the screen.
You can also make voice commands to get things done, or you can use just write on the pad and handwriting recognition will figure out where you want the navigation system to take you. Unless you’re a doctor, with notoriously terrible, unintelligible handwriting.
I figured out how to use this newfangled gizmo in pretty short order. Acura’s engineers say their interface keeps your eyes on the road more effectively and you don’t need to cover the LCD with fingerprints to dial up a function. Better than anything from Lexus, we’re told.
As for more traditional concerns, like power and performance, well, the new direct‐injected and turbocharged 2.0‐litre four-banger is nicely done and plenty gutsy (272 horsepower and 280 lb.‐ft. of torque). Unlike some past versions of the RDX, this one is not jittery and jumpy, but properly refined.
The cabin is quite pleasant, too, and roomy for its class. Everything is well sorted and nothing looks cheap.
Where does this leave us? Acura has promised plenty in the past but hope springs eternal. This time things might be different and if so, Sisyphus might retire. We’ll see.
2019 Acura RDX Platinum Elite
Engine: 2.0-litre four-cylinder, turbocharged (272-horsepower/280 lb-ft of torque)).
Transmissions: 10-speed automatic.
Drive: all-wheel in test, but front-wheel alone is available. Four selectable drive modes.
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.0 city/8.6.
Comparables: Lexus NX, BMW X3 and X1, Mercedes-Benz GLK and GLA, Porsche Macan, Lincoln MKC, Range Rover Evoque, Jaguar E-Pace, Volvo XC60, Infiniti QX50.