As New RDX Enters Production, Acura Needs a Segment Standout

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Often found in its larger, older sibling’s shadow, Acura’s compact RDX crossover can at least boast of being the brand’s best-selling vehicle. Over the first four months of 2018, Americans picked up 15,326 of the little crossovers, versus the MDX’s 13,909.

But with popularity comes responsibility. As production begins in Ohio on the next-generation RDX, Acura’s smallest crossover must overcome its own falling sales in order to help reverse the brand’s flagging fortunes.

For the 2019 model year, the RDX returns to its roots — at least in terms of engine type. Gone is the 3.5-liter V6 engine; in its place sits a turbocharged four-cylinder, much like the original RDX.

Unlike that first-generation model, however, the model’s four-banger now displaces 2.0 litres and generates a healthy 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Joining the new mill is a 10-speed automatic transmission — hardly the norm for the compact class. Dimension-wise, the new model’s wheelbase stretches an extra 2.5 inches, with track widening by 1.2 inches.

Acura RDX Prototype

With an upgraded all-wheel-drive system on tap (capable of funnelling 70 percent of the engine’s torque to the rear wheels, or dumping it all into either of those rear donuts), and a body displaying more aggression than before, the revised model definitely ups the brawn factor. Tech wizardry comes in the form of a 10.2-inch infotainment screen with True Touchpad actuation. There’s no cursors in sight, as the touchpad offers what Acura calls “absolute positioning.” In other words, the touchpad serves as a miniature version of a touchscreen. Time will tell if buyers take to this feature.

Acura knows it needs to make the RDX far more appealing to the U.S. buyer, as a full third of its American volume now comes from the model. Unlike rival Lexus, Acura’s stable isn’t overflowing with lucrative crossovers, and that’s a big problem. From a post-recession high of 52,361 units sold in 2016, the RDX’s annual volume shrunk to 35,487 vehicles last year. So far this year, RDX sales are up 3.6 percent.

With only two utility vehicles in its lineup, Acura hasn’t been able to offset the loss of passenger car sales. The brand’s sales slipped from 177,165 vehicles in 2015 to 154,602 in 2017. Volume over the first four months of 2018 fell 1.3 percent.

It’s an understatement that the model now rolling out of Honda’s East Liberty assembly plant faces stiff competition. To get noticed, the basket of goodies Acura brings to the table needs to resonate with buyers, and the price tag can’t be too dear. For now, that sticker remains a mystery.

[Images: Acura]

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