The silliest thing about the 2022 Acura RDX is the massive, honking aluminum dial at the center of the dash, above the gear selector buttons and below the climate controls. Adorned with the text “Dynamic Mode,” it’s maybe seven times the size of the volume knob — which, like an afterthought, is sequestered off in no-man’s land next to the hazard light toggle.
As you might guess, the Dynamic Mode dial changes the driving characteristics of the RDX. Other cars rely on small buttons — maybe a switch next to the cup holders — for such purposes. But Acura felt it necessary to pilfer Goodwills for disused Aiwa stereos to source this curious part that you’ll maybe touch once, if ever, during your daily commute.
The ironic thing is that this dial actually affords a lot to the 2022 RDX. Offering a trio of driving modes in normal conditions, plus one specially tuned for snow, it modulates throttle response, shift points for the 10-speed automatic transmission, steering ease and the aggressiveness of the ride for models equipped with adaptive dampers. But the knob itself is so obnoxious, so eager to call attention to itself, that it gives Dynamic Mode and all it contains the outward appearance of a gimmick.
In a sense this dial encapsulates the Acura RDX. This is a very reasonably priced and competent compact premium SUV. It looks sharp enough from the outside, handles with sufficient poise, is solidly built and contains loads of tech that’s useful and easy to use. It offers 90 percent of what its German rivals do for four-to-six figures less. The 10 percent it’s missing is a sense of luxury, or the suspension of disbelief that you’re driving something more than an appliance.
Full disclosure: Acura wanted us to see the new Integra so badly it flew a bunch of journalists and I out to Los Angeles. But before that controversial reveal, it gave me an RDX A-Spec in Advance trim to drive for two hours up, down and around Topanga Canyon Drive, which I learned was actually the name of a real place and not merely that of a Boy Meets World character.
The midcycle refresh of Acura’s third-generation bread-and-butter SUV, was originally released for the 2019 model year. Beginning in 2022, the RDX gains a revised front fascia; more standard tech including wireless Apple CarPlay, Android Auto and wireless phone charging; improved sound insulation and drive mode tuning; new safety features; and the ability to option the A-Spec sporty appearance group with the range-topping Advance package, which wasn’t possible before.
As a trade-off for all these goodies, the RDX now starts $900 higher than it used to — $40,345 including destination, versus $39,445 for last year’s model. Considering the wealth of constructive little adjustments and additions, coupled with the fact that the RDX remains a far better value proposition than, say, the X3, Q3 or even the Genesis GV70, I’d say price remains the RDX’s ace in the hole even with that routine hike.
Comfortably and enjoyably enough — in other words, adequately for the segment. The first car I ever drove after getting my learner’s permit was my mom’s 2008 RDX, an SUV renowned at the time for its sport sedan-esque handling. (I’d recommended it, by the way.)
I still remember what the salesman said to my parents when they shook on the deal: “You just bought a great truck.” It’s funny to imagine anyone describing an RDX, specifically that RDX, as a truck. It was more like an egg with angles.
I bring this anecdote up because the RDX can’t really declare that distinction all for itself anymore. Performance isn’t hard to find within this class today — certainly not with the prevalence of M- and AMG-badged options out there for those with the means to spice up their sensible family hauler.
All that said the RDX doesn’t feel ponderous, lethargic or anemic, even though it doesn’t reach X4 M Competition levels of contradiction. Its two-liter turbocharged four-cylinder delivers 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque, a sufficient sum to get the RDX and its roughly 4,000 pounds rolling. Acura’s trademark Super Handling All-Wheel Drive System biases torque to the rear axle and shifts it from side to side depending on which wheel is under load. The example I drove had SH-AWD equipped, but it’s worth noting that the base RDX is front-wheel drive, and upgrading adds $2,200 to the window sticker.
It’s not fast, but it gets going. It’s not sharp, but it keeps itself composed. Acura mapped out a great canyon route for this test drive — a route so good, in fact, that on several occasions I wished I was in a more agile car. Preferably one that didn’t dawdle a quarter of a second too long when I put my foot down.
But the RDX has ways of managing that, in the Dynamic Mode dial I mentioned earlier. Acura says it was focused on more profoundly distinguishing the behavior of the three modes — Comfort, Normal and Sport — with this revision. Coupled with the adaptive dampers on Advance-trim cars, the RDX’s disposition certainly changes depending on where that dial is turned. You’ll feel slightly quicker throttle response, more tension in the steering and firmness to the ride in Sport. And of course, you’d never miss the cacophony of fake engine noises piped into the cabin.
Sport mode also deactivates the automatic engine stop/start function to save fuel — something the instrument cluster display annoyingly made a point to remind me every time I sat in front of a traffic light. If you’re in Comfort or Normal though, the engine activation is impressively discreet. I didn’t even notice it for the first 15 minutes of driving; these systems have certainly come a long way over the last decade.
On paper, the RDX has it all. The Advance package gets you ventilated front seats — heated come standard — and a heads-up display, around-view cameras and a fantastic 16-speaker audio system. A 10.2-inch display serves infotainment duties, though it’s not a touch screen — it’s controlled with Acura’s True Touchpad interface, which I happen to like a lot.
Like the UI itself, the touchpad is divided 70/30 style. That means any gestures or taps performed on the big part of the pad concern the app or function present on the corresponding part of the display, and likewise for the remainder. Clicking down on the smaller chunk switches the position of the two onscreen apps. It’s a brilliantly simple system, and if you hate reaching to interact with dash-mounted panels as I do, a thoughtfully designed touchpad is the best in-car pointing device.
I have only positive things to say about the RDX’s infotainment system and overall tech and safety suite. Compared to other new cars I’ve sat in, it’s remarkably easy to figure out what button, switch or dial does what — there’s no daunting learning curve to face here. Everything’s pretty straightforward, right down to the frankly obnoxious BRAKE! warning that flashes between the speedo and tach when the car is convinced you’re about to raise your insurance premium.
The seats, too, are very pleasant. My tester had the Orchid white interior option with black Ultrasuede inserts and patches of Alcantara lining for the dash. Being a passenger in the RDX is a comfortable and semi-luxurious experience, insofar as the ride is compliant and quiet and your butt is well-padded. Unfortunately, that sensation is somewhat betrayed by what your eyes see and your hands touch.
The RDX’s interior design has always been its biggest weakness, and that regrettably holds true even with this refresh. The nonsensical arrangement of the shifter buttons that I recall from my brother’s Odyssey; the garish, edgy “I’m A Serious Car” shapes that define the buttons; the Call Of Duty-reminiscent font covering the instrument cluster. All of these things remind you of your place in a glorified Honda that felt out-of-fashion even four years ago. And while the Japanese automaker has started to find its design mojo again — the singular, unbroken grate of the new Civic’s dash is a creative touch — Honda of the ’10s never quite knew when to put down the brush.
The GV70 has a delightfully serene, warm cabin. The Q3's is Brutalist and solid, defined by billet and wood and LEDs. The RDX’s interior just looks... old. Old and lame and chintzy in appearance, even if everything’s physically screwed on tight. It’s a shame, because this is too good of a car to be let down by its appointments. Then again, I suspect if it looked more expensive, it’d be more expensive.
Here’s the thing, though — you know the RDX isn’t a race car or a Transformer, even if Acura doesn’t. You know the A-Spec package, for example, is all show and glossy black trim. And if you’re in the market for a nice small SUV and you keep those truths in mind, I think you’d be quite satisfied with the RDX. There’s very little to fault here when the rubber hits the road.
What’s more, you can buy one of these knowing and taking pride in the fact that you didn’t fall for the brand trap; you got a car functionally as good as one with a more envious badge for a hell of a lot less. I mean, if I were buying one of these, I’d go for the Advance group and decline the meaningless A-Spec accoutrements. To get a similarly-equipped X3 with all-wheel drive and adaptive dampers, I’d be spending $56,365 including destination, versus $50,345 for the Acura. And just to add insult to injury, I’d still be leaving 24 horsepower on the table.
That’s why the RDX makes sense, even if it likely isn’t the luxury SUV that its buyers dream about, nor the one that tops their shortlists when they start perusing showrooms. In that way it’s kind of the quintessential Acura. I know that sounds sort of depressing, but it’s better we have choices like it. It takes all kinds.