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Top 12 Things to Know Before You Buy a 2016 Acura RDX

1. What’s new for 2016?

Freshened styling inside and out; an updated, a slightly more fuel-efficient engine; and a new flagship trim level. These are the first big updates to this premium compact crossover SUV since its model-year 2012 redesign. They don’t alter the five-passenger wagon’s basic dimensions or engineering but do make it more competitive against rivals such as the Cadillac SRX, which outsells it, and the BMW X3, Audi Q5, and Lexus NX, which trail it in sales.

The ’16 RDX comes in five grades, all with the same powertrain and each with a choice of front-wheel drive or all-wheel drive (AWD). Step from the Base trim to the AcuraWatch level and you gain a suite of driver assists, including automatic braking. Choose the Technology Package grade and you gain onboard navigation, leather instead of “leatherette” upholstery, blind-spot and rear cross-traffic detection, and other perks. The Technology and AcuraWatch packages combine to create the penultimate rung on the model ladder. The new flagship Advance model builds on that with remote engine start, front- and rear parking sensors, heated and cooled front seats, and fog lamps among its exclusive kit.

2. How much does it cost and what sort of deal can I expect?

Prices generally run neck-and-neck with those of similarly equipped top competitors, although discounts tend to be less generous. Base prices in this review include the manufacturer’s destination fee; Acura’s is $920. Unlike virtually all rivals, Acura follows parent-division Honda policy and does not offer stand-alone options, instead equipping each model as a set tier of features. AWD adds $1,500 to the cost of each RDX trim. Most buyers order it, so with AWD, manufacturer’s suggested retail is $37,690 for the Base model; $38,990 with AcuraWatch; $41,390 with the Technology Package; $42,690 with Technology and AcuraWatch; and $44,340 for the Advance.

Average transaction prices trend 3.4 percent below those MSRPs, according to data from pricing service TrueCar.com. For the most popular AWD-equipped trim levels of the aforementioned rivals, TrueCar reports transaction prices trending 3.7 percent below base prices for the SRX, 4.2 percent below for the NX 200t, 5.9 percent below for the Q4, and 6.8 percent below for the X3. Like Honda, Acura is stingier with factory rebates and incentives than most manufacturers. Indeed, at the time of this fall-2015 review, it was offering neither cash-back nor discount financing on any RDX, even leftover ‘15s.

3. When will the next big change be?

Expect the all-new third-generation RDX to be released in mid 2017 as a 2018 model. The original bowed for model-year 2007 as a sporty take on the compact-crossover theme and used a turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Today’s second-generation got larger and heavier and adopted a V-6. Look for its replacement to fall in line with most in this class and return to the turbo-four formula as a fuel-saving strategy.

Meantime, the 2016 updates will see it through to the ’18 redesign. In addition to the mechanical alterations covered elsewhere in this review, they include a more stylish nose that balances Acura’s still-odd grille design with its cool “Jewel Eye” LED headlamps. There are new wheel designs, a revamped rump with LED taillights, and contrasting silver and black cabin trim.

4. What options or trim level is best for me?

Every RDX includes among its standard features automatic headlamps; heated mirrors with reverse tilt-down; Bluetooth connectivity with SMS text-messaging, Siri Eyes Free smartphone linking, and Pandora compatibility; satellite radio; keyless entry with pushbutton ignition; heated power front seats; power moonroof; and 18-inch alloy wheels.

Moving off the Base trim, marketers see fit to offer you the safety of AcuraWatch or — in the alternative — the convenience of onboard navigation. Regarding the former, there are advantages to cruise control that maintains a set distance from traffic ahead, frontal-collision-mitigating automatic braking, and lane-wander-correcting automatic steering. We’re also fans of satellite-based imbedded navigation; it continues providing directions in areas you’re most likely to need them — where cell-signal-dependant mapping fails. And we hardly see the point of buying a crossover without taking advantage of the all-season traction advantages of AWD.

If you agree, that makes your best trim level the mouthful formally known as the “RDX AWD with Technology Package and AcuraWatch Plus Package.” For $42,690 you get all the above, plus features new to this year’s Technology Package: power backrest adjustment for the front passenger seat and a multi-view rearview camera with dynamic guidelines. That’s a comprehensively equipped premium crossover at a very good price.

5. What engine do you recommend?

There’s just one, and it feels impressively strong overall, despite being let down by some indecisive shift action. The V-6 is again a 3.5-liter but with modest gains of six horsepower, to 279, and one pound-foot of torque, to 252. Most rival turbocharged four-cylinders actually have more torque, and torque is acceleration’s essential ingredient. But this V-6 is free of the turbo lag that can delay throttle response and it won’t leave you wanting for pickup around town or on the highway – once the automatic transmission settles on the appropriate gear choice.

Automatics with seven or eight speeds are the new standard in this class. The RDX makes due with a six-speed automatic that’s frequently tardy with downshifts when you need to pass and then delivers them with an unseemly abruptness. Steering-column paddle shifters are standard, but manipulating them produces gear changes that are more syrupy than smart.

6. How is the fuel economy?

In line with competitors of similar power output, with EPA ratings of 20/29/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 19/28/22 with AWD. That represents a 1-mpg gain in highway ratings over model-year 2015. Unmeasured by EPA ratings but contributing to overall fuel efficiency is Acura’s 2016 addition of cylinder-deactivation technology to this V-6. It can automatically idle three of the six cylinders during light-throttle cruising. Acura recommends premium, 91-octane gas.

7. How does it handle?

Competently but without much sportiness. Front-drive models tend to noseplow through fast turns and while Acura’s recalibrated the AWD system for more a rear-wheel-drive-biased feel, rushing through turns still reveals less of a sense of grip and balance than you experience in rivals like the Q5 and Volvo XC60, not to mention handling pacesetters like the X3 and Porsche Macan. Acura also says it’s retuned the steering, but the feel remains rubbery and sans much connection with the road. The RDX is most at home on long Interstate jaunts and in low-demand around-town driving.

8. Are the controls easy to use?

Generally. The gauges are large and legible and the dashboard’s various dials and buttons are marked clearly and move with a pleasing smoothness. The vertical stacking of display screens in the dash’s central panel needs a rethink, though. The upper screen handles navigation, and various climate and audio functions. It’s controlled by a large rotary dial. The lower screen primarily serves the audio system and is touch-sensitive. Both are generously sized and graphically sound. But each can display a disparate mix of climate and audio information, some of it redundant, and all of it crying out for a more intuitive and uniform interface.

9. Is it comfortable?

Space and seating are first-rate, but bump absorption is lacking. All ’16 RDXs have heated front buckets and second-row climate-system vents, enhancing what already was terrifically supportive seating and near class-leading passenger volume. Those assets are tempered by interior materials that are solid enough, but with degress of padding, surface graining, and hard-touch plastics more typical of a high-trim Honda than a true premium-class crossover.

At 26.1 cubic feet behind the rear seats and 61.3 with them folded, cargo volume is also near the top of the class. But dropping the rear seatbacks reveals a slight but intrusive kick-up near the hinge seam that’s difficult to push past if you’re sliding in a long object. RDX insulates well against road, wind, and mechanicals noises but doesn’t isolate well enough against impacts from ruts, potholes, and tar strips. We probably wouldn’t object to these ride qualities if they were a byproduct of invigorating handling.

10. What about safety?

Crash-test ratings are excellent. The ’16 RDX earns the maximum five stars overall in the government’s 5-Star Safety Rating system. It gets five stars for occupant protection in frontal and side collisions, with its four stars for resistance to rollovers typical for vehicles with a relatively high center of gravity, such as a crossover.

This Acura also merits the highly sought “good” rating – the highest of four available – in the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s battery of even more-demanding evaluations, which includes measures of survivability in front-corner to front-corner “overlap” impacts. Equipped with AcuraWatch, RDX earns the insurance-industry-sponsored testing body’s coveted “Top Safety Pick+” award for the system’s ability to automatically bring the vehicle to stop to avoid a frontal collision.

11. How’s the reliability and resale value?

Acura’s Honda lineage carries with it the parent company’s reputation for dependability and resale value. Acura ranked 12th among 31 automotive brands for vehicle dependability in the most recent study released by leading consumer-research firm J.D. Power (Honda ranked 5th).The researchers rate RDX above average for predicted reliability, as well, although in its most recent survey, owners of the 2015 model rated it average for overall quality. As for resale value, residual-tracking authority ALG ranks RDX above average for retained value, at 39-43 percent after 5 years, depending on trim level.

12. Is it better than the competition?

Honda cars and crossovers tend to be among the sportiest-driving vehicles in their respective classes, and Acura professes to be perusing a similar goal within its more demanding market segments. Drivers looking for an exciting experience won’t find it with an RDX, though. Its forte is commodious transport with tinges of luxury. It’s a good value, and affordable, too. But in class where true premium status requires accomplished road manners and unassailable accoutrements, it’s a little lacking.

About Chuck Giametta

This nationally recognized, award-winning writer brings to Carpreview.com two decades of automotive testing and reporting for newspapers, books, magazines, and the Internet. The former Executive Auto Editor of Consumer Guide, Chuck has covered cars for HowStuffWorks.com, Collectible Automobile magazine, and the Publications International Ltd. automotive book series. This ex-newspaper reporter has also appeared as an automotive expert on network television and radio. He’s a charter member of the Midwest Automotive Media Association, the president of the Rocky Mountain Automotive Media association, and a juror for the annual Active Lifestyle Vehicle of the Year awards. Chuck writes from Colorado Springs, Colo. If you have a question for Chuck, write to him at [email protected]