Bye V-6, hi turbo-four-cylinder in an all-new body. Acura preps fully redesigned 2018 Acura RDX crossover

2018 Acura RDX

2018 Acura RDX

What changes will make the 2018 Acura RDX different?

Just about everything. Honda’s luxury brand plans to launch an all-new version of its popular premium compact-crossover SUV for model-year 2018. We project a “less is more” approach: the third-generation RDX will be about the same size as the 2012-2017 model, but it’ll lose its V-6 engine for a turbocharged four-cylinder and lose weight in the name of better handling and fuel-efficiency.

The RDX was one of the first premium-compact crossovers, debuting for model-year 2007 as the first Honda vehicle with a turbocharged engine. That turbo four was a little crude and not particularly fuel efficient, and the first-generation RDX was a sales misfire. A slightly larger and far more refined second-generation RDX debuted for 2013 and addressed nearly all the shortcomings, most notably replacing the turbo four-cylinder with a smooth V-6. Model-year 2016 updates to styling and features — along with prices that undercut those of many in the segment – has helped the RDX achieve class-leading sales.

Why should I wait for the 2018?

Because you’re willing to trade a V-6 for a modern turbo four with better fuel economy, but probably less power. You’d also need to be OK with trading the current version’s handsome, understated styling for a more aggressive and “youthful” look. More important, waiting will most likely bring the benefits of the automaker’s AcuraWatch Plus safety system as standard on every trim level. That was an extra-cost system for 2017, meaning only RDXs so equipped had autonomous emergency braking, a prerequisite for the industry’s most-sought safety rating, Top Safety Pick+ from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

The 2018 RDX will again slot below the midsize MDX in Acura’s crossover lineup. But come model-year 2019, it will probably no longer be Acura’s smallest crossover. Just as the RDX is essentially a beefed-up version of the Honda CR-V compact crossover, Acura is on track to tap Honda’s HR-V subcompact crossover to create the CDX, a rival to the likes of the Lexus NX and Mercedes-Benz GLA.

Should I buy a 2017 model instead?

Yes, if you feel more comfortable with a V-6 under the hood. But that’s far from the only attribute of this premium compact crossover. It’s roomy, comfortable, engaging to drive, and can cost thousands less than comparably equipped rivals from the likes of Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Plus, you would be purchasing from a brand that scores highly for reliability, resale value, and customer service. Note, however, Acura is one of the few luxury vehicle brands that does not offer a complimentary factory-scheduled maintenance program.

Will the styling be different?

Yes. Look to the freshened 2017 MDX for clues to some aspects of the ’18 RDX’s look. Then envision slightly sharper body creases designed to appeal to a younger, more singles-heavy demographic. Count on Acura to ditch the current RDX’s pointed beak in favor of the inverted pentagonal grille introduced on the ‘17 MDX. Additional changes to the front fascia will likely include revamped “Jewel Eye” LED headlights and a new bumper. The rest of the body may bear some resemblance to the redesigned 2017 CR-V.

Any mechanical changes?

Yes. Borrowing some of its basic architecture from the new CR-V will bring a lighter, yet stronger and more aerodynamic body structure. The CR-V also offers a turbo four-cylinder, but expect the RDX’s to be larger and more powerful, meaning the redesigned ‘18 should be little, if any, slower than its V-6-powered predecessor. Figure a 2.0-liter with 220-250 horsepower, a drop of 30-60 from the outgoing V-6. But torque will probably be around 250-270 pound-feet, up to 20 or so more than what the V-6 produced. In place of the ‘17’s 6-speed automatic transmission, expect a continuously variable automatic transmission (CVT) — though Acura could opt for the 8-speed dual-clutch automatic available in its ILX and TLX sedans.

Front-wheel drive will continue as standard. The latest generation of Acura’s excellent Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) will be optional. We also wouldn’t discount the possibility of Acura adding a hybrid drivetrain as well. It would likely be crafted from the same mold as the 2017 MDX Sport Hybrid – an AWD gas/electric model that places performance ahead of all-out fuel efficiency.

Will fuel economy improve?

Almost certainly. The V-6-powered 2017 RDX is surprisingly efficient. Its EPA ratings are 20/28/23 mpg city/highway/combined with front-wheel drive and 19/27/22 with AWD. The new turbocharged four-cylinder will likely improve all those numbers by at least 2-3 mpg. A Sport Hybrid model would rate even higher. Expect premium-grade 91-octane gasoline to be required.

Will it have new features?

At least some. The outgoing RDX is available with a fairly comprehensive set of safety and convenience features, though Acura will likely make more of them standard on the ’18. Carryover amenities on all models should include LED headlights, heated power front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, power rear liftgate, and Honda’s Multi-view backup camera. The AcuraWatch suite of safety features will also likely be standard, as opposed to optional as it is now. This package includes radar-based adaptive cruise control, automatic steering correction if you wander from your lane, and forward emergency braking. Model-year 2017 RDX models so equipped receive the coveted “Top Safety Pick+” award from the influential Insurance Institute for Highway Safety.

We expect the return of the optional Technology and Advance packages to the ’18 lineup. The former would include an in-dash navigation system; genuine leather upholstery (replacing a leatherette substitute); Acura’s premium ELS-brand audio system; blind-spot alert with rear cross-traffic detection; and GPS-linked climate control. The Advance Package would add ventilated front seats; front- and rear-obstacle detection; rain-sensing windshield wipers; remote engine start; and unique wheels. Acura could shuffle some of these features around a bit, such as making remote start part of the Technology Package. We’ll know more closer to the vehicle’s launch.

How will 2018 prices be different?

They’ll probably be higher, but even with a price hike, RDX should still be one of the more affordable premium-compact crossovers. The 2017 model with front-wheel drive starts at $36,510, including $940 destination fee. AWD adds $1,500 while AcuraWatch Plus is $1,300. The Technology Package is $3,700 and can be ordered by itself or in conjunction with AcuraWatch Plus. The Advance Package includes AcuraWatch Plus in its $6,650 price tag.

If AcuraWatch Plus becomes standard on all 2018 RDX models, figure on a starting price of about $36,500 for a base model with front drive. AWD will probably cost the same as it does now. The Technology Package will probably increase to about $3,800 while the Advance Package may check in at close to $7,000. Most buyers will probably choose the Technology Package with AWD, for what will likely be a sticker price of about $42,000.

When will it come out?

Release date for the 2018 Acura RDX could come as early as spring 2017, with the vehicle reaching showrooms by summer.

Best competitors

Audi Q5, BMW X3, Buick Envision, Cadillac XT5, Lexus NX, Lincoln MKC, Mercedes-Benz GLC-Class, Volvo XC60

What change would make it better?

AcuraWatch Plus as standard, but also a more engaging driving experience. Ideally, Acura would retain the current RDX’s quiet, highly competent demeanor, but inject some of the quick steering response and eagerness to tackle corners that distinguishes Hondas like the Civic and Accord.

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]