The RDX compact SUV charts a new course to what Acura aspires to be. If you’ve seen RDX sales numbers lately, this won’t come as much of a surprise. But during a visit to our office this week, Art St. Cyr, American Honda’s new vice president of automobile operations, revealed more about what Acura has learned from the 2019 RDX’s launch, and how the luxury crossover’s sales success will inform Acura’s future-car decisions.
Here’s what we learned.
Acura = Performance?
“Performance is going to be our luxury,” explained St. Cyr, an engineer by education, with leadership stints at Honda Performance Development and Honda R&D. Acura’s focus may have been unclear in years past, but performance is said to be a main pillar for the brand moving forward. Lots of brands have similar claims, and in Acura’s case, the RDX adds some credibility here. After becoming a finalist for SUV of the Year, the crossover won a comparison against a Cadillac XT4 and Infiniti QX50, with performance being a clear win for the Acura.
Why A-Spec Is Here to Stay
With the exception of the brakes and an occasional transmission goof, our RDX A-Spec long-termer’s performance has impressed us over more than 15,000 miles. St. Cyr admits that some folks just want the look of sportiness, but regardless of why buyers go A-Spec, Acura tells us that the trim attracts double the number of buyers under 45 years old compared to other trims (34 versus 17 percent).
Currently, the ILX, TLX, RDX, and MDX offer A-Spec variants.
What About Type S?
St. Cyr declined to comment about the possibility of an RDX Type S, but he did remind us that the brand is considering Type S variants as one way of expanding its SUV lineup. Given that Mercedes has a AMG version of the GLC, BMW has a X3 M, and Audi has the SQ5, it would make sense for Acura to be looking at a RDX Type S with a turbocharged V-6.
Why the CDX May Not Reach Our Shores
With the CDX compact crossover sold in China, we know Acura was considering a version for the U.S. market. Keeping in mind that “performance has to be the foundation of what we’re doing,” St. Cyr suggests the CDX may not fit with this ethos. Plus, Acura is concentrating on getting its existing house in order — referring to the coming redesigns of the MDX, TLX, and ILX. Never say never, though…
Bold Is Beautiful (Again)
Remember the 2009 Acura TL? That sedan represents one of the last times Acura took a risk in terms of design, and we weren’t fans of the front styling when it first arrived.
St. Cyr insists that the new RDX is a risk-taker in a segment where the automaker didn’t need a big change. In terms of sales, it’s true. The popular last-gen RDX was capable but boring. After a year with a 2013 RDX, we appreciated how improved the crossover was, but lamented that there was “nothing that excites you, nothing that makes you eager to go for a drive.”
Although the 2019 and 2020 RDX attract buyers for many reasons including value and interior space, maybe the extra dose of style and performance are helping; Acura tells us that it has seen a 15-percent increase in single buyers. Otherwise, buyers of the new RDX are also more likely than before to be more wealthy (income up $20,000 a year) and younger (median age is down by four years).
The Touchpad Isn’t Going Anywhere
The RDX is the first Acura to use the brand’s touchpad infotainment interface that, although promising in theory, leaves a bit to be desired. The system in our long-term 2019 RDX is a little slow, it has crashed a few times, and the one-to-one touchpad-to-screen ratio (touch the top left of the touchpad to click an icon on the top left of the screen) doesn’t carry over when you’re using Apple CarPlay. Even so, Acura tells us that despite any early glitches, it believes it’s a good system that’s worth sticking with and improving. For more on the RDX’s infotainment system, check out our initial thoughts on it here.
Future Acuras will follow the RDX’s lead, placing a greater emphasis on performance. Expect a (hopefully) improved touchpad infotainment system to roll out across more models, and look for A-Spec models to possibly lower the average age of Acura buyers. Type S models might be on the way, too.
The fact that the RDX is more affordable and spacious than many competitors definitely contributes to the Acura’s positive sales momentum, but the brand would like to move beyond just value. As St. Cyr explained to us, Acura wants to make the jump to being a brand consumers want for what it is, as compared to a sensible alternative for when the German brands are too expensive. It’s a worthwhile goal. The RDX may be imperfect, but it’s a solid crossover with more personality than the last-gen model had. And judging by sales that make it the best-selling compact luxury crossover by retail volume, and the third best-selling luxury nameplate, period, trailing only the Lexus RX and Tesla Model 3, the RDX may preview things to come as Acura starts revamping the rest of its lineup.
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