As the compact luxury Acura RDX SUV enters the 2012 model year - a swan song in its current form - is it still a competitive entry in a market segment that was far less overpopulated when it was first unveiled? Was Honda right to make the 2013 Acura RDX that was unveiled at this year’s Detroit Auto Show a stylistic mini-MDX? Should they have thrown out the current 2.3 liter 240 horsepower turbocharged 4-cylinder engine in favor of a more traditional V6? Or would that have robbed the RDX of the identity that made it special to buyers?
To answer those questions and appease those who are thinking that they don’t want to wait for the 2013 RDX model, we road tested this quirky and off-kilter yet highly capable luxury compact sport utility for a week. Given our experience driving rivals like the Lexus RX350 and Audi Q5 2.0T (among others), we can guarantee you one thing remains true about the 2012 Acura RDX: it's still the only premium entry whose sticker price is reasonable enough that it probably wouldn’t even give Dick Cheney yet another cardiac episode.
Even fully loaded with all of the bells, whistles, luxuries and Acura’s excellent SH-AWD system, the price with destination for our 2012 model came to just $35,780. Just try to similarly equip an Audi Q5 like that and you might need to sell your first born just to cover the cost difference.
For a dose of perspective, you can also find fully loaded Kia Sorentos and Toyota Highlanders on dealer lots for that same price. Sure those both have third row seats but to be quite honest they appear designed to accommodate a tribe of 3 foot tall Amazonian pygmy tribal elders. And while those other SUVs both have V-6 engines, do you really think that will impress your friends, co-workers and neighborhood frenemies? The Acura badge is unique among premium brands in that it will impress snobs yet won’t piss off people who aren’t doing as well as you financially.
2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD: Exterior
It’s undeniable that big brother MDX has the smoother and sleeker SUV shape but there is something wackily endearing and almost hot hatch-like about the exterior look of the 2012 Acura RDX. Or you might say it looks kind of bird like what with its protruding silver beak. No matter, we think it looks awfully mean and just a tiny bit bad ass in all black. Darth Vader would drive just to freak other drivers out on the road. Simply put, a black RDX has a dose of visual menace that you just don’t see in a black Lexus RX. Do they sell black Lexuses or all they all silver?
No matter, the current generation RDX has been on the market for a while now so we are pretty sure you already know what you think of how it looks. We happen to like the somewhat off-kilter proportions, hyper chromed out door handles and the clever way that its character lines seem to mask its true size. Despite having a roomy interior, the 2012 Acura RDX appears quite small which is not the easiest thing to do when styling any vehicle. Just look at the current generation Hyundai Sonata, Courtney Love and the last generation BMW 7-Series for proof that body panel “character lines” often times add a significant amount of visual heftiness to any shape.
2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD: Interior
Considering its rather compact exterior dimensions, it’s amazing how much storage space that Acura crammed into the 2012 Acura RDX. First off the center console between the front seats is so deep that it has a false floor so you can REALLY hide valuables away from thieves. Or a dead body in there. Your choice.
And while we wondered why there was no sunglass holder over our heads as per usual in this class, we found that the two lidded cubbies in the doors worked perfectly to stash eyewear. And there are two spots available for both the driver and front passenger. It does stand to reason that both of said occupants would need sunglasses if, for sooth, the sun was out.
2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD: Fuel Economy
One of the biggest gripes about the RDX originally was that it came with a 4-cylinder engine but only returned EPA estimates of 17 city/22 highway on premium unleaded. We averaged a decent 20.4 miles per gallon during a week of equally mixed town and Southern California freeway driving which translated to a decent cruising range courtesy of an 18 gallon fuel tank.
A 2012 Lexus RX350 we recently tested returned a little over 19 miles per gallon while an Audi Q5 2.0T with the base 4-cylinder returned a healthy 23 miles per gallon perhaps thanks to the benefit of a then all-new 8-speed automatic. Both of the Lexus and Audi compact luxury suvs run on premium unleaded. So if you want to buy from a premium car brand, expect to probably have to buy premium unleaded gasoline. That should always be an important consideration when setting aside a budget for vehicle expenses.
2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD: Driving Experience
When this first generation of Acura RDX luxury SUV was first released it was highly controversial to many in the auto industry because no one thought a luxury brand buyer would deign to drive anything with a 4-cylinder engine. Now, the 2.3 liter 240 horsepower/260 lb. feet of torque turbocharged 4-cylinder in the 2012 Acura RDX may not run on the sound of silence like a Lexus RX350 but it has a sporty sounding engine note and very VW GTI-like feel to the power delivery. There is but a hint of turbo lag but don’t be surprised if the 2012 Acura RDX tricks you into forgetting you are driving an SUV and just bought a tall hot hatch. Sort of like a Subaru Impreza WRX Outback, if such a vehicle existed.
Hey, why give up your turbo thrills, a steering wheel that actually offers meaty feedback and cornering ability you would think was impossible in an SUV. Well, at least most of them. Now, our tester came equipped with Acura’s SH-AWD system which is unique in that it works in dry weather as well as inclement snow storms due to its ability to shift as much torque as it want to the inner rear wheel as you corner to increase stability and grip.
Now, Acura has a second generation SH-AWD system coming soon and after a test of the technology recently in Japan we can safely say that it will send lots of car companies back to the drawing board. The current 2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD is noticeable mainly when you come to the limits of adhesion and steering control whereas with the next generation SH-AWD, you can drive like an idiot hooligan at a St. Patrick’s Day Parade and no one will ever know. Do be aware that the second generation SH-AWD system has not been confirmed for the 2013 Acura RDX but eventually it should roll out across most of Acura’s model lineup.
2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD: Final Thoughts
Fast forward a few years and Audi relies heavily on the use of turbocharged 4-cylinder engines like the one that is the heart and soul of the 2012 Acura RDX’s character. Even the golden sacred cow of luxury sport sedan (the BMW 3-Series, of course) will have a 4-cylinder engine introduced along with its upcoming redesign. Yes, if you’ve seen the pictures and were thrown off a bit, the 2013 BMW 3-Series is, in fact, new. Apparently, however, the exterior design department at BMW was not notified of the impending redesign and was therefore utterly uninvolved.
Admittedly, the upcoming 2013 Acura RDX looks suspiciously like an MDX that was left in the dryer for too long but you must admit the design is a hit with the buying public. It’s odd, though, that Acura decided to ditch the two things that made the RDX so unique the first time around which was its now oft-copied turbo 4-cylinder concept and also that oddly endearing square hot hatch on stilts stance that helped it stand out in the parking lot of Costco.
But then look at it this way, you now have three choices when it comes to buying an Acura RDX. You can buy a certified pre-owned last generation RDX from an Acura dealer; buy one of these last remaining new 2012 RDX models or hold out for the more homogeneous looking 2013 RDX which will no doubt sell better than any candy mixing peanut butter with chocolate. The 2012 RDX was an SUV that was good due to its unique flavors that you would never expect to work together—kind of like eating fried chicken with waffles which we can assure you is a life altering experience in food mixing.
But no matter which RDX you go for, the fact that Acura has made the first and generation models so unique and dissimilar from its peers proves that there is more than one way to build a successful compact luxury SUV. Someone had better run out to tell the Infiniti FX35 about all of this, however. An SUV, no matter what the price, still needs to offer more cargo room than a 1975 Ford Pinto.
What We Love About the 2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD
Styling Divides Option
Huge Cargo Area is Usefully Square and is Large with Second Row Seats Folded Flat
Affordably Priced Even with SH-AWD
Comes With Every Luxury Feature You Could Want
Huge Cubby Holes in front doors and Deep Center Console
Engine is Characterful, Fast and Makes Fun Noises
Terrifically Secure Handling and Taut Steering Feel
An IIHS "Top Safety Pick"
What We Loathe About the 2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD
Just So-So Fuel Economy
No Purpose Built Overhead Sunglass Holder
Dashboard Feels a Bit Close to Driver and Front Passenger’s Knees
Styling Divides Opinion