Like its competitors, the RDX relies on a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine for motivation. Front-wheel drive comes standard, although all-wheel-drive is a $2,000 option. Dubbed Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), the RDX’s all-wheel-drive system sends up to 70 percent of power to the rear axle, as well as to each individual rear wheel.
No matter the drivetrain, the engine produces the same 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, which it distributes to the drive wheels by way of a 10-speed automatic transmission. With seemingly no turbo lag and a torque peak that holds steady from 1,600 to 4,500 rpm, the forced-induction four moves the 4,015-pound RDX A-Spec with impressive authority. It also produces a surprisingly sweet sound at wide-open throttle.
More irksome is the Acura’s transmission. Its 5.25:1 first-gear ratio is annoyingly short and makes the crossover feel far too eager off the line – even during lackadaisical driving. Unfortunately, the RDX starts off in first-gear in its Comfort, Sport, and Sport Plus drive modes (we didn’t fiddle with Snow mode in the heat of South Florida). The gearbox is also prone to hunting around its upper ratios at highway speeds as it attempts to balance power and fuel efficiency.
Nevertheless, boot the accelerator pedal to the floorboard to make a pass and the transmission quickly drops down a cog or four (both 10th- to sixth-gear and seventh- to third-gear downshifts are possible). Plus, there’s a set of steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters for additional driver control.
Despite its sporty pretense, the A-Spec makes do with the standard dampers of lesser RDX models. Only the top-of-the-line RDX Advance includes adaptive dampers. Predictably, the RDX A-Spec rides somewhat stiffly on its model-specific 20-inch wheels and tires. At least its cabin proves impressively tranquil thanks to appropriate mitigation of exterior noises.
While the RDX’s communicative chassis and advanced all-wheel-drive system do a fine job of pushing the crossover through corners, the high-riding hatchback struggles to inspire driver confidence. Blame the Goodyear Eagle RS-A all-season rubber and the RDX’s electric-assist power steering. The latter’s rack-and-pinion setup relies on two pinions – one receiving inputs from the driver, the other from an electric motor – and a ratio that varies from 15.1:1 on-center to 12:1 at full-lock, the combination of which curses the RDX with artificially light steering that fails to add appropriate heft in turns.
Similarly, the RDX’s electric brake booster makes for a left pedal that’s both too touchy and somewhat wooden in its actions. Although the RDX never seems short on braking capability in day-to-day driving, the brake pedal’s wonky modulation often makes it difficult to judge the correct amount of pedal pressure required to bring the crossover to a smooth halt.