Game-changing 2019 Acura RDX Prototype hits the stage in Detroit

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Acura’s game-changing RDX Prototype is a thinly veiled preview of the upcoming 2019 production RDX. (Photo: Acura)

Acura unveiled its 2019 RDX Prototype earlier this week in Detroit as part of the North American International Auto Show, and fittingly the brand’s best-selling model became the first to see a total ground-up redesign in quite some time. In fact, Acura’s own press release calls the upcoming 2019 RDX the “most extensive Acura redesign in more than a decade,” signalling “the beginning of a new era for the luxury automaker.”

Last year’s TLX redo and the 2017 MDX update that arrived the year prior were merely mid-cycle refreshes, the latter introducing the brand’s now trademark “Diamond Pentagon” grille design as part of its remake, but this 2019 RDX Prototype ushers in the first complete redesign of an Acura model since the third-generation 2014 MDX arrived in 2013—the TLX arrived more recently, in 2014 as a 2015 model, but rather than a redesign it was an entirely new vehicle that replaced both the smaller TSX and larger TL.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The new RDX makes a dramatic statement both coming and going. (Photo: Acura)

Speaking of the TLX, last year’s refresh was more comprehensive than the MDX’, but both received thorough updates to their front fascias, as did the RLX late last year as part of its 2018 makeover. After this all-new RDX hits the market in production trim later this year, the entry-level ILX will be next, at which point the entire Acura line will wear the new sharply angled Diamond Pentagon face.

For a bit of history, Acura was launched in Canada and the U.S. in 1986, and has since struggled to find a distinctive identity amongst premium brands that rely heavily on prestige. Even as parent company Honda rolled the brand out in Hong Kong in 1991, Mexico in 2004, China in 2006, Russia (and Ukraine) in 2014, plus Kuwait in 2015, Acura’s original somewhat generic looking pentagon-shaped grille design (often compared to the grille used by Mazdas of the era) merely morphed into a pentagon shaped “shield”, which wasn’t universally appreciated. The bold shield grille was toned down over the years until it once again appeared generic, causing the new Diamond Pentagon design first adapted by a production vehicle in 2016 by the current MDX.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The RDX’ new “Diamond Pentagon” grille looks like a carbon copy of that used on Acura’s new TLX and RLX. (Photo: Acura)

On an aside note, the Acura brand is still not available in its home market of Japan. Honda hoped to introduce it to Japanese buyers in 2008, but the plan was delayed for economic reasons, a decision that’s been upheld since the 2008 financial crisis.

The current second-generation RDX dates back to 2012 when it arrived on the scene as a 2013 model. A 2016 model year facelift modified its grille and added the standard “Jewel Eye” LED headlamps that have become a fixture across the entire Acura lineup, but take note the new 2019 RDX Prototype modifies those LEDs with a septet of smaller rectangular units instead of its current five.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The outgoing RDX’ five-element LED headlamps will make way for this new seven-unit design. (Photo: Acura)

The RDX Prototype’s Diamond Pentagon grille appears identical in shape if not size to that already in use by the TLX and new RLX, all of which are slightly bolder and more pronounced than the first MDX variant, but the lower front fascia of the prototype pulls cues from that used by the Japanese brand’s larger SUV, particularly the pointed body-colour strike-throughs within the corner vents. They’re much larger and point in the opposite direction with the RDX Prototype, these, along with their horizontal row of LED fog lamps instead of the MDX’ vertical stack, flowing more naturally into the centre portion of the fascia. We think the RDX Prototype’s lower fascia design works well, especially how it wraps around to the sides of the bumper, and hope it makes production and even influences the MDX’ future mid-cycle update.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The lower fascia is attractive, with unique design elements and horizontal LED fog lamps. (Photo: Acura)

Likewise the more expressive headlamps wrap more fully around the sides of the new prototype’s front fenders before following the curvature of the front wheel cutouts upward to where they finalize at the hood line. Those fenders are rounder and more organically shaped, flowing naturally into more fluidly sculpted door panels, with the arcing greenhouse culminating at the centre point of the rear quarter window instead of the base. Look no further than the recently redesigned Honda CR-V for the side windows’ inspiration, although we should take note that the upswept similarity to the CR-V has little to do with matching hard points that were previously difficult to masque in the old RDX’ transition from mainstream volume-branded model to premium luxury variant—more on that in a moment.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Hopefully these 21-inch alloys make it to production on top-tier A-Spec trim. (Photo: Acura)

The top corner of the RDX Prototype’s rear design forms a visual “X” where extended chrome window trim butts up against body-colour rooftop and side panels plus glossy black rear window trim extensions, resulting in a unique take on current floating roof trends used by Lexus’ RX and Nissan’s Murano, while the multi-angled LED taillights probably have more in common with the aforementioned CR-V than anything in Acura’s past, albeit strike an even closer resemblance to Honda’s fabulous new Accord Sedan. Either way it’s all in the family, with a look that’s fresh, modern and harmonious to the rest of the RDX’ design. Lastly, the gloss-black diffuser style rear bumper cap hints at this prototype previewing Acura’s sportiest A-Spec trim level, a performance upgrade not yet offered with the RDX but nevertheless promised for the 2019 production model, while the gorgeous machine-finished 21-inch alloys further this argument.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Will these narrow side mirrors find their way to production? Probably not, but something similar albeit slightly larger will. (Photo: Acura)

All in all, each and every curve and fold that forms the new RDX Prototype, from the front grille rearward, shows greater influence by Acura’s Precision Concept than anything the brand has created since the sensational four-door coupe debuted at 2016’s Detroit auto show, which we consider a very good thing. The RDX adapts the two-year-old concept’s “low, wide and sleek presence to a five-passenger SUV,” says Acura, which results in a “more athletic stance and proportions” thanks to a 30-mm (1.2-inch) wider track, 63-mm (2.5-inch) longer wheelbase, and a shortened front overhang, the performance-oriented look further enhanced by each wheel getting pushed farther toward the SUV’s corners.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Acura executes a unique take on the floating roof trend. (Photo: Acura)

“The all-new RDX delivers a powerful statement about who we are and where we are headed as a brand,” said Jon Ikeda, vice president and general manager of Acura. “For our customers, the new RDX is a quantum leap forward in design, style and performance, with luxury features and technology that will elevate their ownership experience.”

So, about the new RDX not needing to conform to the CR-V’s hard points: according to the Japanese automaker it will soon ride upon its own Acura-exclusive platform architecture. Acura hasn’t named the platform per se, instead only expanding on the subject by saying it gets a “lighter and dramatically stiffened body” and a “sophisticated new chassis,” so it’s more likely the new RDX gets a modified version of the same Honda-sourced modular architecture used by the latest Civic, and yes, the CR-V. No one should have issue with this considering just how good these two Honda-branded vehicles are, and more importantly Acura promises the “quickest, best-handling RDX ever.” Anyone who’s spent time in a Civic Si or, better yet, Civic R will attest that Honda’s new modular platform is one impressive bit of kit, so if indeed a version of this setup underpins the new RDX, upgraded with premium-level improvements, we’d hardly complain.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Check out the new Honda Accord’s taillights to appreciate their familial familiarity to these RDX lenses. (Photo: Acura)

As most expected, the RDX’ much-lauded V6 gets the axe for 2019, marking a return to turbocharged four-cylinder power, a formula that launched the original RDX way back in 2006 and quickly gave it a reputation for performance. The replacement engine is a much more efficient 16-valve, DOHC turbocharged 2.0-litre four-cylinder with direction injection and, of course, VTEC. To be more accurate, the turbocharger is a low-inertia mono-scroll design, promoting a wider, fatter torque curve, resulting in 40 percent more low-end torque than the outgoing RDX, no doubt helped along by its dual variable timing cam.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The new RDX’ cabin appears to be a major move upmarket. (Photo: Acura)

Acura isn’t talking numbers at this point, but it will likely produce something north of the current SUV’s 279 horsepower and 252 lb-ft of torque in order to live up to faster portion of the aforementioned claim of “quickest, best-handling RDX ever,” although part of its accelerative advantage may come from its segment-first 10-speed automatic transmission, which “responds quickly” and “to the will of the driver,” says Acura, “with crisp and refined shifts that capitalize on the 2.0-litre engine’s flat torque curve.” Acura hasn’t announced an electrified version of this new RDX yet, but the new engine’s 2.0-litre displacement is identical to the new Accord Hybrid’s four-cylinder, which might make inclusion of that power unit more feasible.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Few rivals offer a head-up display unit in this compact luxury SUV class. (Photo: Acura)

Making sure all wheels find traction will be the next-generation of Acura’s impressive Super-Handling All Wheel Drive “in its most advanced form yet.” It gets a new rear differential capable of 150 percent more maximum torque capacity than the outgoing RDX. Whether or not this justifies the Japanese company boasting of its new SH-AWD as “the most sophisticated and capable torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system in its class” remains to be seen, but no doubt the claim will ruffle a few feathers at Audi, let alone BMW and Mercedes. Still, we shouldn’t question Acura’s engineering prowess when it comes to fast-moving all-wheel drive, as SH-AWD was one of the first torque vectoring AWD systems offered in the premium sector.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Configurable gauges provide a lot of functionality from the multi-info display at centre. (Photo: Acura)

Acura ties the RDX’ new Adaptive Damper System to the NSX-inspired Integrated Dynamics System, which features four drive modes including “Sport, Sport+, Comfort and Snow.” The system’s rotating dial selector has been positioned high on the centre console, similarly to its placement within the NSX’ cabin, which allows quick on-the-go adjustment from eco-friendly passive modes to performance settings.

The driver’s environment in mind, in the same way exterior styling was inspired by Acura’s Precision Concept, the new interior design and technology took cues from the Acura Precision Cockpit. This means it gets a more steeply raked floating centre console that’s really a combination of centre-stack and lower console in one, not unlike Porsche’s new centre console layout, albeit with Acura’s new single-display tablet-style widescreen up top, unique dual-zone HVAC interface in the middle, downright unorthodox gear selector setup below that, and totally new infotainment touchpad at the bottom.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
This impressive 10.2-inch widescreen infotainment display is now at the head of its class. (Photo: Acura)

Acura calls the latter its True Touchpad Interface, which it says is a completely new design that combines “the best elements of a touchscreen and remote interface in one powerful system.” The touchpad controls an Android operating system-based infotainment interface that appears to be at least as good as anything available in the compact luxury SUV segment thus far, the full-HD display measuring 10.2 inches in diameter, with ultra-crisp resolution, attractive graphics and deep, rich colours and contrast. Alternatively the system will project onto the windshield ahead of the driver via an available interactive head-up display, although despite photos provided (see the gallery) we’ll need to wait until we’ve tested it to comment.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The infotainment system is controlled by this advanced “one-to-one” touchpad. (Photo: Acura)

Perfecting the infotainment experience has been a top priority amongst automakers since BMW was lambasted for its original iDrive system way back in 2001, the then-new E65 7 Series dumbfounding customers and industry professionals alike with its complex Microsoft Windows CE for Automotive-based user interface. BMW and every other manufacturer have come a long way since, with the majority of premium makes attempting to one-up their rivals with innovative ways to digitally interact.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Acura’s unique button-actuated gear selector is joined by a rotating driving mode selector above. (Photo: Acura)

With voice recognition still a long way from perfection despite this upcoming RDX featuring a “new natural language voice recognition system” that Acura claims “dramatically improves the ease and intuitiveness of voice commands” (again we’ll defer judgment until tested), hand/finger actuation remains the sole process, with BMW’s rotating/side-tap dial having been joined by variations on the theme, some with switchgear on top and others with tiny touchpads, while Lexus has introduced both a joystick and touchpad of its own, neither of which has been widely lauded. Along the way Apple’s iPad and Android tablets that followed arrived on the consumer electronics market and similar touchscreen’s took on automotive roles, with Tesla and Volvo earning kudos for theirs, but no system satisfies everyone.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The new RDX uses authentic woods, metals and Nappa leathers. (Photo: Acura)

Acura’s outgoing dual-display setup attempted to satiate the masses with a best of both worlds’ scenario, the top monitor operated via a rotating dial plus surrounding buttons and the lower one a touchscreen, but the new RDX will introduce the aforementioned single widescreen display along with a new touchpad design said to deliver “the advantages of both conventional touchscreen and remote-based approaches.” Basically, Acura has devised a touchscreen featuring “one-to-one” realism, with the tap of a specific spot on the touchpad duplicated on the exact same spot of the display above. The system responds similarly with other tablet-like gestures, such as swiping and pinching. So, why not skip the touchpad altogether and simply install a touchscreen like so many others? As those who’ve lived with touchscreens already know, they can sometimes be a stretch, especially if mounted up high on the dash where they’re closest to the clear line of sight to the road ahead. A remote touchpad can be mounted closer to a driver’s hand for easier and safer operation, but again we’ll have to wait to experience it firsthand in order to judge it.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
The RDX’ front seats are 16-way powered and heated, with optional ventilation. (Photo: Acura)

“Absolute positioning transforms the touchpad experience, making it personal, intuitive and particularly well-suited for premium, driver-centric, performance machines,” said Ross Miller, senior engineer of user interface research. “It’s also designed to be adopted quickly and easily, as drivers become acclimated and comfortable in minutes.”

Comfort in mind, this larger RDX, in particular its longer wheelbase, promises a “more spacious” interior “with first-class comfort for five passengers,” which Acura claims as having “class-leading cabin space, rear legroom and rear cargo space.” The Japanese brand highlights the RDX’ new sport steering wheel as being key to its upmarket experience, this matching new “more intricately sculpted and styled” sport seats with 16-way powered adjustment for both the driver and front passenger, full-grain perforated Nappa leather for its soft, supple texture and durability, as well as seat heaters and cooled ventilation. Overall Acura says the RDX’ cabin will include “contemporary detailing using authentic, high-grade materials throughout,” including brushed aluminum and open-pore Olive Ash wood.” Lastly but hardly least, its “new ultra-wide panoramic sliding moonroof” is “the largest in its class.”

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
This is the largest panoramic sunroof in the compact luxury SUV class. (Photo: Acura)

The RDX Prototype also features a 16-channel, 710-watt Acura ELS Studio 3D audio system developed by Panasonic and tuned by Grammy Award-winning music producer and longtime Acura partner, Elliot Scheiner. Unique to this system are four “ultra-thin, ceiling-mounted speakers” that “add a new dimension of sound and fidelity to the audio experience,” so we’re hoping to hear it in person if included in the production RDX.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Rear seat roominess appears expansive, while rear seat heaters are available. (Photo: Acura)

That 2019 model will definitely include the brand’s AcuraWatch suite of advanced safety and driver-assistive technologies, however, which (depending on model) currently features forward collision warning, autonomous collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning, road departure mitigation, lane keeping assist, and more, while additional connected-car and driver-assistive features like next-generation AcuraLink with 4G LTE Wi-Fi, hill start assist, a 360-surround camera system, front and rear parking sensors, blindspot monitoring with rear cross-traffic alert, and more.

2019 Acura RDX Prototype
Acura promises the most rear cargo space in the compact SUV segment. (Photo: Acura)

Important to Acura’s largest customer base, this is the first time the luxury brand chose to use a U.S. research and development team to create a new vehicle, the RDX’ styling penned by the Acura Design Studio in Los Angeles, California, and engineering done at its Raymond, Ohio facility. North American-market models will continue production at the company’s East Liberty, Ohio plant, although the new 2.0-litre turbo will be built in Anna, Ohio, in the same building as the NSX’ twin-turbo powerplant. The RDX’ 10-speed auto will hail from Tallapoosa, Georgia, making the RDX more American than many produced by U.S. domestic brands—Buick’s directly competitive Chinese-built Envision immediately comes to mind.

Whether buy-American sentiments are behind the current RDX’ strong sales or not can’t be confirmed, but either way the SUV has long been a hit. After 12 months of 2017 it sits amongst America’s top-three best-selling compact luxury SUVs and holds second-place in Canada, despite being well into its lifecycle, so expect this all-new version to shoot up the sales chart after arriving here midway through the year.

Until then, enjoy our complete 2019 RDX Prototype photo gallery as well as the videos Acura provided below:

Full Detroit auto show press launch (20:31):

True Touchpad Interface explained (2:01):

Quick technology overview (0:47):