I have no set order or reasoning to how I am scheduling my test drives. I guess some of it is stock dependent: if a dealer does not have the car I’m interested in on their lot, I’m not going to drive something else just for grins. In general, though, I head to whatever dealership my car muse sends me to.
Last week I randomly picked my local Acura dealer – right across the street from the Mercedes dealer! – to test drive the most interesting vehicle in my search: the RDX.
I say the RDX is most interesting because it doesn’t fit into the neat slots the other cars I’m looking at fit into. Or at least according to the car press. And I can’t figure out why.
Based on size, features, and price, the RDX should absolutely be rated against the GLC300, etc. However, car sites generally place it with cars the next rung up the size ladder. I guess Acura has some say in this, but it makes no sense to me.
I only mention this because it makes it tough to, on paper at least, compare the RDX to the rest of my list. Ultimately my purchase will come down to my preferences. But if the RDX is ranked as the eighth-best mid-sized SUV, does that make it the best compact SUV? Or third? Or 10th?
(I wrote the previous section based on my research earlier this year. As I was prepping for my next test drive, I noticed several sites now list the RDX in the luxury compact space. But not all of them. Strange. I guess I need to update my spreadsheet!)
Anyways…I drove an RDX that features the A-Spec package. This is a largely cosmetic set of options that makes the RDX look a lot more sporty. Reviewers are mixed on the package. Some find it a required upgrade. Others think it adds little to the vehicle and the smarter buy is one step of options down: all-wheel drive plus the Technology package.
The more standard RDXes do not fit my eye, so I figured go with the sporty one.
It had been nearly a month since I test drove the Mercedes, so it was tough to make direct comparisons. The RDX drove nice enough, although the transmission did feel a little jerkier than the GLC. Some of that difference could have been because of the differences in the various driving modes that the sale guy was flipping through as I drove. Those changes are certainly less subtle than corresponding moves in the Mercedes. You KNOW when you go from Comfort to Sport to Sport 2 in the RDX.
You flip through these modes via a large dial just below the climate controls. It looks like a giant volume button, and I guarantee both drivers and passengers have changed the drive mode accidentally, thinking they were cranking the volume up when “Freebird” came on.
Like many current cars, the RDX dispenses with the traditional gear shifter. Instead, you push buttons to shift from park to reverse to drive and back, as if you were changing the mode of the ventilation system. This seems very strange to me. I guess it makes sense once you’ve used it awhile.
The RDX rode nice, accelerated well, and cornered confidently. But it still seemed slightly less refined in each area than the GLC.
One of the biggest issues professional car reviewers have with modern autos is with the entertainment systems. Or at least the user interactions with the systems. They never seem entirely happy with any of the setups. Acura’s tends to get banged especially hard. My sales guy walked me though the basics of it, but even he said it can be complicated. “You’ll get used to it in a week,” he insisted.
That may be the case, but it was so difficult to grasp the basics that I couldn’t safely test it out while driving. The big negative is the central screen does not have a touch interface. I know that saves some money, but it seems insane not to offer one. Touch screens are an integral part of most people’s lives today. Not allowing the driver to tap the screen to make selections seems terribly outdated, and/or cheap.
Like most other cars in the class, there is a small touch pad located in the center console that is the main way to control the entertainment system. It was kind of janky. My first attempt to select something often missed. The controls on the steering wheel were also way less intuitive in how and what they controlled than on the GLC.
The RDX did have two things the Mercedes lacked. First were ventilated seats. These are standard on the RDX while they require an upgrade on the GLC. It was a cool day when I drove, but the sun was shining brightly so it was nice to get a shot of cool air from below. I bet those are really nice on Indiana summer days.
The second difference will sound strange, but it was the presence of a spare tire. A lot of cars in this class come standard with run-flat tires. Rather than a jack and spare under the cargo area floor, you get additional cargo space and a number to call if your tire fails before you can replace it. I’ve struggled with this concept since I began my research. This will still be a family car. Is it the safest option, should a pothole destroy my tire, to pull over, call roadside assistance, and wait for help rather than be able to throw on even a donut spare and get home? Run flats often have to be replaced in pairs, too, which doubles the price of repairing the inevitable flat.
Overall the RDX is a nice car. While it is fairly well appointed on the inside, it did feel a little plasticy, and thus a step down, compared to the more luxurious GLC. That makes sense: the RDX checks in several thousand dollars cheaper. That still feels like too much to spend on a car and not get the highest quality interior materials throughout the cabin.
My research has also popped up a lot of complaints about the reliability of the RDX. You have to be careful with how you read user reviews these days. The most negative seem to get the most attention. But when there seem to be a lot of scathing indictments that indicate the RDX will constantly be in the shop, I have to factor them in. Of course plenty of people say never to buy a German car for the same reason.
The sales guy was fine. I did detect a whiff of BS on him. I told him up front that I had three months to figure out what my next car will be, and this was the beginning of the process. I suppose because it was the end of the month, he kept gently pushing me to learn more about their incentives that were about to disappear, talk about Acura buying out my current lease, and made some other comments that suggested he wanted to get me in an RDX today.
As carefree as I’m being about this process, I still don’t like it when sales people don’t pick up on the clear parameters I give them. I’ll dance your dance when it’s time, but for now we’re going to dance my dance, dude. He also took two lengthy calls from other clients while we were together, which annoyed me.
The RDX was always a bit of a wildcard. It ticks some very important boxes, notably price, but falls short in some others. With the adjustment in how it is being classified by some review sites, it has changed how I can measure it against others in the luxury subcompact class.
Based on this test drive I don’t know that it will make my final list. But that’s mostly because I have at least three more initial test drives to make and it feels like there is plenty of room to beat it. Should some of those fall short of my expectations, the RDX could absolutely sneak into my final group to take another look at.