It was approximately 4 p.m. when the snow began falling in earnest as we drove on Interstate 5 north of Redding, climbing toward Mount Shasta City (elevation 3,600 feet). Within 20 minutes, we were restricted to driving in the right lane, where the trucks kept the snow from sticking; there were 4 inches of snow in the left lane.
We rarely get a chance to test cars in the extreme conditions for which they were designed, but in this case we were happy to be driving the all-new for 2019 Acura RDX SH-AWD A-Spec. We were about to find out if the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive could do what the brochure touted: automatically handle all variations in road surface and traction. Fortunately, we had read about the new features before starting the trip from Los Altos to Oregon, so we knew to switch the selectable traction mode to Snow and switch off the active cruise control.
Over the next two hours as we drove through the snowstorm, we could not have been more impressed with the competence of the RDX. We passed at least five vehicles that had already slid out of control after the snow started to fall. This new Acura may be the most sure-footed SUV ever built for bad weather conditions.
Superb stability system
With all manufacturers touting – with good cause – their modern stability control systems and all-wheel drive, what is Acura doing that’s different? Torque-vectoring to individual wheels using electronic differentials on each rear axle as well as from front wheels to rear wheels. This allows power always to be directed to the wheels with the greatest traction, changing rapidly and automatically as the sensors detect differences in traction on individual wheels.
Under normal circumstances, to improve handling stability the system puts more power to the outside rear wheel on curves, and to the rear wheels when the car is going uphill. When the two rear wheels are on different surfaces, as when we pulled out to pass a stopped truck, and had to move from wet but snow-free pavement to several inches of unplowed snow with patches of ice underneath, the system can shift power instantaneously from one wheel to another to avert a skid.
If we were buying an all-purpose SUV and anticipated regular trips to the mountains in the winter, this Acura would top our list – just for its all-wheel drive stability system.
And in nearly every other respect, there is much to like about this crossover. Our A-Spec was stickered at $46,495, though we could have skipped the 20-inch wheels and wider tires and opted for the Technology package, the next lower trim level. Acura doesn’t offer individual options, but rather bundles them into trim packages. The Base package is below Technology and the Advanced package is above A-Spec.
All packages include the single available powertrain, an adequate turbocharged four-cylinder two-liter engine pushing 272 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque through a 10-speed automatic transmission and front-rear, side-to-side electronic differentials. Fuel economy is rated at 21 mpg city, 28 mpg highway and 23 mpg combined, almost exactly what we recorded in 800 miles of wintry driving.
The semi-autonomous driving system is also improved this year. It’s about as impressive as the handling system. We could opt separately for active cruise control with distance and speed management, as well as lane-keeping assistance that controls the vehicle’s direction and speed with only moderate intervention by the drive. Lane-keeping is rapidly becoming a must-have on any vehicle we’re going to be driving in highway conditions of long monotonous stints punctuated by stop-and-go driving, the perfect description for a drive from Los Altos to more northern parts of California.
The snow exposed one flaw of the two driver-assistance systems, however. The radar and vision sensors that track vehicles ahead and lane markers, essential to both systems, are mounted behind the attractive Acura emblem in the front grille. Unfortunately, the wet snow rapidly accumulated in the indented emblem, effectively preventing their operation until the warning on the dashboard indicated we needed to brush the snow free.
We hauled a lot of cargo on this trip and were impressed with the nearly 60 cubic feet of cargo space with the rear seats folded flat. But even with five passengers aboard, 30 cubic feet of luggage, enough for a week of skiing, would fit behind the second row.
And there are two factors that figure more prominently in showroom presentations than on-the-road testing. The complete cosmetic redesign of the exterior and interior elicited our appreciation and drew in bystanders who complimented the looks of our vibrant red test model. And the ease with which we were able to synchronize with our iPhone through AppleTalk (Android is also compatible) made our playlists impressive through the terrific audio system.
Of course, as you would expect of a vehicle with cutting-edge handling and autonomous driving systems, safety features included collision mitigation and warning and an excellent 360-degree camera.
This SUV is not only an excellent value for transportation, but could literally be lifesaving in challenging driving conditions.
Los Altos residents Gary and Genie Anderson co-own Enthusiast Publications LLC, which edits car club magazines and contributes articles and columns to automotive magazines and online services.