posted: June 10, 2023
tl;dr: A refined, civilized, lighter-weight SUV that doesn’t stand out as much as it once did...
This week I said goodbye to the black 2015 Acura RDX which my family had owned since the summer of 2018. It has been replaced by a 2023 4-door Jeep Wrangler Willys 4xe plug-in hybrid, making us a two-Jeep family. Arizona is Jeep country, but the Acura served us well while we had it. It made more than a few trips to Disneyland, earning it the moniker “the Disneymobile”.
I can’t talk about the RDX without mentioning the Acura MDX that we owned which preceded it. It’s fair to say that the RDX was an echo of the MDX, both for my family and for Acura. The MDX was a truly revolutionary vehicle when it appeared in the Sport Utility Vehicle (SUV) market in the United States. There were a lot fewer SUVs available back then, with the market leader being the Ford Explorer. We owned a V8 variant of the Explorer, and the large engine made it even noisier and cruder in the way it drove. I still remember the first time I rode in an MDX, when a coworker drove me around in his. I was absolutely stunned at how quiet the engine was, and how smoothly the MDX drove.
So in 2005 when we moved to the Chicagoland area, I sold the Explorer in Portland and bought an Acura MDX. We put around 150,000 miles on the MDX, mostly ferrying kids and groceries around the suburbs along with the occasional trip to see the grandparents in Missouri. The MDX’s rear seat video screen and wireless headphones, along with the in-dash DVD player, were invaluable on long road trips with the kids. Towards the end of its time with us it was still capable of making the trip to Disney World in Florida. Eventually, however, it started to rust and make some strange noises. I am grateful that the MDX served us until our very last day in Illinois, right up through the final time I drove it, which was to Carmax to sell it for more than I was expecting to get.
Given our positive experience with the MDX, it was an easy choice to get an RDX when we moved to Arizona in 2018 with no school-age children. The RDX is basically a smaller version of the MDX, and we didn’t need as much space. I bought a used one from Acura of Tempe a leased vehicle that the prior owner had turned in when the lease expired. I got it for significantly less than a brand new RDX, and it ended up retaining most of its value over the time that we owned it and put almost 50,000 miles on it. I was pleasantly surprised by what I got when I traded it in this week.
The RDX performed admirably for us, as we expected it would. There were only a couple of glitches when its sophisticated on-board computer system complained when the RDX was driven hard for hours on end in the Arizona heat. But a funny thing happened over time: my wife started leaving the RDX in the garage more often than not and driving our older 2-door Jeep Wrangler instead. I no longer needed the Jeep to commute to work, as my employer transitioned to remote work-from-home at the start of the COVID-19 endemic. She had fond memories of driving the Jeep from Illinois to Arizona with our dog riding shotgun, which was surprising to me, as Wranglers are renowned for attributes other than comfort on long drives. She enjoyed driving it around town more than the RDX. With the RDX not being driven much, it was clearly time to replace it with something more appealing.
Over the years from our first MDX to our last RDX, the Acura SUVs have lost much of the uniqueness that originally made them great. The SUV market, especially the 4-door SUV market, has gone from a handful of models at the end of last century to by far the most popular and common type of non-pickup truck vehicle on U.S. roads. The Ford Mustang is now a 4-door SUV; even exotic Italian sports car company Lamborghini is selling SUVs. There are so many similar-looking 4-door SUVs on the market that it's hard to tell them apart except by their branding.
Jeep, to its credit, has managed to keep the Wrangler and its civilian jeep predecessors going strong for more than 75 years. Other Jeep models are more conformist, but the Wrangler stands apart visually and for its off-road performance and feature set. The RDX, alas, is not all that differentiated from its many competitors.