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Acura hides a slick Android-based interface in yet another SUV

The 2019 RDX will go on sale with the company’s new infotainment system

Photography by Sean O’Kane

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Acura RDX Prototype.
Acura RDX Prototype.

Another auto show, another luxury SUV you’re probably going to look at if you’re shopping in the $40,000-$50,000 range. This time, it’s the turn of the 2019 Acura RDX Prototype, a thinly disguised version of a car that will go on sale in the second half of 2018 and shown for the first time at the Detroit Auto Show.

Acura has been rather lost in the woods lately. Even most of the less expensive Honda models have features such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, whereas the supercar NSX has screens that felt dated a decade ago. The new RDX promises more space and performance than the outgoing model that’s a rival to the likes of the Audi Q5 and BMW X. It has a new 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine — derived from the hot Honda Civic Type R hatchback — replacing the 3.5-liter V6 that used to go in stuff like a Honda Pilot SUV.

But the big story behind the RDX Prototype is the infotainment system inside. Gone is Acura’s crunchy and disjointed knob-based system augmented by a slow touchscreen. Now a configurable, Android OS-based system (Honda’s newest unit in the Odyssey minivan is Android-based, as well) controlled through a touchpad is the way Acura wants drivers to interact with all of the infotainment functions available on their future models.

On the face of it, the so-called True Touchpad Interface looks good, if unspectacular. Lots of companies have been using wide screens that look a lot like this 10.2-inch HD one that sticks up from the top of the Acura’s dashboard, high up and pushed a bit away from the driver. Other companies have also started using touchpads to control that screen, with all of the finesse of what you’d find on a late 2000s HP laptop.

But try to go from the navigation icon to the phone icon and you realize you don’t see a cursor as you would on a laptop or even a touchpad system from Lexus — one of Acura’s main rivals. Instead, you place your finger on the part of the touchpad that corresponds to where the tile is on the screen and the icon lights up with the red-orange background. Click, and you’re in.

Better still, the tiles for navigation and other functions on the screen are configurable, and you can even make favorites for people you call a lot, destinations you want directions to a number of times, or even your favorite radio stations. And these tiles can be moved to the corners of the screen, which lets you simply tap one of the four corners of the touchpad to activate them.

Acura may have finally embraced that drivers want very little out of their infotainment systems other than navigation or a way to play the radio or podcasts or to ignore a call from a boss. Whereas automakers such as Mercedes-Benz want to give you every choice to perform a function in your car, be it talking to it through a proprietary voice assistant or touching the screen, Acura has basically picked one thing it wants to do well.

Of course, there is a voice control function coming to the new Acura system on the RDX, as well as a smattering of hard keys that make the center console look more at home in a Civic rather than a luxury intender. But for functionality, the 2019 RDX may be tough to beat for those who would rather things just work, instead of being revolutionary.