Back in 1986, Honda’s new luxury car division, Acura, aimed squarely at the established premium car market with athletic, well-built, and reliable cars that immediately altered how buyers felt about what they should expect from their hard-earned investment. With the compact Integra and the mid-size Legend, Acura got a big head-start on Lexus and Infiniti.

Today, Acura outsells Lincoln, Cadillac, Volvo and Infiniti with two products that account for 75 percent of its U.S. sales. The full-size MDX crossover, and this week’s RDX compact crossover, each outsell the three remaining cars (combined) in Acura’s lineup.

Acura RDX A-Spec

When the RDX debuted in 2006, it was loosely based on Honda’s CR-V. Now, it is longer than the CR-V and closely mimics the dimensions of its primary rivals in the luxury car crossover segment, products called the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, Cadillac’s XT4, the Genesis GV70, the Infiniti QX50, the Lexus NX, Mercedes’ GLC, and Volvo’s XC60. This is a group with several very competent offerings.

The vast majority of these five-passenger wagons uses a 2.0-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine as base power — just like the Acura. The RDX gets points for making its turbo-motor the most powerful, with a robust 272-hp and 280-pound/feet of push-in-the-back torque. Weighing less than all but the Cadillac, the RDX is also the second least expensive in base FWD form, starting at $41,145.

This third generation RDX is 187-inches long, on top of a 108-inch wheelbase. By comparison, the Acura has the longest body in the class, but the second shortest wheelbase, bettering only the Lexus. Longer wheelbase usually translates into more stable driving dynamics and a smoother ride. That the RDX proved secure and composed during an ugly stretch of sub-zero January weather says a lot about how much this machine has matured.

When first sampled 15-years ago, it was easy to see the RDX was a game-changer. It was more athletic than its early peers, like many Honda products are. The cabin was nicely done, but not outrageous. The first RDX was a balanced performer at a time when not every compact crossover was well sorted out. Value was evident with quality in many of the details.

Acura RDX A-Spec interior.

The same remains true now. The feel of the leather-clad steering wheel fits your hands appropriately. The 16-way suede and leather seats are just right — supportive for long days, yet easy to climb in and out of. The accent stitching, the 27-element interior lighting choices, the electronic driving aids, the impressive 16-seaker ELS audio system, plus the textures on the surfaces that you interact with seems appropriate for the premium class — $52,845 as shown in mid-level A-Spec trim wearing luscious apex blue pearl paint.

In a sea of automobiles painted black, white, and some shade of silver/gray, the Acura’s vibrant color was alluring. The whole stance and design of the wagon seems efficient, proper.

Other noteworthy content includes Amazon Alexa, wireless charging and access to Apple and Android, heated and ventilated front seats, surround view camera, and jewel-eye LED lighting. The Super Handling AWD ($2,000) adds dynamic driving options and paddle shifters, but no locking button to keep all four wheels pulling forward. The high-resolution center panel screen offers navigation and a wealth of info, yet the mouse-pad controller on the console is very distracting to operate while driving.

Lighter than its rivals helps the RDX feel very spritely. Less weight for the turbo to power down the road helped Acura engineers abandon the heavier V-6 engine formerly used here. EPA ratings are 21/26/23-mpg for AWD models running through a slick 10-speed automatic. With much of the RDX’s visit coinciding with sub-zero temps, fuel economy barely got to 21-mpg for the whole week, including a lengthy sunny day run to Bingham and back.

Two thoughts: Acura won’t have a hybrid version ready until late this year — which feels like a miss with this mid-cycle makeover of such an important product. Given Honda’s impressive success with the CR-V Hybrid only adds to the miss-calculation. The Acura ADX, its first EV, won’t appear until late 2023.

The RDX is clearly superior to several of its competitors, but the Korean brands are fast looming in the rear view mirror. Genesis’ GV70 has the value quotient formula down pat and is making rapid in-roads in the luxury segment, while Kia’s latest Sorento matches the RDX in content and features for significantly less money. It may not have the premium cache, yet, however rapidly escalating new car prices and limited product availability are creating consumer anxiety in the market. Even with the Acura built right here in Ohio, production is impacted by the same supply-side and computer chip issues as other builders.

Tim Plouff has been reviewing automobiles for more than 20 years.

Acura RDX A-Spec.