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Are you in the market for a capable small SUV this model year? You are likely looking for something that is not bulky to drive but still offers plenty of space in the cabin and cargo area. You probably also want something that is actually exciting to drive, that handles more like a spunky sedan than a big SUV. And, of course, infotainment and safety features are going to need to be in abundance since you want the most bang for your buck.
Out of the 2021 Honda CR-V and the 2021 Acura RDX, one of those SUVs will check all your boxes (and then some). We probably won't be able to hide which one that is too well, so we'll just say it up front: it is the CR-V. In fact, out of the entire 2021 segment, the CR-V gives buyers the best deal.
But why is that? What makes the CR-V so special? It does have a few shortcomings, as any vehicle will. And some of them are pretty subjective. As for the RDX, we will tell you right now that it is not a bad choice. It is certainly the more expensive choice, but it is eerily similar to the CR-V in many ways. Why is that, you ask? Well, Acura falls under the Honda umbrella! So you know you are still getting a phenomenal vehicle if you do go for the RDX.
But these two vehicles certainly warrant an in-depth comparison. Nothing is really new for the CR-V this model year, as 2022 will mark the debut of the CR-V's sixth generation. While the 2022 CR-V promises a lot of fantastic changes, the 2021 model is nothing to scoff at, at all. Buyers tend to enjoy how well its engine balances fuel economy with power. They also talk quite a bit about how roomy the cabin is for passengers fore and aft, not to mention how much versatility is wrapped up in the cargo area's smart design. The ride quality is comfortable yet athletic, striking a near-perfect balance. Overall, this vehicle is designed for families who are always on the go.
The max towing capacity is what might put off a few buyers. While most vehicles in this segment can tow up to 3,500 pounds, the CR-V can only manage 1,500 pounds. The only other qualm some folks might have is that the touchscreen display can be a bit finicky. It is not horrible, but it can be somewhat distracting to use while also trying to drive.
As you might imagine, the 2021 Acura RDX is a lot like the CR-V. It offers the same precision steering and handling with an abundance of space inside of the cabin. And the cabin itself is definitely high-end, loaded to the brim with fancy, luxury-oriented materials. Its luxury competitors do not offer as much available technology either. What's best is that, this year, you can get the limited-access PMC Edition model. The PMC comes with exclusive Thermal Orange body paint, matching orange stitching on the seats, and glossy black trim on the outside. But there will only be 360 of them, so you'll have to get lucky with availability.
There are some drawbacks to buying the RDX, mainly having to do with the lack of powertrain options. You can only get the turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine (which is good for 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque) with a 10-speed automatic transmission equipped. While this is not a terrible set-up by any means, most competitors in this segment offer at least one other engine choice. You will also have to pay more for optional features that get bundled exclusively into packages. Add to that a difficult-to-use touchpad controller, and you have a few reasons to go for the CR-V instead of the RDX.
That being said, let us take a closer look at the powertrain specs, drivability factors, and safety features included on each SUV. This should help us illustrate why the CR-V is the best option for most buyers.
A powertrain can make or break the driving experience. When it comes to a small SUV, you should expect to get a decent blend of power and fuel efficiency. How do the CR-V and RDX deliver on this balance? Let's find out.
The 2021 Honda CR-V is powered by a standard turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that produces 190 hp. A continuously variable automatic transmission (which is often referred to by its acronym, CVT) comes matched up with it and delivers power to the front wheels. All-wheel drive is available across the entire line-up. The CR-V has a hybrid variant, which offers more fuel efficiency.
The 2021 Acura RDX has a more powerful engine equipped: a turbocharged 2.0-liter four-cylinder engine that delivers 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. It comes paired with a 10-speed automatic transmission. Front- or all-wheel drive can come on any trim level. The Advance trim level offers adaptive suspension dampers that boost the ride comfort and handling capabilities.
What exactly makes a vehicle a pain or pleasure to drive? It is not just about how much power the engine serves up, although that is part of it. Drivability is a more all-encompassing term that we use to describe how well the vehicle accelerates, brakes, steers, handles, offers ride comfort, and even how function its technology can be.
With the 2021 Honda CR-V, you get a standard turbo engine that delivers enough power to get the vehicle from 0 to 60 miles per hour in about 8.2 seconds, which is a quick time for this segment. The CVT is geared for efficiency, sure, but it also does an effortless job of delivering power to the wheels. In fact, we would dare say that Honda has made an art of their CVTs, getting them as close to perfection as possible. This one has responses that feel natural in almost any given situation.
Steering and handling also place the CR-V above the competition. The CR-V handles turns with ease, and the steering feels precise and on-center. This keeps the body motions well under control. With the compliant suspension offering plush comfort, passengers will feel cozy. There is some minor wind and tire noise, but it is nothing intrusive. Rough road surfaces are no problem, even with the Touring's big 19-inch wheels.
As far as the seats go, you get plenty of support from the front ones. The rear seats are able to recline for extra relaxation, and rear HVAC vents distribute air flow to the rear seat occupants. The only problem here is that the automatic climate control system sometimes struggles to maintain the set temperature.
That being said, the cabin itself is spacious. The wide door openings make entering and exiting the vehicle easy, and the driver's seat and tilting and telescoping steering wheel allow for a lot of adjustability. The controls up front can be slightly aggravating, given that they can be hard to press while driving. You do get standard smartphone app integration, and the higher the trim level, the more USB ports you get. While the built-in navigation screen displays clear graphics, the voice controls are clunky, as are some of the buttons on the touchscreen.
The 2021 Acura RDX obviously holds up well against its counterpart. It is a strong performer with regard to the turbo engine. It can sprint the RDX to 60 miles per hour in 7 seconds flat, which is respectable for this segment despite not being a best-in-class time. Predictable and strong, the brakes also inspire quite a bit of confidence. SH-AWD minimizes body roll and keeps the RDX firmly planted on the ground; it is especially helpful for driving over slick road surfaces. Steering is light and easy in parking lots and builds up bulk as you get the vehicle up to speed on the highway.
Comfort is the name of the game here. The front seats can come with heating and ventilation, and the rear outboard seats can have heating too. Jagged road surfaces are no match for the compliant suspension, which dispatches bumps with ease. Cabin noise remains well muted for the most part, and what you hear is standard for a small SUV. And, while this climate control system regulates temperature well, the front air vents are pointed right at the driver's hands - perhaps not an ideal placement for some folks.
The cabin can be a bit polarizing in terms of its design. The touchpad controller, shifter arrangement, and tiny climate control buttons are all rather frustrating to use. They look cool but just are not that functional. Also, you have to deal with some bulky-ish roof pillars that cut down on some outward visibility. The power-operated hinges on the rear hatch also cut down rear visibility.
The cabin is, however, quite spacious and riddled with high-tech gadgetry. The new touchpad interface looks neat, and the infotainment system and sound system are high-tech. The only catch is that the system comes with a learning curve that non-tech savvy buyers might not like. Also, take note that Android Auto is not yet available, though Acura assures us that it will soon be available to existing cars.
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As you might reasonably imagine, safety is paramount for Honda and Acura. For decades, Honda has carried the torch for safety innovation and standards. Every Honda manufactured in 2021 comes with Honda Sensing, a bundle of driver aids aimed to keep vehicles safe on the road. This includes forward collision warning, which will alert you when an impending frontal crash is detected. Collision mitigation braking will apply the brakes for you to help avoid impact. Lane departure warning will alert you if the vehicle strays outside of its lane, and lane keeping assist will gently steer the CR-V back into its intended lane. Adaptive cruise control sets a safe following speed from the vehicle in front of the CR-V. Adaptive headlights are included as well. Upgrading will get you more features, such as a blind spot monitor with rear cross-traffic alert.
The RDX is similarly equipped with driver aids. Adaptive cruise control, forward collision mitigation, and lane departure warning are all standard. The Technology adds a blind spot monitor, rear cross-traffic alert, and parking sensors for the front and rear of the vehicle. Upping it to the Advance gets you a 360-degree surround-view camera system for a full bird's-eye view of the RDX.
Which Has the Best Value?
While we certainly like the 2021 Acura RDX, its price tag might hold a lot of buyers back. The 2021 Honda CR-V is much more reasonably priced. They are pretty similar in terms of features, and both have strong powertrain options. The CR-V is slightly more fuel efficient, and it offers a clear outward view for the driver.
Which is Better?
You might be entranced by the RDX's sleek interior design and high-tech gadgets, but the CR-V offers more practicality for everyday drivers. Families looking for something versatile, roomy, and fun will find that the CR-V is the more reasonable purchase for them.