The new Acura RDX crossover has a lot going on: crisp styling, brisk performance that turns surprisingly intense in sport mode, and a revised Super Handling All Wheel Drive system, with 100-percent torque vectoring in the rear, that will make you wish you could take a crack at the old unpaved version of the Pikes Peak Hill Climb. It’s an admirable rebirth of the nimble little ride and loads of fun.
But the RDX’s most vital achievement isn’t in comfort, driving dynamics or outward appearance. Rather, it’s in a square little pad right at your fingertips. The new True Touchpad user interface is probably the first infotainment control mechanism that didn’t make me want to bash my head on the steering wheel in frustration. But more broadly, it’s the first that got the touchpad idea really right. Though there’s a learning curve, after many hours of use while driving the car around Whistler, British Columbia, using it became seamless and intuitive — and refreshingly brisk.
The system deploys an industry-first use of a touchpad technique called “absolute positioning.” In most touchpad systems, you steer a cursor around the main display by dragging your finger across the touchpad, which is usually mounted in the center console in front of the armrests or tucked in next to cupholders. It’s essentially a remote control. That’s true, as well, with the True Touchpad setup, but instead of having to place your finger on the pad to “wake up” the cursor and then steer it around to whatever tile or icon or tab you want to hit — a process that tends to draw your eyes away from the road longer than it should — the cursor materializes in a spot that corresponds precisely to where your finger lands on the pad. In short, the small blank pad replicates the screen, and if your finger lands on the center of the pad, the cursor shows up in the center of the screen.
The result is that, once your brain and fingers internalize the pad’s position and dimensions, you instinctively learn to aim your finger right at the function on the screen you wish to activate, without even looking. So you eyeball the 10.2-inch HD display, see the buttons for navigation, entertainment, calls, etc., and then just tap away as if you’re tapping the screen itself. But you’re not, see?
The new True Touchpad user interface is probably the first infotainment control mechanism that didn’t make me want to bash my head on the steering wheel in frustration.
True, you kind of have to experience it yourself. But while Acura states that the system is immediately intuitive, that’s not necessarily true, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to conventional touchpad interfaces. The absolute positioning thing takes some getting used to, as do the “swiping” movements you can use to quickly flick between screens or functions. But other things — like the crazy-good character recognition that allows you to quickly enter addresses in the navigation system and the natural-language voice recognition — are spot-on. Regardless, the learning curve ends quickly. Messing around with the system in a dealership will give you the gist, but actually taking it on the road is where the magic happens. Everything is quite literally at your fingertips. In fact, the touchpad is even gently parabolic, so your finger is naturally in steady contact with it. Your hand barely has to move at all.
The organization of all the actual stuff in the display is also greatly improved in the new system. The pad includes two zones that match two separate zones on the display, and you’re able to quickly swap them. (If, for instance, you want to sling the navigation screen to prominence for a moment and then bring the entertainment screen back once you’ve gotten your bearings with the map.) The system offers a mind-boggling degree of customizability, allowing owners to program the information present in both the main display and the smaller instrument cluster display — though people who are easily overwhelmed by tons of options might give up immediately. If you stick with it, though, as owners likely will, you can have this infotainment system dialed in just as you like it, with hand-in-glove precision.
Once I did that and took it out on the road, it became clear that this is easily the most finely-tuned and tunable interface on the road. True, it has its own unique logic and its own quirks, but at the end of the day, no other system really comes close.