WHISTLER, BC, Canada – Acura hopes to woo buyers of the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Mercedes GLC and Volvo XC60 to its third-gen RDX.

“Those four brands really resonate with (luxury buyers we surveyed) as sort of the benchmarks, or what they consider to be the exciting vehicles,” Gary Robinson, senior manager-product planning for American Honda, tells media here at a ’19 RDX preview.

“So we set our sights very directly on these four competitors. And we think we built a vehicle that cannot just compete with them, but offer something unique and better than what they offer the market today.”

To best those four European-brand CUVs, Acura says it dialed up the performance and styling of the RDX, admitting the outgoing second-gen model lacks those “emotional” attributes the Audi, BMW, Mercedes and Volvo CUVs have in spades.

To fix what RDX engineer Steve Frey says was a “significant gap” between the RDX and the X3 and Q5, the CUV switches from a naturally aspirated 3.5L V-6 in the ’18 model, making 279 hp and 252 lb.-ft. (342 Nm) of torque, to a 2.0L turbocharged 4-cyl. derived from the 2.0L turbo-4s in the Honda Civic Type R and Honda Accord.

While the mill has lower horsepower (272) than the 3.5L V-6, peak torque rises, to 280 lb.-ft. (379 Nm), and comes on earlier, from 1,600-4,500 rpm vs. 4,900 rpm in the outgoing generation.

Those figures best the output of the X3, GLC, Q5 and XC60’s 2.0L turbo-4s, although torque peaks a bit sooner in the 2.0L-equipped X3 (1,450 rpm) and the GLC (1,300 rpm) than in the RDX.

Honda’s 10-speed automatic transmission, debuting last year in the Odyssey minivan and also used in the refreshed Acura RLX sedan, is installed in the RDX, with Frey noting there now is a more responsive downshift pattern compared with the ’18 RDX’s 6-speed automatic.

Acura surveyed customers and found they wanted faster downshifting during highway passing, when torque is needed quickly. Frey says the new 10-speed will downshift from 10th gear to sixth gear to the passing gear of fourth 750 milliseconds faster than the outgoing RDX’s 6-speed auto goes from sixth to fourth to its passing gear of third.

The X3, GLC, Q5 and XC60 use 7-, 8- or 9-speed automatics.

To amp up the look of the RDX, the vehicle was Acura’s first ground-up redesign influenced by the brand’s Precision Crafted exterior and interior concepts.

From Acura’s signature diamond pentagon grille flow sculpted hood lines, says RDX exterior designer Randall Smock. The CUV’s profile is “wheel- and fender-centric” to hint at the engine under the hood, while a diving character line bisects both fenders and extends rearward to frame the rear taillights.

Acura also aimed to improve the premium qualities of the RDX. Officials here say it did this by lengthening the vehicle’s wheelbase to increase passenger space, as well as by using real wood and metal trim in the interior.

The vehicle undercuts the four European CUVs, with RDX pricing beginning at $37,300 not including a $995 destination fee, roughly $3,000-$4,000 less than the starting prices of the Q5, X3, GLC and XC60. The gap grows bigger in higher trim levels.

Robinson tells WardsAuto the performance credentials of the new RDX, as well as Acura’s heavy marketing of the NSX sports car, should help get performance-focused European CUV buyers to consider an Acura.

“I think when we say we care about performance, hopefully they’re more inclined to believe that and at least give (the new RDX) a chance,” he says in an interview.

Acura is mid-pack in Wards Intelligence data’s Middle Luxury CUV segment, with 15,326 RDXs sold through April in the U.S.

The sales leader among C-platform middle luxury CUVs is the GLC, with 22,113 deliveries in the year’s first four months. The Q5 also outsells the RDX, with 19,305 sold in the January-April period.

Acura acknowledges fellow Japanese luxury brands Lexus and Infiniti’s respective small CUVs, the NX and the QX50, likely will be cross-shopped heavily against the RDX.

The NX, which debuted in the U.S. four years ago, tallied 18,835 sales through April, while the QX50, which also is redesigned for ’19, racked up 5,497 deliveries.

Whereas there were just a few players in the segment when Acura launched the RDX in 2006, the group now is packed, and popular. Robinson notes one in four luxury vehicles sold in the U.S. today is a compact CUV.

While Acura doesn’t divulge a sales target for the new RDX, brand officials here imply volume is likely to increase given projections of continuing segment growth as more luxury buyers swap cars for CUVs.

cschweinsberg@wardsauto.com