By on May 31, 2018

2019 Acura RDX

In the fiercely competitive compact crossover segment, a game arguably invented by Lexus, a company has to have a killer app in order to stand out. The XC60 trades upon a platform of safety, thanks to the goodwill built by the Volvo brand. BMW has – rightly or wrongly – its rep for being the Ultimate Driving Machine to lure customers into an X3.

But Acura? Most would struggle to finger a standout attribute of their current offering in that segment, the RDX. This is not to say it is a bad machine – it outsells two of its closest rivals – but the company knows change has to be made, and consequently plans to turn up the volume … in more ways than one.

In recent years, Acura seemed like a company wandering in message as the calendar flipped into this decade. The took-forever-in-gestation NSX screams performance, while the RLX big sedan does the exact opposite and could easily be built by another brand. If execs at the company have their way, this RDX serves as a signpost on its road back to being known as a sporty marque, one where all models have some hint of its halo car – a machine that “sets the table” for the rest of the brand.

2019 Acura RDX

The current RDX has enjoyed healthy sales in recent years, easily cresting 50,000 units in two of the past three years. That beats the BMW X3 and is a hair ahead of the Mercedes-Benz GLC, neither of which would be considered slow sellers. For 2019, Acura is touting the RDX as a clean-sheet design. The new corporate mug that’s shown up on other models resulted from a mid-cycle refresh, not a comprehensive overhaul. Acura is quick to tout the 2019 RDX as the latter.

Four trims will be listed in the RDX catalog for 2019, starting with a $37,300 entry-level model that’s totally not named “base.” A Technology package adds parking sensors and nav along with a few other goodies and a $3,000 bill. A tasty looking A-Spec trim arrives for 2019, hikes the sticker to $43,500, and is largely an appearance package in the vein of popular M-Sport and S-Line packages. Bold colors, bigger exhaust tip finishers, bigger wheels, and black chrome window trim are telltale A-Spec flourishes.

2019 Acura RDX

Topping the range is an Advance trim which endows the RDX with a heads up display and a price tag just north of 45 grand. Every RDX gets the AcuraWatch suite of safety gear, a system whose virtual eyes hide behind that new Texas-sized belt buckle of a grille badge. Want all-wheel traction? Add $2,000 to the figures mentioned above.

All RDXs bin the old V6 in favor of a 2.0-liter turbocharged inline-four making 272 horsepower and 280 lb-ft of torque. Twist comes on early, as it often does in boosted engines, but peak power is not delivered until 6,500 rpm, just a couple hundred revs shy of the redline. Most compact crossover drivers will not wring out an engine on their way to the mall or soccer practice.

On long downhill stretches of British Columbia’s excellent Sea-to-Sky highway with the cruise set at 60 mph, the RDX’s 10-speed automatic brakes the engine to 4,500 rpm if left to its own devices on downhill curves.

2019 Acura RDX

Four driving modes confront the driver by way of a prominently placed Dynamic Mode knob mounted loud and proud dead center of the RDX’s dashboard, in the visage of the halo car NSX. This is what Acura’s product department meant when they said their sports car was “setting the table.” Turns out it had nothing to do with knives and forks.

Choices of Snow, Comfort, Sport, and Sport+ are found if one chooses to twirl the conspicuously located Dynamic Mode controller. In a bid to return to its sporty roots (remember the Integra Type R?), the RDX development team – many of whom would probably buy a Type R if given the chance – made sure a marked difference could be felt between the four modes.

Gassing the RDX out of corners on BC’s Route 99, one could actively feel the SH-AWD system deploy a form of torque vectoring to alter power delivery to the outside rear wheel, giving the illusion the RDX was “tucking” in its tire and making the whole car feel shorter than it actually is. That personality emerges in Sport+ mode, naturally, with the other two modes feeling progressively less sharp. Driving advice? Put the thing in Sport +  and leave it there unless the weather turns foul. Then stick it in Snow.

2019 Acura RDX

In a nod to buyers who were once young kids with a love for sporty cars but no money with which to buy them, gauges in the A-Spec trim remind this author of the ones found in the RSX coupe 15 years ago. The A-Spec is also available with natty black suede-type inserts in blazing red seats, a configuration which immediately turned my crank. (My affinity for bold and obnoxious styling treatments knows no bounds.) Plain black is available on the A-Spec as well.

Shutting the traction control off, Acura invited us to toss its shiny new RDX down a slalom set up on loose gravel. The company programmed the all-wheel drive system to provide up to 70 percent of the engine’s power to the rear wheels and up to 100 percent of that power in a left-right fashion. Nailing the throttle on the pebbly surface while negotiating a sharp left turn kicked the rear end out as if the RDX was rear-drive. Such a setup does imbue the RDX with a sportier feel than its front-drive competitors.

2019 Acura RDX

For reasons that elude anthropologists and psychologists around the world, most gearheads prefer a rear-drive experience while claiming front-wheel drive is for the feeble. This may not be an entirely accurate assessment of the enthusiast community, but if these rear-drive shenanigans is what an Acura feels like as it returns to its sporty roots after being lost in the wilderness for a decade, then that’s alright with me.

The RDX cockpit also got a thorough rethink and is now dominated by that Dynamic Mode knob mentioned earlier. It’s a bold move putting that control so prominently on the center console, taking up abundant real estate and flanked by an airbag light and controls for the engine’s start/stop system. It certainly advertises the RDX’s sporty intentions, although I did find myself reaching for it occasionally when I wanted to turn up the stereo.

2019 Acura RDX

Turning up the stereo is an activity you will want to do often, at least if you’re in an A-Spec or Advance trim RDX with Acura’s new ELS Studio Premium audio system. The 710-watt system utilizes 16 discrete sound channels and 16 speakers, including four ceiling-mounted speakers, to create a natural and omnidirectional high-fidelity listening experience.

Steely Dan’s Babylon Sisters, a song from the Gaucho album that is rumored to have taken two weeks to mix, sounds phenomenal as the speaker just ooze effortless sound. Horns in the song appear from astern, providing a very convincing “on stage” experience. The quintet of roof speakers make a huge difference. Directly stepping into another machine lacking this system is like eating at McDonald’s immediately following a meal at Ruth’s Chris. The ELS studio system is that good and it is absolutely worth stepping up to the A-Spec or Advance to get it.

2019 Acura RDX

That’s one way, then, in which the new RDX turns up the volume. Given the upward march of its sales numbers even in the twilight of last year’s model, these wholesale improvements will likely lure in more customers and turn up the volume of RDXs being sold, too.

Another way in which Acura might turn up the volume? By stuffing a turbocharged V6 under the hood and calling it the Type S. That’s a very real possibility, not just for the RDX but also for Acura’s other pillar models like the MDX and TLX.

Not that I’ll be able to hear the engine note, of course. It’ll be drowned out by Steely Dan played through the ELS Studio system. I’ll just turn the volume up a little more…

2019 Acura RDX

[Images: © 2018 Matthew Guy/The Truth About Cars]

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70 Comments on “2019 Acura RDX First Drive – Turn Up the Volume...”


  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Lexus NX has been out selling the old RDX for two out of the last three years. Acura sales will depend on lease deals and if the Accord sales early on were any indicator of what HMC’s plan is it’ll be a slow start.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      That’s always been how I’ve seen Acura, as nice or close to it’s competition, but with a better price than it’s competition. It’s how it started out as well.

      • 0 avatar
        NormSV650

        Acura cheaped out on not providing tri-zone climate control even my Envision Prem has. No rear seat slider and no rear seat recline provides versatile seating and cargo hauling along with the dogs loving it too. No color HUD from the Accord how the price point was fulfilled.

    • 0 avatar
      thornmark

      how’s your Verano and Encore?

      I mean, someone has to buy Buicks, so why not you? because it has to be you.

  • avatar
    IBx1

    It’s sad to see how far Acura has fallen.

    It’s worse to see they still have no intention of getting back up.

    • 0 avatar
      sportyaccordy

      The market has shifted. Do you want them to build “great cars” nobody will buy?

      In my opinion the TLX is on the level of Acura’s best sedans of the past (3G TL and 2G Legend). The rest of the field is more competitive. MDX and RDX sell healthily. What more do you want, that actually makes business sense?

      • 0 avatar
        IBx1

        That’s not what I mean; this design language they have is unforgivable. An Acura should have sharp and clean-cut lines like they had in the mid-’00s. All of this kind of angular but nipped and twisted shaping is terrible and the grille is visually slow. You can’t look across this car like you could with a TSX or a 2nd gen MDX, you have to stop and be interrupted by every single part of it.

        • 0 avatar
          Truckducken

          Right you are, this is as incoherent a design as I have ever seen. The good news is that the driver doesn’t have to look at the exterior when behind the wheel. Will be interesting to see how this competes.

        • 0 avatar
          ajla

          “you have to stop and be interrupted by every single part of it.”

          This is a good analysis.

          • 0 avatar
            S2k Chris

            Damned if the do damned if they don’t. Acura (and all Japanese cars) were always “boring” before, and now they are overstyled. Let’s face it, for a lot of critics they just can’t win regardless.

            That said, I do miss the clean styling of my 1G TSX.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      You mean a CR-V platform with HR-V styling is not going to cut it? I’d put a Santa Fe Sport 2.0T against this for the price.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Not very quick either. Car & Driver just tested the 2019 RDX 2.0T and it was almost a half second slower to 60 mph than the 2018 RDX V6.

  • avatar
    MrGrieves

    Driving dynamics isn’t a priority for the average Luxury Crossover / Luxury CUV buyer. It all comes down to brand, styling, and being able to say “I drive a new RDX/NX/X1/GLC/etc.” Acura’s best bet is to offer some insane lease deals and hope it takes off, because nobody cares if it drives with rear-wheel bias while being tossed down a remote gravel road.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I believe that was the recipe for the last RDX. It had a V6 engine in a CR-V with leather and the spurt in sales were some crazy lease deal that will end up bringing them back for another RDX. Except this one will be costing more until they imcentize it like they did the Accord.

  • avatar
    MartyToo

    So the souped up 2017 CRV is now available as a 2019 model. Does this mean the TLX upgrade of the 2018 Accord will debut in 2020 or will it simply fade into oblivion along with Honda V-6 availability in sedans? If Acura sedans die will Honda made AWD disappear from all sedans?

    My 66 year old upstate NY resident butt is closer to being planted in a crossover than I ever envisioned.

    • 0 avatar
      amdsupport

      The 19 RDX rides on a bespoke platform this time around (mentioned in the RDX press kit and on other online Acura engineer interviews). I’m guessing this new platform will be used for a future small acura car or else it does not seem worth it to have a single vehicle on its own — short of something selling like an F-150. Supposedly honda is moving towards less sharing between the brands.

      • 0 avatar
        tonycd

        I seriously question the assertion that this isn’t on a CR-V platform under the skin. I wanna see Honda – sorry, Acura – offer some proof of that.

        • 0 avatar
          S2k Chris

          Who cares either way? It’s got a different engine, a different transmission, and a different AWD system. People act like it’s a Taurus/Sable badge job, it’s clearly not.

        • 0 avatar
          amdsupport

          “It’s its own platform. We always think of efficiencies, but in the end, it’s about building the right product. It’s not on the CR-V platform. It’s the first on a new platform. It’s the lead vehicle.”

          quoted straight from Motor Trends interview with Acura personnel
          http://www.motortrend.com/news/seven-questions-acura-boss-jon-ikeda/

          “Body and Chassis
          Complementing the RDX’s advanced new powertrain is an all-new body and chassis optimized to deliver even more athletic performance, a quieter cabin, exceptional ride refinement and top-class safety performance”

          quoted from:
          http://hondanews.com/releases/2019-acura-rdx-press-kit

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Motor Trend is saying that Acura started with a CR-V platform and modified it. Which is expected since the two are assembled in adjacent counties in Ohio.

          • 0 avatar
            amdsupport

            “Motor Trend is saying that Acura started with a CR-V platform and modified it. Which is expected since the two are assembled in adjacent counties in Ohio.”

            If that is what Motor trend is stating, I have not seen it on their site. As I cited earlier, Motor Trend asked Acura personal point blank if it was on the CR-V platform and they said no.

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Amdsupport, “Acura is calling it an all-new, exclusive platform—but the RDX started with the Honda CR-V architecture and modified the chassis and upgraded the powertrain. Obviously, the sheetmetal is much different, too.” Motor Trend

        • 0 avatar
          suspekt

          Watch the engineering vid of cutaways then. The whole rear structure is very intetesting

          • 0 avatar
            NormSV650

            Allot for torque from a 2.0T vs 1.5t and independent rear suspension on the RDX.

          • 0 avatar
            amdsupport

            NormSV650

            The article you are citing is from Jan when it was assumed it would be another derivation of the CR-V. During the release they verified it isn’t the same. The engineering cutaways are not even the same, check out the videos.

            I find it hard to believe that it isn’t the same as well (no clue why they would make it a one off unless they are planning to use the new platform for another un-named vehicle).

          • 0 avatar
            amdsupport

            NormSV650

            Not only that, Edmunds is also reporting it is an Acura exclusive platform that is going under some new future un-named vehicles.

            “The 2019 RDX marks the model’s third generation and debuts a new, Acura-specific platform that will underpin some of the automaker’s future cars.”

            https://www.edmunds.com/car-news/first-impressions/2019-acura-rdx-first-drive.html

  • avatar
    turbo_awd

    So… 2.0T upgrade donor for Civics?

  • avatar
    RSF

    This is the first Acura I’ve liked for a very long time!

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Well, at least they made it kinda/sorta sporty.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      I figure Earth Dreams would have been combined with some small wheels and evo tires to get 30+ mpg highway but this is not even best in segment fuel economy.

  • avatar
    Sub-600

    Not bad for a soul sucking CUV thing. I only have my fellow Baby Boomers to blame for this fiasco. What other generation could be so lazy and out of shape that getting in and out of a car is prohibitive? My friends hate taking my car anywhere, “Oh, we’ve gotta climb into your Charger?” “Yeah, you disgusting tub of lard, quit whining, my struts don’t like it any more than you do.”

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Wait until you’re 50.

      • 0 avatar
        Sub-600

        I passed 50 over five years ago, and I’m permanently disabled, yet I have no problem getting in and out of my car, not enough to run out and buy a vapid, cookie cutter CUV. The market will probably force me into one eventually though.

        • 0 avatar
          Nick_515

          Sub-600, you’re onto something here. My in-laws have grown unable to get into our sedan in under three minutes shockingly quickly. Yes, diet and exercise regimens are to blame. They’re too young for that kind of mobility loss. My wife and I are doing all we can to intervene gently.

      • 0 avatar
        ktm

        The silence is deafening there Pete……tub of lard strike close to home?

  • avatar
    ajla

    The AWD system and stereo seems nice, but IMO it looks less “premium” inside and out than before. More like it’s ready to take on a Kia Sportage, not a Mercedes.

    If you did a badge delete between this and the CX-9 Signature, I bet more people would think the Mazda was the “luxury” CUV.

    • 0 avatar
      sckid213

      Agree 100%. Acura’s styling has lacked sophistication — that “I can’t put my finger on it, but it looks EXPENSIVE” vibe — since the Gen 3 TL / Gen 2 MDX days.

  • avatar
    Blackcloud_9

    You must have too enamored by the stereo system to write correctly…
    First you state, “The 710-watt system utilizes 16 discrete sound channels and 16 speakers, including four ceiling-mounted speakers…” then you write, “The quintet of roof speakers make a huge difference.” So, is it four or five ceiling speakers?
    Also you write, “Steely Dan’s Babylon Sisters, a song from the Gaucho album that is rumored to have taken two weeks to mix, sounds phenomenal as the speaker just ooze effortless sound.” Which speaker of the 16 in the RDX were you referring to?

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Even if executed properly, the focus on the sound system and own personal tastes in music would probably be a mistake. Alex Dykes was present at the same event and found something else to talk about in his video – like the stupidly large and headroom-robbing moonroof that is not optional.

      • 0 avatar
        S2k Chris

        Funny the different views on that. As a convertible owner and avowed sunroof lover, I was ready to move on from Honda/Acura for exactly the kind of stinginess of not offering things like the bigger sunroof available from German and American competitors. Now that it has one, it’s definitely a point in favor for me.

  • avatar
    NeilM

    Given that the entire point of downsizing from the old V6 to the new turbo four is fuel economy, why is there not one mention of fuel consumption in this article?

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      C/H/C is 21/27/23 for AWD. Admittedly it’s better than Wrangler’s 17/25, especially in the city.

    • 0 avatar
      sgeffe

      85,000 miles will be when the blown snail will have to be replaced! Just like the timing belt on the real motors.

      (Although rumor has it that parts and labor to replace said snail is actually less than the R&R of a timing belt and water pump. So it can be factored-in as a maintenance item!)

      SMH!

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      For all of the 10-speeds this should be getting +30 mpg like my 6-speed Envision 2.0T gets at the speed limit fully loaded.

  • avatar
    Kek

    You can take a dump on Lexus. They really know how to make interiors look classy. This interior looks awful. Button shifters – weird.

    • 0 avatar
      Fred

      I’m not that positive about Lexus interiors, but I agree with you on this Acura’s interior. Lots of buttons, mismatched elements, especially the shifter. I kind of like the dual screen TLX interior. Then again I like the new touchpad in this model and I understand the screen has a dual function as well. Maybe it’s not so bad in person.

    • 0 avatar
      JMII

      Button madness is a Honda trait these days and one of the reasons I find NONE of the vehicles appealing. I owned several Honda’s during the late 80s and mid 90s that had fantastic interior design. Clean, logical and simple. Today they are mess… as the over styled exteriors have been copied to the interior. Honestly I find Hyundai has most straight forward interiors. Their buttons are easy to locate and do what you expect.

      This Acura also suffers from the iPad sticking up from nowhere mess that Audi created. Just because a German luxury company did it doesn’t mean you should copy it.

      • 0 avatar
        sgeffe

        The Accord at least attempts to somewhat integrate the bottom third of the iPad into the dash. Its interfaces and touch points are nicely done.

        This looks pasted-on, and the YUUUGE mode dial does this no favors — they could have at least made the dial as another way of interfacing with the car. (The touchpad thing seems to work as touted by those who’ve tried it; color me a skeptic!)

  • avatar
    DeadWeight

    44k+ for this little CUV trying to look mean, that probably has less cargo room and rear seat space than a 22k VW Spprtwagen of a few years ago.

    WTF.

    White hot real world inflation is going to be the main catalyst for the next, large economic downturn, which if one pays close heed to the core signals (check out mortgage originations, refis, as just one example, or savings rate ps or debt ratios as two others), has already likely begun.

  • avatar
    stingray65

    How is it as an actual people mover? Are the seats comfortable? Is the backseat roomy and easy to reconfigure? How does the cargo area and mpg compare with the Germans and Lexus? I expect these are the questions that most potential buyers would be most interested in – this ain’t no sports car.

  • avatar
    Coolcar2

    I would say it is an improvement on the current model but that is not saying much given how forgettable the current design is to my eyes. What I do have an issue with is that damn “shifter” button thingy. What is the point of this?! does complicating a tried-and-true shifter make them seem more “techy”? So now anytime someone wants to drive your car or valet your car you need to give them a tutorial on how to put the car in D, R and P? confusing and unnecessary. At least the Lincoln button transmission selection is logical.

    • 0 avatar
      legacygt

      I parallel park every day. Doing so with this transmission interface would be maddening. Reach forward and pull up for Reverse. Reach back and push down for Drive. How is this progress?

  • avatar
    28-Cars-Later

    That thing looks pretty big to be “compact”.

    • 0 avatar
      Pete Zaitcev

      Everything grows because of CAFE “footprint” formula. RDX is no exception. This one has something like 2.5″ more wheelbase. I bet the track is slightly wider, too. Every quarter of inch counts when government comes a-knockin’.

    • 0 avatar
      Carfan94

      Funny you should mention that 28. This RDX is about 0.7 inches longer than my 07 RX, about 2 inches wider, and about 3 inches lower. When the 2RX was new it was considered “midsize”. Funny how todays “compact” cuvs seem to be about the same size as “midsize” suvs from 15 years ago.

  • avatar
    Prado

    Style wise, This does absolutely nothing for me, both inside and out. Outside looks rather cheap and ‘boy racer’, while the inside puts form over function with that huge protruding center stack. For Acura’s sake, I hope this resonates with younger buyers, because I can’t imagine that many GenX (like myself), and older generations buyers, will find this appealing.

  • avatar
    drockman

    Not sure about Lexus creating this segment. Don’t think they had anything on the market when I got my old 2009 Infiniti EX.

    In any case, does the sort of futuristic spaceship-like vibe of the interior look like a updated PONTIAC to anyone? If only the Gram Am were still around, it would probably look like this inside now! But seriously, that drive selector knob is ridiculous. Controls that are large and/or in prime location should be ones that you use all of the time. Multiple drive settings are almost expected on this type of vehicle now, but who really changes them that often. Certainly orders of magnitude less frequently than volume, station, temperature, etc.

    • 0 avatar
      ajla

      “look like a updated PONTIAC to anyone?”

      Yes, this RDX is almost exactly the way I would imagine a 2018 Torrent.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      “Not sure about Lexus creating this segment. Don’t think they had anything on the market when I got my old 2009 Infiniti EX.” You’re right, as the NX didn’t debut until the ’15 model year. Maybe the author was thinking in terms of FWD-based platforms?

      And I’ll admit to forgetting that the Infiniti EX and FX are separate vehicles. My brain tends to go to “FX/midsized” when I think of either vehicle.

  • avatar
    White Shadow

    The new RDX is going to sell like hotcakes. No doubt about it.

  • avatar
    Jerome10

    I am actually most sad about the loss of the V6.

    But to most customers they probably won’t give 2 shizzles about it.

    Cross shopped the NX with the last RDX with a relative. I preferred the RDX actually (maybe it was my 90’s Honda fanboi kicking in). It was roomier, smoother with that V6, etc. But relatives were swayed by the (admittedly excellent) interior on the Lexus, mushy transmission and laggy turbo be darned.

    IMHO the V6 actually would have been a good thing to keep as a reason to upgrade over a Honda.

    • 0 avatar
      Featherston

      Re: the NX’s transmission, the Eco/Normal/Sport setting makes a huge difference. I totally agree that it’s mushy in Eco mode. I think Lexus designed it to counteract poor accelerator modulation by “binary” drivers. The NX drives much better in Normal mode. I’m not sure if it defaults to Eco, but it will retain the Eco setting if it was selected during the previous drive. I don’t think the turbo is particularly laggy, though all things being equal I’d prefer a big, NA V6. The I4 turbo, for worse and for better, is a good choice if much of your driving is crawling in heavy traffic.

  • avatar
    conundrum

    What about road noise when the stereo isn’t blaring? I found the new Accord Sport 2.0t had ridiculously loud tire whir at city speeds, which turned to roar on the highway. I expected some kind of supercar after the mags gave it three thumbs up apiece for sheer wonderfulness. Let’s not even mention the traffic sign unrecognition system, and no hold-gear feature on the pushbutton “shifter”. Just a family sedan, I guess.

    I will say this. It beats the fatboy TLX. All three versions of that feel unwieldy, and tight inside, with no sign of agility on the menu. And the world’s best orange peel paint is standard, perhaps that will be bequeathed to the RDX.

    So how quick is this new CUV? It probably weighs over 4000 lbs, and despite fanboi reviews of the Accord 2.0t at 3300, I found it no rocketship at all. Even nailed from a stop on an uphill on ramp. The engine burp-roar through 5 or 6 gears was entertaining, but that seemed like its only party trick.

    Being ornery, I don’t want a 2.0t on my next chariot. Everyone’s got one. Boring.

    • 0 avatar
      NormSV650

      Yes, everyone has already done the 2.0T luxury CUV thing. Motor Trend the tire noise was louder in thr RDX than the Germans on their drive but did not say if the stereo was blasting or not.

      Car & Driver said the Accord 2.0T had Civic level of tire and road noise too.

  • avatar
    crtfour

    Not sure about others but I can’t stand the “floating roof” design trend or whatever it’s called and would gladly take yesterday’s 4 Runner over this. Guess I’m old school but really not that old (41 years old). Any vehicle with this roof design would be eliminated from my shopping list.


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