Projected to be one of the largest growth segments in the auto industry, Acura is looking to go from a back marker to a major player with the launch of its second-generation RDX. A solid offering, how does it stack up against stalwart German competition like the Audi Q5?
Always one of the sporty players in the segment, the RDX was perhaps too athletic for its own good, with not enough focus on luxury and too much on sporty driving dynamics. It’s now quite the opposite and is completely reengineered, starting under the hood.
Audi offers a choice of a turbocharged 4-cylinder or a V6 engine and while the 3.2-liter six might seem like the obvious choice for a fair match-up, it’s not. Instead it’s prohibitively priced, with the 2.0T is a closer competitor, though it is down on power at 211-hp but with superior torque at 258 lb-ft.
Formerly a fuel-thirsty machine, the RDX is now more efficient, due in part to a six-speed automatic transmission, with fuel economy officially rated at 20-mpg city and 28-mpg highway for a combined 23-mpg. Our test model being equipped with AWD, however, the numbers read: 19/27/22.
Audi has followed the same philosophy of adding gears, and has taken it to the next-level, offering two more than the Acura. The 8-speed auto-box helps the German crossover earn a nearly identical 20/27/22 rating. Had we opted for the V6, the fuel economy section of this comparo would have been a no contest win for the Acura.
Similarly, V6-equipped Q5’s are spendy at $43,000 while 2.0T models begin at a vastly more reasonable $35,600 while our Premium Plus tester clocks in at $39,900.
Base RDX models begin at $34,320 while to be fair (considering all Q5 models come standard with Quattro AWD) an AWD RDX retails for $1,500 more at $35,720. Our test car with the tech package and AWD was nearly identical to the Audi at $39,420.
Note: for 2013 Audi is introducing a Q5 with a 3.0-liter supercharged V6 with 272-hp and 295 lb-ft of torque. Starting at $43,900 no EPA fuel economy numbers have been released yet.
Recently revamped, the Q5 is looking somewhat dated in the segment. While its bulbous look can be less than appealing, its massive chrome grille is certainly the opposite. Bold, masculine and luxurious it’s proud to be German. Plus there are Audi’s trademark LED eyebrows, an increasingly common sight in the right neighborhoods across America.
Conversely the Acura is progressive and handsome, though not exactly dramatic with little in the way of a visual touch point. Mimicking the larger and vastly more popular MDX, it’s also now nearly indistinguishable from it.
Style criticisms of the Q5 exterior don’t carry through to the cabin thanks to Audi’s commitment to interior refinement and materials. The leather isn’t top grade, however, and looks slightly less luxurious than that in the RDX.
The second-generation RDX manages to be elegant and yet rather busy, with an excessive number of buttons on the dash. Overall, it’s a close match to the Audi, something that never could have been said of the previous generation model’s finishing.[vs-comparsion-table]
Pricing on the two crossovers can’t be taken at face value, as feature content plays a major role and the Acura is the clear leader. Not only does it come standard with keyless access and a push-button ignition (an $550 option on the Q5), but it also gets bluetooth standard and an iPod interface – an absolute necessity for a premium model. The RDX easily wins the content war by adding a standard back-up camera with three-view modes, while a single-view unit is, again, an optional extra on the Q5. Both cars have an available power liftgate
RDX models also have a standard 8-inch Multi Information Display while the Q5 gets an optional 7-inch screen with Audi’s MMI interface. Unfortunately it’s a $3,000 upgrade.
Both Acura and Audi take very different approaches to their vehicle interface systems as well, with Audi locating its control knob next to the shifter while Acura places theirs on the dash. Familiar in location to anyone who has used BMW’s iDrive control, the MMI dial sits directly in front of your right hand when resting, while the Acura requires you to reach out each time.
While weak on standard content Audi offers more, if you’re ready to pay for it. There’s an optional adaptive cruise control system as well as a three mode drive selector to control different vehicle settings like steering and throttle responsiveness, though these can only be had if you opt for the V6.
Hitting the road the character of each car quickly becomes evident. While the past RDX was more in line with the Q5 in terms of a focus on driving dynamics, it’s now tailored more at the luxury crowd, from the powertrain to the steering. To put it another way, it’s now more Lexus RX than BMW X3.
The Acura’s V6 is smooth and quiet with consistent power delivery. The Audi’s turbocharged 4-cylinder delivers surprisingly good thrust considering the significantly lower horsepower rating, with hefty torque making the difference. It’s noticeably less refined, however, and at idle clacks away like a diesel.
The Q5 easily out-handles the Acura, and lets the driver know as much. Steering is more heavily weighted though not always consistent in its action and feedback. The RDX on the other hand has far lighter steering with more input required. Less engaging it is, however, consistent.
Fuel economy for both cars is nearly identical – another reason to compare the larger V6 Acura against the 4-cylinder Audi, which is minutely more efficient with a 20/27-mpg (city/highway) rating compared to 19/27-mpg for the RDX.
To achieve the victory Audi employs an extra two gears in its transmission, though with a drawback as well. With eight different cogs to choose from it’s often moving about to pick exactly the right one, again detracting somewhat from the overall feel of driving refinement.
New this year we expected the RDX to be a clear winner, though the Q5 still brings with it many enjoyable qualities that made our comparison much closer than we expected and, to be honest, much closer than it probably should be.
A remarkable change from the first generation model, with the 2013 RDX Acura has opted to no longer compete directly with the performance crossovers of Europe but rather focus on the luxury you’re more likely to use and enjoy.
While Q5 is perhaps a better car for the few who demand something particular in their premium compact crossover and who don’t mind paying extra to get it, for nearly everyone else the RDX delivers a package focused more on luxury, content and value.