2013 Acura RDX Review

New RDX trades performance for, well, more of everything else

2013 Acura RDX Review

Turn the key in the ignition and the crude powerplant comes to life like the firewall has all the sound deadening of a cardboard box. It’s engaging but rather unrefined for a luxury machine. It is, however, a hoot to drive with a sophisticated all-wheel drive system and plenty of thrust from its turbocharged engine.

FAST FACTS

1. All-new RDX trades its turbo 2.3L 4-cylinder for a more powerful, efficient and refined 3.5L V6..

2. Gone is SH-AWD in favor of a lighter, lower-tech solution.

3. Standard equipment includes leather, heated seats, a backup camera and keyless access with a push button ignition.

4. Pricing starts at $34,320 for front-drive or $35,720 for AWD.

But this is not the 2013 Acura RDX. Rather, it’s the car’s predecessor, a 2012 model provided to journalists to gauge the level of improvement made to the all-new second generation compact luxury crossover during a launch event held in Scottsdale, AZ. A bold move by Acura, it’s not unusual for an automaker to bring along a few competitive vehicles (in this case a BMW X3 and Audi Q5) to a drive event like this, but almost never is there a previous generation model, lest the improvements prove to be less than dramatic, or the previous generation car is better.

But “better” is a relative term. Acura targeted the first-generation at young urban males with a focus on performance and much less concern for fuel economy or ride quality – both of which the premium sport-cross lacked considerably. On sale for half a decade Acura’s sales figures for the car reflect the fact that the folks in product planning got it all wrong. As a result, the RDX has done an about-face.

CAN COMPROMISE BE A GOOD THING?

Compromise may be valued in diplomacy, but in the auto industry it’s a four-letter word. Still, every car is full of compromises, with success determined by a careful balance between opposing factors. The RDX is no different, although the creative minds at Acura prefer to replace “compromise” with what they call a “high contrast” philosophy.

2013 Acura RDX Scottsdale side back

Exactly what is being contrasted in the RDX? For starters there’s the juxtaposition between fuel economy and performance, not to mention agile handling and ride quality, a dramatic design vs. a timeless one, and let’s not forget compact size versus interior space – an area Honda brand vehicles (ZDX aside) always excel in.

2013 Acura RDX Wheel

Starting on the outside, the RDX, like all modern Acuras, has moved away from the brand’s controversial styling cues of recent memory. Its lines are unlikely to wow anyone, just as they’re also designed not to offend, with far too much CR-V in the window design. Larger than its predecessor, it’s now much harder to distinguish it from the MDX. That perception of exterior size will, likely, help sell a few extra units. If the RDX does have a best angle, like much of the rest of the Acura lineup, it’s from the rear.

The proportions are misleading, however, as the RDX is no wider than before, although its wheels have been brought out by roughly an inch side to side. Less of a handling gain, this helps deliver a more stable ride on the highway. With a new shock setup, further comfort gains are made by using slightly higher profile 235/60/18 tires.

It is an inch longer overall with an extra inch and a half between the wheels, although despite a more imposing presence on the road, it’s actually a touch (5mm) lower overall. As a result, the center of gravity has been improved.

LUXURY RIDE

That should help improve the overall driving dynamics of the RDX, was it not now a much softer vehicle. That’s not necessarily a criticism either. Sure it’s no longer something we’d take on a canyon road, but it is vastly superior as a daily driven machine that will bring you to your destination in luxurious comfort. Compared to the BMW X3, the RDX soaks up bumps easily. Acura even designed to electric power steering specifically to offer less resistance at low speeds, acknowledging this as a preference for female drivers. In low speed driving around town or on the long sweeping highways running through Arizona’s Tonto National Forest the new RDX makes the old one feel downright crude.

2013 Acura RDX Scottsdale Driving

Another sign that Acura has tossed aside any sporting ambitions for its crossover is the removal of the brand’s impressive Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. A high-tech and heavy unit, it was axed in the name of cost and fuel economy. The “high contrast” factors being fuel economy versus performance. SH-AWD was a trend-setting technology, distributing power not just front-to-rear but up also side-to-side in the rear, allowing the car to essentially rotate on just one wheel. Perfect for serious performance, that’s not what buyers want in this type of vehicle.

The new all-wheel drive system moves power front to rear with as much as 100 percent of the torque going through the front wheels for cruising, or a 50/50 split for under certain low traction circumstances.

Dropping SH-AWD has helped reduce the car’s AWD weight by 100 lbs. That diet also helps in the fuel economy department, with the new RDX climbing in fuel economy by 5-mpg highway and 3-mpg combined for a total 19/27 or a combined 22 mpg rating. Front-drive models are also up to 20/28 and 23 mpg combined.

GOOD BYE TURBO, HELLO FUEL ECONOMY

2013 Acura RDX Engine

Of course the biggest factor in improving fuel economy is the engine. While most automakers are trading six-cylinders for turbocharged 4-bangers, Acura is, oddly, doing the opposite. Apart from what are likely some financial constraints behind building an all-new engine for just one model, there’s the fact that Acura’s turbo 4 is the opposite of efficient – though it is incredibly fun

In its place now is a new 3.5-liter V6 making 273 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. Acura boasts a 23 hp improvement, though doesn’t like to mention it’s also down 29 lb-ft of torque. Lacking in that turbo thrust, it’s still more than enough power for a vehicle like this. No acceleration times have been announced but an engineer present at the launch did tell us it will do the sprint to 60 quicker than the old motor.

Helping make the engine so efficient is Honda’s cylinder deactivation system that allows the V6 to run on four or even three cylinders when possible. The use of a 6-speed automatic over a 5-speed doesn’t hurt either.

VASTLY IMPROVED AND WELL-EQUIPPED INTERIOR

2013 Acura RDX Interior Steering Wheel

Another of Acura’s buzz phrases is a “man-machine synergy”, which conjures up ideas of a well-balanced and intuitive sports sedan – something you won’t feel when driving the RDX. Sitting behind the wheel, however, it’s hard to deny the brand’s “smart luxury” mantra with a handsome and modern interior, that’s ergonomically sound and quieter than the X3. With standard leather, as well as heated front seats with a memory function the interior hits all the premium benchmarks. A sign of the car’s change in identity, however, there’s little in the way of side bolstering on the seats.

Other standard goodies include a moonroof, a multiview backup camera, Bluetooth, USB and iPod connectivity, a 360 watt audio system and perhaps best of all, the Keyless Access system with a push button ignition – a shiny red button too.

2013 Acura RDX Interior Rear Seats

Keeping it simple, Acura offers front or all-wheel drive and the choice of a Tech Package on either, which adds a 410-watt 10 speaker audio system, HID headlights, a power tailgate, Acuralink traffic and weather updates plus a navigation system on a big and bright 8-inch monitor – not the old pixilated system used before.

As for functionality, the added space between the wheels translates into the best front and rear legroom and shoulder room in the segment. A wide rear opening allows access to the plentiful 26.1 cu-ft of rear cargo space, which expands to 61.3 cu-ft with the rear seats down.

A package to rival the best in the business, Acura sticks it to the Germans in the pricing department. Roughly $1,500 more than last year’s model, the 2013 RDX starts at $34,320 or $35,720 for the all-wheel drive version. Models equipped with the tech-package are $38,020 (FWD) and $39,420 (AWD).

THE VERDICT

Acura discovered with the first-generation RDX that young males aren’t buying these cars. Instead, couples are, both pre and post family. As a result, gone is the turbo and high-tech all-wheel drive. In essence, gone is the fun. In its place, however, the car has gained, well, more of everything else. It’s lighter and more fuel-efficient. It’s also significantly more refined. There’s less of what people didn’t really use and more of what they want.

2013 Acura RDX Blue Rear

With segment growth pegged at 12.6 percent through 2017, the RDX is poised to capture much more of that pie. A more mainstream option than in the past, about the only thing holding the RDX back is a more compelling design.

The folks at Acura can call it “high contrast” if they like; the RDX proves that as far a compact premium crossovers go, when it comes to the balance between performance and luxury, compromise isn’t always a bad thing.

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