Acura RDX — Growing up gracefully

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Over the past few years we have talked to several Acura RDX owners who proclaimed a love for their luxury crossover, but wished for better gas mileage and the option of pumping the less-expensive 87 octane regular into their tanks.

Acura has granted half their wishes with the all-new 2013 RDX. The turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, which propelled the first-generation RDX, has been scrapped for a smoother driving 3.5-liter V-6 that gets between three or four more miles to the gallon in highway driving, and with increased horsepower. But premium gas is still recommended, Acura says.

Since our first experience with the original RDX in 2006 we have liked the torque-infused 4-cylinder, which gave the small crossover a decidedly sporty flair, an appealing trait in our estimation. Acura aimed the original RDX at the young upwardly mobile male, but Acura missed its mark. The RDX has been selling mostly to baby boomers and young couples — defined as DINKS (Dual Income, No Kids) — who prefer quiet, smooth and comfortable over edgy, quick and nimble. Apparently he "upwardly mobile males" are buying other things.
A reasonably powerful and smooth-running V-6 with decent gas mileage trumps turbocharged performance in the entry-level premium crossover segment, or so Acura is now betting.

And we can't argue with Acura's replacement engine, a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 273 horsepower — 33 more than the outgoing engine — and 251 pound-feet of torque.

The delivery through a six-speed automatic transmission — the outgoing RDX lived with a five-speed — is smoother than the turbo four and yields segment-competitive performance numbers measured at 6.2 seconds from 0 to 60 and a quarter mile time of 14.6 seconds at 94 mph.

The trump card is gas mileage, which has been improved in two-wheel drive format from 19 city, 24 highway in the 2012 model to 20/28 in the 2013 edition.

All-wheel drive is still available, but the sophisticated SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) has been replaced with a simpler AWD system that is lighter and cheaper. Unlike the SH-AWD, the new system — similar to the one found in the Honda CR-V — aids in fuel economy by decoupling drive to the rear wheels when it's not needed.

As much as we liked the edgy first-generation RDX, we admit we liked the new six-cylinder edition just as much. We found the new RDX offers confident, composed handling. Ride quality is less busy than before with a more compliant, luxury feel.

The engine is energetic at every point on the rev band. The RDX leaped forward in excellent fashion from a standing stop, and merged very effectively from the interstate on ramp. Isn't this the way an entry-level luxury crossover is supposed to perform?

The redesigned RDX has, indeed, taken on a new personality — from frisky to composed.

In addition to a new engine, Acura has turned a good compact luxury crossover into a better crossover with a more refined, upscale appearance that looks larger and more muscular than the first generation. The face of the new crossover retains the corporate big-blade grille. From the side, there's still no mistaking the RDX for anything but an Acura, with crisply angular styling down its flanks and hind quarters. The styling is clean and balanced, leaning toward the conservative side of modern SUV styling.

Growing an inch or so in every direction, the 2013 Acura RDX's cabin is endowed with more space for passengers and cargo. At 103.5 cubic feet of total volume, the RDX offers more room than any of its closest competitors including the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX 350 and Mercedes-Benz GLK.

A redesigned cargo opening at 48.8 inches is a substantial 6.5 inches wider than before, making it easier to load large, bulky items into the rear cargo area where there's 26.1 cubic feet of storage with the second row up, and 76.9 cubic feet with it stowed, considerably more space than 60.6 cubic feet in the outgoing RDX.

We found the living area a delightful surprise. The interior feels more open and airy than the first generation and the materials that make up the living room are first class with top-notch fit and finish.  An attractive dual-cockpit dash design houses relatively easy-to-use switchgear. Wind and road noise are well muted, and a quiet cabin is an excellent way to impart a luxury feel.

The up-level ELS 10-speaker surround sound system was crystal-clear — music to our ears. We have since the early days of navigation favored the Honda/Acura setup and nothing has changed.

Seat comfort is first class both front and rear. The seats in our test vehicle were supportive and comfortable even after a couple of hours on the road.

Acura has added more standard luxury features including a power sunroof, heated front seats and keyless ignition/entry making the $1,425 price hike from 2012 easier to swallow. With a starting price of $35,215 including destination charge the entry-level price is still less expensive than most of its segment competitors.

Our RDX AWD with the Tech package came in at $40,315.

Even though the RDX has lost some of its sporty nature, the new more composed and more fuel-efficient version is a very pleasing vehicle that should win over a large number of new fans.

Base price: $35,215; as driven, $40,315
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 273 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 251 foot-pounds @ 5,000 rpm
Drive: all-wheel
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Seating: 2/3
Wheelbase: 105.7 inches
Length: 183.5 inches
Curb weight: 3,717 pounds
Turning circle: 39 feet
Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds
Luggage capacity: 26.1 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 76.9 cubic feet
Fuel capacity: 16 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 27 highway, 19 city
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: BMW X3, Lexus RX 350, Audi Q5

The Good
• Energetic V-6 engine
• Upscale, roomy cabin
• Standard features abound

The Bad
• Sporty nature of original is gone

The Ugly
• Premium gas still recommended