Musicians will tell you that the sophomore album effort is always the most challenging to tackle. When faced with the task of creating the 2013 Acura RDX, the second generation of the company's entry-level compact crossover, the company decided to tweak its genre from modern rock to something that takes a step toward smooth jazz.
The move makes sense, as the original RDX didn't quite resonate with the demographic for which it was intended. With the luxury of this hindsight, Acura is aiming the 2013 RDX at a more mature and mainstream buyer.
Six Cylinders Instead of Four
For starters, the powertrain has been completely overhauled. The outgoing RDX's 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder has been binned in favor of a normally aspirated 3.5-liter V6. Considering that many other automakers these days are going in the exact opposite direction with their powertrain strategy, this may sound like a curious move on Acura's part.
Fuel economy and drivability were the driving forces behind the decision. The turbo-4 lacked the direct-injection fuel system that would have enhanced its fuel-sipping potential, and its laggy-then-abrupt torque delivery conflicted with the 2013 RDX's mission of increased maturity. Though more frugal with fuel, the V6 still generates a healthy 251 pound-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm and 273 horsepower at 6,200 rpm. For those keeping tabs, the new V6 gains 33 hp while giving up a slice of midrange torque to the turbo-4.
In our testing the 2013 Acura RDX ran to 60 mph in 6.5 seconds (6.2 seconds with 1 foot of rollout like on a drag strip) and completed the quarter-mile sprint in 14.7 seconds at 94.0 mph. This is robust thrust that places the RDX among the fleeter crossovers in its class. What's more, its speed is now accompanied by a crisp linearity at part-throttle that the previous turbo engine never exhibited. It's more natural-feeling, more... mature. There's that word again.
Improved Fuel Economy
The V6 packs some fuel-saving tricks that help earn the 2013 Acura RDX a provisional 20/28 mpg for FWD models and 19/27 for AWD variants, figures that are up from 19/24 and 17/22 respectively. One of those tricks is cylinder deactivation — the V6 will shut down two or three cylinders depending on driving conditions.
In practice the system is seamless, something you never hear or feel while driving, probably because the RDX's active engine mount and the cabin's active noise cancellation system are doing their jobs. We put a few tankfuls of fuel through our tester and netted 22 mpg in mixed driving, which is dead-smack on its combined EPA number.
Another fuel-saving move that also improves drivability is the additional cog in the automatic transmission, bringing the total to six. The new six-speed autobox allowed the powertrain engineers more flexibility in gear ratio selection and spread. Notably, the steering wheel has sprouted paddle shifters, which are useful devices even in everyday driving — like when you want to summon engine braking.
Further fuel economy improvement was gleaned by the switch from hydraulic power steering to electric power steering. A bit of heft has been lost in the transition, but that's probably the right move considering the RDX's shift in mission. Nevertheless, the 2013 RDX's tiller is still sharp, and it helps make the wagon drive more nimbly than its 3,821-pound curb weight suggests.
Simpler All-Wheel-Drive System
Gone is the outgoing RDX's handling-enhancing SH-AWD system, replaced with a simpler AWD system that's lighter and cheaper — AWD is now a $1,400 option rather than $2,000. The new system — largely carried over from the Honda CR-V — may be more pedestrian, but it, too, provides strides on the fuel economy front by decoupling drive to the rear wheels when it's not needed.
Despite the loss of SH-AWD and the freakish agility it conferred, the new RDX still handles with alertness and composure. In the slalom the 2013 Acura RDX turned out a tidy 64.6-mph result despite moderate 0.79g grip from its 235/60 all-season Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires. In our braking tests the RDX reached a halt from 60 mph in 128 feet.
The new RDX's ride quality is noticeably less busy than that of the outgoing trucklet, while still doing a fine job of controlling body roll. Acura credits new dual-piston dampers with integrated rebound springs that mechanically provide travel-dependent damper force — the idea here is to skew both ends of the age-old ride-handling trade-off, making both better. You know, to make it more capable. Bet you thought we were going to say "mature," right?
Quite Pleasant, Really
Strides in refinement are evident when you slide into the seat. From the low levels of road and wind noise to the glove-soft leather on the seats and steering wheel, the RDX is an eminently pleasant place in which to spend time. There's a greater sense of space in the cabin, too, though the actual dimensional gains are rather modest. Still, airiness is welcome whether it's illusory or not.
Its face adopts a corporate, mini-MDX look that's more cohesive than the, uh, amphibious first-gen RDX. The proportions are balanced and the styling clean, if on the anonymous side, which is no bad thing considering some of the truly odd styling flourishes we've seen come out of Acura's design studio in recent years.
Acura didn't quite hold the line on pricing, of course, as base prices rise slightly over the outgoing model. Front-wheel-drive versions of the 2013 model increase by $1,425 to $35,215 with destination, while AWD models start at $36,615, an increase of $825. Notable standard features include a back-up camera, heated seats and keyless entry.
At the pointy end of the pricing spectrum is our fully loaded all-wheel-drive tester equipped with the Technology package at $40,315. Crossing the $40K threshold with an entry-level compact SUV is a bold psychological move on Acura's part, but at least there's a comprehensive list of equipment in the deal — the Technology package grants access to nav, a power liftgate, HID headlights, premium sound and a few other items.
The new RDX successfully achieves its objectives. From its improved fuel economy to the smoother ride quality, enhanced refinement and linear power delivery, the 2013 Acura RDX is far better equipped to take on its crossover rivals.
It may be fashionable to poo-poo any decision involving the de-sport-ification of a vehicle, but it is hard to find fault with the logic behind Acura's alterations to the RDX formula. Better still is that the end product, the 2013 RDX, is a wholly accomplished and enjoyable result.
Growing up isn't so hard after all. Keep the Kenny G to yourself, though.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.