Acura’s RDX shifts from performance SUV to mainstream

Farm Forum

With its turbocharged four-cylinder engine and performance-tuned AWD system, Acura’s original RDX put the accent on the “Sport” in Sport Utility Vehicles. Today’s 2013 RDX is retooled for more refinement to suit a wider — and older — audience.

The key changes are all beneath the skin. Acura traded the 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder for a 3.5-liter V-6. The new engine’s 273 horsepower is 33 more than the outgoing version but its torque of 251 lb.-ft. is a drop from the 260 lb.-ft. in the previous engine. More horsepower, less torque. But the new motor is far smoother than the former version, feeling like it’s not working as hard to get the job done.

The RDX launches from a standstill briskly and has plenty of power to pass. The V-6 has a nice growl when prodded and quiets quickly when cruising. The engine upsizing also levels the playing field for Acura, allowing the RDX to match up with the rest of its six-packing, premium classmates.

This new powertrain also pays dividends at the gas pump. EPA fuel economy estimates place the 2013 RDX at 20 mpg city, 28 mpg highway (FWD); 19/27 (AWD). The numbers are significantly higher than the 2012 model, jumping 5 mpg in highway mode for All Wheel Drive models.

Acura’s increase in efficiency has several factors. The V-6 is now paired with a six-speed automatic transmission (compared to five in 2012). And the available AWD is now based on the Honda CRV’s system, tuned to suit the Acura application. Both the transmission and the AWD system are smaller and lighter than the units they replace. The engine is also the first Acura to use cylinder deactivation. With this technology, the engine can shut down two or three cylinders. The changes are instantaneous and cannot be felt by the driver. Though the engine gained two cylinders towing capacity is still minimal — just 1,500 pounds.

Trading the former Super-Handling AWD system for the new, Intelligent Control system sacrifices some of the sporty handling that the first generation RDX was known for. The new model’s improved efficiency and more compliant ride should appeal to the RDX’s recalibrated target market. The electronic power steering is nicely weighted, and overall, the RDX feels stable and agile for the breed. The combination of the available AWD system with standard, Vehicle Stability Assist/traction control adds assurance to foul weather driving.

Starting at $34,320, RDX is offered in two trim levels: Base and Technology Package. There are no stand-alone options. Even the entry-level RDX is outfitted with a generous amount of premium features, including leather-trimmed seats (heated, in front), power moonroof, keyless ignition/entry and a rear view camera.

The front cabin shows off a handsome upscale design. Two-toning goes a long way towards brightening up the look, while the basic black comes off as rather subdued. Although the sheer volume of features in a premium vehicle necessitates a lot of switchgear, RDX keeps the layout pretty straight forward. HVAC and sound system controls each has its own simple array of knobs and buttons.

The RDX interior seats five adults comfortably. Driver visibility is good, save a three-quarter rear blind spot owing to the wide roof pillars. Second row seatbacks split and fold to a mostly flat load floor. Anyone over 6-foot tall will need to duck under the lift-back door. The opening to the cargo bay is wide, and lift-over height is low. Storage capacity ranges from 26 to 77 cubic feet, depending on how you arrange the seating.

With a noticeable shift in focus, the new RDX has moved into the mainstream of the market, rather than the performance niche. RDX should do well here because of its high value factor.