The 2013 Acura RDX introduces the second generation of Acura's smallest SUV. RDX is all-new for 2013, a little bit bigger and heavier than before, while being considerably more powerful, nearly as nimble, and significantly more fuel-efficient. It's a win-win-win deal.
The 2013 Acura RDX features a new 3.5-liter V6 engine making 273 horsepower (up from 240), and a 6-speed manual automatic transmission (up from a 5-speed), both so smooth they feel flawless. Fuel mileage is an EPA-rated 20/28 mpg City/Highway, for an EPA Combined 23 miles per gallon with front-wheel drive.
A new all-wheel-drive system is available, simpler and lighter than Acura's SH-AWD in other models, designed for fuel mileage. In about 400 miles of driving in our RDX AWD, mostly at 72 mph on the freeway but with some hilly city runs, we averaged 21.6 mpg. The EPA rates the 2013 RDX AWD at 19/27 mpg.
The sheetmetal has been reshaped for 2013 to be sleek and aerodynamic, looking more like the larger Acura MDX. The hood is longer and sculpted than before, the grille tidier, sides cleaner, and roofline way more elegant. The wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer and the track widened a bit, and handling remains taut and precise. The center of gravity is lower despite the roof being 1 inch higher, and there's electronic power steering replacing hydraulic.
The suspension has been thoroughly redesigned on the 2013 RDX, with 18-inch wheels standard. Acura engineers in Japan worked hard to make the 2013 RDX ride and handle well, and it does, maybe even better than the smaller and sportier 2012 RDX. The steering technology breaks new ground, with what Acura calls Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering, which goes to the next step beyond speed-sensitive power steering, by increasing or reducing the amount of effort needed to turn the wheel in either direction, based on the same sort of traction measurements that stability-control sensors receive; by instantaneously weighting the steering wheel, it makes it harder for the driver to over-correct.
The suspension also features something called Amplitude Reactive Dampers, sophisticated shock absorbers designed to offer the best of all worlds. They got most of the worlds, but the dampers transmitted too many sharp bumps to our spine. These things can be tuned out, so it's possible that this flaw might vanish in later 2013s, you never know.
The new interior has sweeping lines and uses rich materials. It's very quiet in the cabin; over harsh freeway surfaces in particular, you can't hear the tire buzz thanks to more sound-deadening materials. The door openings are large, and the rear seats fold down with one touch. Leather is standard, along with heated front seats, power moonroof, 360-watt audio system, and rearview camera. A Technology Package has all the tricks, including a power liftgate and HID headlamps.
Competitors for the Acura RDX include the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class.
Acura says that the RDX has gone from looking sporty to more formal, elegant and sophisticated, and we confess we doubted it, until we looked at photos side-by-side. Styling changes to SUVs that we see every day aren't the kinds of things that register. But sure enough, it's all true. It's still a medium-sized Acura SUV in your mind (technically it's a compact), like all the others you've known, but the sheetmetal is indeed more elegant and sophisticated.
The hood on the 2013 Acura RDX appears long, extending downward to an arc before the grille begins with a touch of black mesh over the wide band of wing-shaped silver, Acura's emblem. Not just Acura, but other carmakers have backed away from the in-your-face grilles of recent years (e.g. Mazda3 toning down its big dopey grin). Below the grille, the front fascia is clean, stylish, and aerodynamic, rounded at the edges, with sleek, sharp, exotic-eye headlamps and two tidy trapezoidal air intakes at the bottom corners.
The blocky round fender flares aren't changed, but the sides are sculpted cleanly now, with rounded rockers instead of cladding, and mirrors improving their looks by losing an edge. Most notably, the roofline and window outline is, yes, elegant, reminiscent of the Lexus RX 350. Tinted door glass. The new lines on the 2013 RDX make the old RDX look like its square roof was just slapped on.
At the rear, the changes for 2013 are slight but effective, with sharp horizontal edges removed, again to bring a more formal look, and smooth downward diagonal edges added, to make the back look less blocky.
The 2013 RDX has grown 2.8 inches in overall length, with half that in wheelbase, and it is 1 inch taller. There's .6 inches more rear legroom, .7 cubic feet more cargo area, and it's 100 pounds lighter.
The interior of the 2013 RDX matches the exterior, with sweeping lines replacing angular ones. The new analog gauges and graphics are clean and beautiful, high contrast in white and LED backlit at night. The front doors open wider and the center console is larger, with a relative gaping 8.2 liters of space (5.6 liters in the glovebox).
We spent a week in the RDX, and found it to be sweetly quiet over all pavement and at all speeds, a result of attention and insulation. We also especially liked the lighting that brightens and dims progressively. Switches are illuminated in the dark, including the switches on all four doors. The RDX features theater dimming set by the driver to three speeds.
Acura leather seats are always clean, classy, and smooth, and the RDX is now all Acura. They fit well, with good ergonomics and bolstering, because Acuras corner well and are driven with spirit. The driver's seat has two-way adjustable lumbar. We ran a hard 200 miles down from Seattle during spring break in the rain, and the seats get an A for comfort and support.
However, the navigation and radio, part of the Technology Package, don't come close to an A. The navigation system was consistently inaccurate and hopeless with voice recognition (although, after our passenger repeatedly fooled with it while we were driving, the system did manage to find the nearest of 320 Big 5 sporting goods stores in the Northwest, and led us off the freeway and to the store); and the radio was difficult to tune, taking time and concentration off the road. It made us long for the simplicity, accuracy and clarity of the Volkswagen Tiguan.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel holds audio and cruise controls on its three spokes, as well as a button for the Multi-Information Display, along with navigation, voice recognition and more. Controls for standard Bluetooth are on the lower left corner of the steering wheel.
The MID window is located on the face of the speedometer, and shows temperature, odometer, average mpg, instantaneous mpg, range, tire pressure, average speed and elapsed time. We use range, or distance to empty, the most, and like with many information displays (exceptions include the VW Tiguan), we think it takes too many clicks to find it on the RDX. It's still better than the 2010 Acura ZDX that was like falling into Alice's rabbit hole to find how many miles to go before empty.
The RDX features a one-touch turn signal system for lane changes, as with an increasing number of cars. When the driver moves the lever just a touch, the turn signals flash three times.
The rearview camera is viewed on the 5-inch LCD display on the center stack. Solid yellow guidelines indicate the vehicle's width, but we found them to be unclear and weren't willing to depend on them if scraping a fender was a possibility.
With the Technology Package, you get an 8-inch display with three rearview camera angles: normal 130 degrees, wide angle 175 degrees, and downward at the rear bumper for close parking or backing up to a trailer. Also a new 360-watt 7-speaker audio system, with the works.
At the rear, the door openings are wide for easy access, and the legroom is an okay 38.3 inches. The 60/40 rear seats drop nicely with one touch, as they all should but don't. With the seats down there's 76.9 cubic feet of cargo space, a whopping 16.3 cubic feet more than before, and a best-in-class total interior volume, increased by 2.1 cubic feet. The power rear hatch is 48.8 inches wide, expanded by 6.5 inches.
If dual-zone climate control isn't enough, the Technology Package offers a GPS-linked, solar-sensing, automatic climate control system. The nav system determines the position of the sun and, using the solar sensor on the dashboard, the climate control automatically adjusts the heating and cooling inputs, fan speed, and vent position from side to side as to compensate for asymmetrical solar heating and maintain the set cabin temperatures. All we can say is: whew. Kind of like having your own house robot to draw the blinds and open the windows for you when it's too sunny in the room. We're fine with the standard dual-zone automatic climate control.
The Technology Package also includes internet radio interface and a SMS text messaging feature that works with certain phones and plans. It can read incoming texts aloud over the audio system, and allow the driver to reply without touching his phone, with one of six messages: Talk to you later, I'm driving; I'm on my way; I'm running late; OK; Yes; No. We'll resist the temptation to suggest more messages.
The 2013 RDX is smooth, stable and comfortable 99 percent of the time, but when you hit sharp bumps they're transmitted through that nice bucket seat. It's a shame the ride delivers jolts, because otherwise it's all good. Later we tested a larger 2013 Acura MDX, and it was better, but still had traces of the jolt. It appears to be how Acura sets up their SUV suspensions, on 2013 models, at least.
Acura has flip-flopped with the 2013 RDX, by using a 3.5-liter V6 while abandoning the 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine that was in the RDX when it first came out in 2007 (last making 240 hp and 17 city/22 highway mpg). Back then Acura pioneered V6 power with I4 fuel mileage; ironically, today, six years later, Ford follows along with the twin-turbo EcoBoost 4-cylinder in the Escape (240 hp and 22/30 mpg).
The RDX V6 makes 273 horsepower and an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg with front-wheel drive, 19/27 with all-wheel-drive. It produces plenty of smooth acceleration. It's a 60-degree single overhead camshaft design with 24 valves, actuated by iVTEC, or intelligent Variable Valve Timing and Lift Electronic Control. Aluminum block and heads with iron cylinder liners.
In addition to 33 more horsepower, the V6 brings better fuel mileage, gaining 3 city/6 highway mpg, boosted by a new 6-speed automatic transmission with a tall sixth gear, and the Variable Cylinder Management system, which uses 3, 4, or 6 cylinders depending on need. It's totally invisible, we never once felt it. We got 21.6 miles per gallon, running mostly at 72 mph on the freeway with our all-wheel-drive model, which is EPA-rated at a Combined 22 mpg.
If the previous RDX handled like a sports car, the all-new RDX still handles really well. It's accessible to more buyers, without the aggressive sportiness of the turbo four. The all-wheel drive enhances cornering by moving torque to the rear wheels when needed, although it's not Acura's SH-AWD (super handling all-wheel drive) as used in the TL.
Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering is the next step in electronic controls. Sensors detect understeer or oversteer, and the stability control does its thing by braking an appropriate wheel. But next, if the driver is turning the steering wheel too much in one direction or the other, the weight of the steering is increased by reducing the electric assist to the power steering, making it harder for the driver to continue his or her imperfect pursuit of control.
The new 6-speed automatic transmission is as smooth as the engine. There are two automatic modes, plus Sequential SportShift with well-designed paddles. The first five gears are relatively short, for sharp acceleration; sixth gear is tall, for lower rpm at freeway speeds and thus better highway fuel mileage. The transmission has all the latest technology, including a multi-clutch lock-up torque converter, Grade Logic Control, Shift Hold Control and Cornering G Shift Control. None of those little brains in the transmission intruded, in the time we had the car.
For Acura lovers, the all-new V6 RDX is perfect, with Acura's best engineering technology and efficiency, responsive handling, traditional silky powertrain with new 6-speed automatic, clear gauges, classy leather, class-leading interior volume, easy seat flop for cargo. Fuel mileage so-so at 22 mpg combined, base price $35k ain't hay, sharp bumps ain't fun.
Sam Moses filed this report to NewCarTestDrive.com after his test drive of the Acura RDX in the Pacific Northwest.