For 2013, Acura introduced the second generation of its smallest SUV. Considered all-new for 2013, the RDX was a bit bigger and heavier than before. Most notably, a 3.5-liter V6 engine replaced the original RDX's turbocharged 4-cylinder. The redesigned model was considerably more powerful, nearly as nimble, and significantly more fuel-efficient. Clearly, it was a win-win-win deal.
Except for one new body-color choice, the Acura RDX is unchanged for the 2014 model year. Acura's 3.5-liter V6 engine makes 273 horsepower, mating with a 6-speed automatic transmission (which incorporates manual control). The engine and transmission are both so smooth, they feel flawless. Fuel mileage is an EPA-estimated 20/28 mpg City/Highway, for an EPA Combined 23 miles per gallon with front-wheel drive.
All-wheel drive is available as an option. Simpler and lighter than Acura's SH-AWD setup, which is used in other models, the RDX's AWD system is designed for greater 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 2014 RDX AWD at 19/27 mpg City/Highway.
The sheetmetal was reshaped for 2013 to be sleek and aerodynamic, looking more like the larger Acura MDX. The hood is longer and sculpted than in the first generation, the grille tidier, sides cleaner, and roofline way more elegant. The wheelbase is 1.4 inches longer than the pre-2013 RDX and the track (distance between left and right wheels) was widened a bit. Handling remains taut and precise. The center of gravity is lower than in the original RDX, despite the roof being 1 inch higher.
The suspension was thoroughly redesigned on the 2013 RDX, with 18-inch wheels standard. Acura engineers in Japan worked hard to make the second-generation RDX ride and handle well, and it does: maybe even better than the smaller and sportier 2012 RDX.
Steering technology in the ILX broke new ground, with what Acura calls Motion Adaptive Electric Power Steering, which goes to the next step beyond speed-sensitive power steering. It increases or reduces 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, the system makes it harder for the driver to over-correct.
Acura's RDX 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.
The 2014 Acura RDX 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 ample sound-deadening materials. Door openings are large, and the rear seats fold down with one touch. Leather seating surfaces are standard, along with heated front seats, a power moonroof, 360-watt audio system, and Multi-Angle rearview camera. Keyless Access with pushbutton start is standard, along with an Active Noise Control system. An optional Technology Package has all the tricks, including a power liftgate and HID (high-intensity-discharge) headlamps.
Competitors for the Acura RDX, which is manufactured in Ohio, include the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK-Class.
For the 2013 redesign, Acura said the RDX went from looking sporty to more formal, elegant and sophisticated. We confess that we doubted that claim, until we looked at photos side-by-side. Styling changes to SUVs that we see every day aren't the kinds of alterations that register. But sure enough, it's all true. It's still a medium-sized Acura SUV in your mind (though 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 2014 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, which is Acura's hallmark 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.
Blocky round fender flares remain from the original RDX, but the sides are sculpted cleanly, with rounded rockers instead of cladding. Mirrors improved 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 is installed. The lines on the 2014 RDX make the old RDX look like its square roof was just slapped on.
At the rear, the changes for 2013 were slight but effective, with sharp horizontal edges removed, again to bring a more formal look. Smooth downward diagonal edges make the back look less blocky.
The 2013 RDX grew 2.8 inches in overall length, half that amount in wheelbase, and stood 1 inch taller. Rear legroom increased by 0.6 inch, the cargo area expanded by 0.7 cubic feet, and the second-generation RDX was 100 pounds lighter.
The interior of the 2014 RDX matches the exterior, with sweeping lines. Analog gauges and graphics are clean and beautiful, high contrast in white and LED backlit at night. The front doors open wider than in the original RDX, and the center console is larger, with a sizable 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 any of three levels.
Acura's leather seats are always clean, classy, and smooth, and the RDX is now all Acura. They fit well, with good ergonomics and bolstering, which is helpful because Acuras corner well and can be driven with spirit. The driver's seat has two-way adjustable lumbar support. We ran a hard 200 miles in the rain, and the seats got 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 Big 5 sporting goods store). In addition, the radio was difficult to tune, taking time and concentration off the road. It made us long for the simplicity, accuracy and clarity of, say, 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 information 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 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, which was like falling into Alice's rabbit hole to try and determine how many miles to go before empty.
Like a growing number of cars, the RDX features a one-touch turn signal system for lane changes. 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 installed, 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 included is a 360-watt 7-speaker audio system, with the works.
At the rear, the door openings are wide for easy access, and back-seat 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, plus best-in-class total interior volume. The power rear hatch is 48.8 inches wide, expanded by 6.5 inches for the second generation.
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, 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 an internet radio interface and an 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 or her 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 2014 Acura 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. We also tested a larger Acura MDX, which was better, but still had traces of the jolt. This appears to be how Acura sets up their SUV suspensions.
Acura has flip-flopped with the current 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. Back then, Acura pioneered V6-level power with 4-cylinder fuel mileage; ironically, today, Ford follows that path with the twin-turbo EcoBoost 4-cylinder in the Escape.
The RDX V6 makes 273 horsepower. Rated at 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. The engine has an aluminum block and heads, with iron cylinder liners.
In addition to 33 more horsepower than the predecessor engine, the V6 brings better fuel mileage, gaining 3 city/6 highway mpg over the earlier turbo four. Fuel economy is boosted by the 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 on the freeway with our all-wheel-drive model, which is EPA-rated at a Combined 22 mpg.
If the previous RDX handled almost 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 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, during the time we had the car.
For Acura lovers, the V6 RDX is perfect. It combines Acura's best engineering technology and efficiency with responsive handling, a traditional silky powertrain with 6-speed automatic, clear gauges, classy leather, class-leading interior volume, and easy seat flop for cargo. Fuel mileage is so-so at 22 or 23 mpg combined, base price around $35k ain't hay, and 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.