If the recession of 2008 taught us anything, it’s the wisdom of downsizing. This year Acura embarks on a new corporate strategy, focusing more on smaller, less expensive vehicles. The all-new RDX crossover vehicle is one pillar of this strategy. A new compact sedan called the ILX is the other.
Pricing for the base 2013 Acura RDX front-wheel drive model starts at $34,320. MSRP does not include the $885 delivery charge. The all-wheel drive variant with the technology option package is priced from $39,420.
The new RDX maintains the active lifestyle focus of the original, with some new features which make loading and carrying gear easier. Pandora and SMS text messaging features appeal to tech-savvy customers, who want a deeper interface between their smartphones and the car’s infotainment system.
All-new V-6 engine with standard six-speed automatic transmission
Acura used Honda’s variable cylinder management system to give a new six-cylinder engine the fuel economy of a smaller block. The technology cuts out fuel delivery up to three of the engine cylinders when power demands are low. The process is seamless and invisible to the driver, but stretches average fuel economy for the front-wheel drive model to 23 miles-per-gallon for combined city and highway driving. Fuel economy for the all-wheel drive model is about one mile-per-gallon poorer across the board.
Engineers minimized weight by using aluminum for the V-6 block and throughout the body. An electric power steering system replaces a hydraulic unit in the former model. It’s smaller, lighter, and has less parasitic power loss.
The new engine is more powerful than the block in the outgoing model, with 33 more horsepower and .2 second faster zero-to-sixty acceleration.
The available all-wheel drive system is intended to give drivers better performance on rain and snow-covered roads, by delivering engine power to the rear wheels when necessary. It doesn’t have the torque vectoring feature of Acura’s super handling all-wheel drive, available on premium luxury models, but the simpler system helped contain costs.
In order to improve steering response, ride and handling, engineers made the new chassis stiffer at key steering and suspension mounting points. They improved the car’s braking performance by making the discs larger, and having less travel in the brake pedal.
The 2013 Acura RDX has a wider track and longer wheelbase than the car it replaces. By pushing the wheels further out towards the corners, engineers made the vehicle more stable at speed, and enabled designers to enlarge both the passenger compartment and cargo bay. The new car also has a lower center of gravity, for enhanced high-speed performance.
Standard keyless entry and start saves the driver from fumbling for the keys: an important safety feature for those who leave city center offices after dark.
Eliminating the optional third row of seating helped add legroom to both first and second row seating. The wider track gives all passengers better shoulder room. When I sat in the middle second-row seat, legroom was surprisingly good.
Acura RDX Cargo Area
Designers equipped the interior with ample storage areas, including a large locking glovebox with removable storage shelf and a deep center console bin. Dual-zone climate controls are easy to reach, and large enough to handle with gloves on. Unfortunately, there are no rear air vents, which could be a problem for second-row passengers in temperature extremes.
The standard tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel has redundant Bluetooth and audio controls to minimize driver distraction. I found both the gauges and center stack screen easy to see in bright sunlight. Bluetooth interface is standard on all models.
The optional technology package includes a hard drive navigation system (replacing DVDs on the current model), power liftgate, 410 watt premium audio system, real-time weather and traffic updates and high-intensity discharge headlamps. The package reduces the number of option configurations to streamline manufacturing, but also eliminates cost savings to customers who want stand-alone features.
The cargo door opening is larger, making it easier to put big items in back. Second-row seats fold flat using levers on either side of the cargo area. There’s a slight incline to the cargo floor to accommodate pivot points for the rear seats, but the extended floor is one continuous surface, and easily meets our bicycle-friendly standards.
Test drive in eastern Arizona
At a recent media event, I had the chance to drive both the all-wheel and front-wheel drive versions of the 2013 RDX. In both cases, I found the new crossover to be a nicely balanced product, with ample power, good steering response, and an appealingly quiet interior.
I drove the all-wheel drive model north on the Beeline Highway between Scottsdale and Payson. The eighty-mile-drive includes a 3500-foot elevation gain, with some wide sweeping turns which test the all-wheel drive system’s ability to respond to weight transfer.
Performance from the variable cylinder management system is impressive. The engine revved as low as 2000 rpm while climbing moderate grades. While shift shock on steeper grades was noticeable, it was not unpleasant. Average fuel economy at the end of the climb was 24 miles-per-gallon: poorer than the EPA 27 mpg estimate, but certainly nothing to sneeze at.
The all-wheel drive system did an excellent job of maintaining traction in challenging situations. I noticed no tendency towards understeer in some of the tighter corkscrew turns. While the front-wheel drive model doesn’t have the traction of all-wheel drive on wet roads, the chassis felt balanced and offered competent handling in highway and city driving.
Visibility to the front and sides of the vehicle is quite good. The new model has a larger rear glass than the one it replaces, vastly improving the view out the back. A standard rearview camera projects a choice of two wide angle views or an overhead view when the driver shifts into reverse. Thick D pillars continue to create blind spots towards the rear of the car when the driver is moving forward. I am told that the pillar house hydraulic components for the optional power tailgate, hence their size.
All models come with front, side and side curtain airbags, active front head restraints, a maintenance minder system, antilock brakes, traction and stability control.
Acura builds the RDX at its East Liberty, Ohio assembly plant.
Likes: A stylish crossover vehicle with excellent power and fuel economy.
Dislikes: No rear air vents can make the second-row uncomfortable in temperature extremes.
Base price: $34,320
As tested: N/A
Horsepower: 273 Hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 251 lbs.-ft. @ 5000 rpm
Antilock brakes: Standard
Side curtain airbags: Standard
First aid kit: N/A
Bicycle friendly: Yes
Fuel economy: 20/28 mpg city/highway (FWD); 19/27 mpg (AWD)