2013 Acura RDX

Acura's entry-luxury crossover goes counter-trend

Acura, Honda's upscale arm, beat Toyota's Lexus and Nissan's Infiniti to market by more than two years yet has not enjoyed as much sales success despite mostly excellent products. Among those today are this new 2013 Acura RDX compact "crossover" utility (CUV).

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Acura RDX History

One reason for somewhat disappointing sales vs. Japanese luxury-brand rivals might be Acura's steadfast refusal to offer either rear-wheel-drive vehicles or V-8 power, which a lot of luxury/sport sedan buyers have tended to prefer. Instead, Acura has stuck with a mix of V-6 and 4-cylinder engines powering front-wheel drive and, in some cases, all-wheel drive vehicles. Another reason might be its inscrutable model designations-TSX, RDX, MDX, TL, RL-none of which means anything or is an acronym for anything at all.

When Acura first sent the RDX out in 2007 to battle the Lexus RX and Infiniti EX-both V-6-powered-it chose to go with a turbocharged four-cylinder. Not that the turbo four wasn't willing and eager, but it just wasn't as smooth and refined as those rival V-6 engines.

Now, six years later, comes this 2013 Acura RDX with a slicker body, a new six-speed automatic, a new all-wheel-drive system and, yes, a standard 273-hp 3.5-liter V-6-even as some automakers are phasing out V-6s in favor of naturally-aspirated and turbocharged fours in midsize sedans and compact CUVs to improve their fuel efficiency. That's counter-trend, but probably smart. The new RDX also boasts a longer wheelbase, increased track widths, new Amplitude Reactive Dampers, and more energy-efficient motion-adaptive electronic power steering.

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Exterior and Interior

Smoother front and rear fascias, a toned-down Acura bird-beak grille, wider wheel flares and a more tapered rear roofline improve the 2013 RDX styling and make it more aerodynamically slick, while new underbody panels significantly smooth airflow underneath. The new grill blends into longer, more graceful headlamps, and a crisp character line runs along each side through the door handles.

The redesigned cabin 2013 Acura RDX is more upscale and luxurious with sweeping lines, matte surface trim, rich leather, abundant insulation and Active Noise Control to make it a much quieter environment. More leg- and shoulder room, more cargo capacity, larger door and rear hatch openings and a new (available) power liftgate make it also more accommodating than the 2012, and a host of upscale features makes it more appealing. The eight-way power driver seat has adjustable lumbar support, gauges are progressively illuminated backlit LEDs, and a Multi-Information Display (MID) accesses multiple electronic functions.

The "one touch" 60/40 rear seatbacks fold down to open 76.9 cubic feet of storage, 16.3 more than before. There's a large center console between the front seats and numerous stowage pockets and cubbys throughout the interior. Total passenger volume is 103.5 cubic feet (vs. the previous 101.4), which Acura says is largest in its class.

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Powertrain and Chassis

Like its predecessor, the 2013 Acura RDX rides on four-wheel independent suspension with MacPherson struts front and multi-links in back. Its longer wheelbase, increased track widths, a lower center of gravity and new Amplitude Reactive Dampers help provide both better handling and a more supple ride, while new motion adaptive electronic power steering replace the previous hydraulic system.

The most important thing to know about the 2013 RDX crossover's new 3.5-liter V-6 engine is that it provides both significantly more power and better fuel economy than the outgoing turbo-four. It benefits from Honda's Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system, which temporarily deactivates two, and sometimes even three, of its six cylinders to save fuel during light-load conditions and iVTEC variable valve timing, which electronically manages both timing and lift of both intake and exhaust valves.

Also adding performance as well as fuel efficiency is the new Sequential SportShift six-speed automatic transmission (replacing the previous five-speed) and a multi-clutch torque converter. This combo delivers EPA-estimated city/highway/combined economy of 20/28/23 mpg with front-wheel drive and 19/27/22 mpg with available "intelligent" all-wheel drive.

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Features and Safety Dynamics

Standard 2013 Acura RDX features include keyless access with pushbutton start, leather-trimmed heated seats, a leather-wrapped steering wheel with paddle shifters on a tilt/telescoping column, a three-mode rear camera, dual-zone automatic climate control with air filtration, a power moonroof, 60/40 split-folding rear seatbacks and 360-watt seven-speaker premium audio with XM Satellite Radio, a USB port and Bluetooth hands-free connectivity. An available Technology Package adds navigation with voice recognition and real-time traffic and weather, a 60-gigabyte Hard Disk Drive (HDD), GPS-linked solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control, Acura/ELS 10-speaker Premium Surround Sound and that handy power liftgate.

Accident-preventative "active" safety features include Vehicle Stability Assist (VSA), traction control and a revised four-wheel disc brake system with ABS and Brake Assist, while the array of passenger-protective "passive" features includes six airbags: multiple-threshold front, dual-chamber front-seat side and front-to-rear side curtains.

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2013 RDX Driving Impressions

We liked the somewhat stiffly sprung, fun-to-drive previous-generation Acura RDX, which suffered the misfortune of coming out at about the same time as Mazda's similarly-sized and turbo-four-powered (but much less pricey) RX-7 CUV. Now Mazda's new "SkyActive" CX-5 replaces the CX-7 with less performance but much better fuel efficiency, leaving this new $34-40K V-6-powered RDX to go up against the likes of Audi's Q5, BMW's X3, Infiniti's EX35, Mercedes' GLK350, VW's Tiguan, and Volvo's XC60 in the growing "entry premium" CUV class.

We drove the 2013 Acura RDX around town, on freeways and on a fair amount of twisty two-lanes and found much to like and little to criticize. It's a bit softer, quieter and more civilized than the old one but nearly as capable in corners, even when driven fairly aggressively. Compared to the previous car's more precise hydraulic system, the new, more energy-efficient electric power steering is not the industry's best in feel and feedback, but far from the worst. On the other hand, the ride is smoother, the performance stronger and the brakes more sure and powerful.

As more and more buyers gravitate to compact CUVs at all price levels for their happy balance of utility, drivability and fuel efficiency, the competition for them keeps heating up. And Acura now seems much better positioned to capture its share with this new V-6-powered 2013 RDX. www.acura.com

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