The redesigned 2013 Acura RDX is better armed to win over shoppers -- it's larger, lighter and more efficient -- while offering an attractive value proposition.
Acura didn't have much success with the RDX in its previous incarnation. It was reasonably priced with a slew of standard features shoppers would want in a luxury SUV, but its quirky turbocharged engine and cramped confines were deal breakers.
The 2013 has been redesigned in a number of significant ways. Not only is it larger inside and out, it's lighter, features a different optional all-wheel-drive system and, most important, there's a standard V-6 engine under the hood that's more efficient.
There is a battle raging among luxury and mainstream automakers to figure out what type of engines should replace V-6 and V-8s as fuel efficiency becomes paramount in our age of more stringent regulations. Most thinking foresees turbocharged four-cylinders replacing V-6 engines and turbocharged, supercharged or hybrid V-6 power plants replacing V-8s.
Acura's last RDX was ahead of the game with its turbo four-cylinder, but not only did it deliver a somewhat herky-jerky driving experience, its fuel economy was below what many V-6s returned. And it required premium gas.
The 3.5-liter V-6 in the new RDX features cylinder deactivation, is teamed to a new six-speed automatic transmission and returns not only better power -- 273 horsepower versus 240 hp -- but also significantly better fuel economy: 20/28 mpg city/highway versus 19/24 mpg. Premium is recommended to achieve those figures but isn't required.
On the road, power builds at a somewhat slower pace than the turbo generation provided, but it's a more consistent experience. Leaving a stoplight isn't as energizing, but accelerating onto a highway on-ramp or passing cars at highway speeds are easier maneuvers with the new V-6.
Steering is lighter than before. There's more body roll in tight turns; the brakes are not as grabby and the ride is softer. For performance fans, the RDX is definitely a step back from the previous model, but for the average car shopper, it is a huge step forward because the experience is more comfortable.
This is a competitive class with the BMW X3 and Volvo XC60 aimed right at the RDX. Neither one is a dynamic performer with their base engines; the RDX has just one engine choice and competes on price with the lesser offerings from BMW and Volvo, so the RDX shines. It has more power and features than the XC60 at a similar price and costs significantly less than the BMW. Its mileage also bests the other two.
The optional all-wheel-drive system also has been changed. Instead of the Super Handling All-Wheel Drive from the 2012, a new, superlative-less system replaces it. Power can be shifted up to 50 percent to the rear wheels, but only when slippage is detected such as in bad weather. Otherwise, power is split 75/25 percent front/rear in normal acceleration, 90/10 when mild acceleration is needed to increase cruising speed and 100 percent to the front when cruising. This power split along with the system's reduced weight helps lift mileage numbers.
I've tested every player in this segment many times, including a new high-performance version of the XC60 the week prior to test-driving the RDX, and the Acura doesn't fall behind any of them as an overall performer.
Consumer Reports' overall reliability for the outgoing 2012 RDX received the publication's highest rating while the competition received average scores or below, with only the X3 getting an above-average grade.
The RDX has been redesigned from the engine and exterior styling to the interior confines. Most of the materials in the cabin resemble what was in the 2012, but the layout has been changed.
The dashboard is more distinctly separated from the center console that's between the driver and front passenger. There are also more contours to the dash, lush padding on the leather sections of the doors, and more curvaceous lines nearly everywhere. This adds a sense of luxury versus the hard-edged sports-themed cockpit of the previous generation.
The leather seats are exceptionally comfortable, with wide seat bottoms.
The rear seats have plenty of leg- and knee room for average-sized adults. Both front and rear legroom lead the class.
It was relatively easy for me to install child-safety seats for my two preschoolers, and they had an easy time getting into and out of the backseat.
I also liked the numerous cubbies and small cargo compartments in the RDX. For me, the most useful one was in the center console that sits in front of the cupholders. It holds the USB input and can fit a smartphone, wallet, sunglasses and keys easily while still allowing the cover to slide closed. This makes it a convenient storage place for trips to the beach or gym.
How the RDX's cargo space measures up against the competition depends on whether the rear seats are folded or not. At 26.1 cubic feet behind the backseat, the RDX's cargo volume is below average in the class, falling behind the BMW X3, Volvo XC60 and Cadillac SRX at 27.6, 30.8 and 29.8 cubic feet, respectively. The RDX tops only the Mercedes-Benz GLK's 23.3 cubic feet.
I found it plenty large for my needs, which included a Costco run that filled the back with three 55-pound bags of potting soil and left enough room for food and other items. More important, the low load floor simplifies throwing in those large items.
Fold the rear seats down with levers by the liftgate and cargo room expands to 61.3 cubic feet, which is much more competitive. Only the X3 and XC60 top it at 63.3 and 67.4 cubic feet, respectively, and the rest fall short, even if just barely. The expanded cargo floor is also relatively flat, which is helpful when loading long items such as shelving.
While the numbers may not blow away the segment, Acura did improve the overall experience for hauling goods. The rear seats fold flat with one movement instead of having to flip the seat bottoms forward as in the previous model, and gone is the removable floor piece that doubled as a cargo cover yet was rarely used.
Features and pricing
The RDX remains one of the more reasonably priced players in this segment with a starting price for the base front-wheel-drive model of $35,215 (including an $895 destination charge). That's up $1,435 from the outgoing model, however. You can compare the 2013 and 2012 models here.
Acura doesn't use traditional option packages or trim designations for most of its models, and the RDX is no different. If you choose to move up from the base model called simply "RDX," there are three choices: RDX AWD at $36,615, RDX with Technology Package at $38,915 or RDX AWD with Technology Package at $40,315.
Standard on all RDX models are keyless entry, push-button start, leather seats, heated front seats, a backup camera, Bluetooth connectivity, a USB port, 5-inch color display and 360-watt stereo with subwoofer.
The Technology Package adds a navigation system with 8-inch screen, voice-activated stereo and navigation controls, power liftgate, 410-watt 10-speaker premium sound system with 15 gigabytes of media storage, fog lights and xenon high-intensity-discharge headlights.
The 2013 Acura RDX is equipped with a standard suite of airbags and has earned Top Safety Pick status from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. To earn IIHS' highest rating, a car must get the highest score of Good in front, side, rear and roof-strength crash tests.
The federal government has not yet crash tested the 2013 Acura RDX.
RDX in the market
The RDX had an advantage by being an early player in the small luxury crossover segment. That head start didn't lead to big sales, but taught Acura some lessons they've applied to the 2013.
Now that it is better aimed at the right type of shopper, Acura has no excuses if the RDX fails.
© 2012, Cars.com