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Acura gets it right this time with its new RDX

2013 Acura RDX

2013 Acura RDX Credit: Handout

This time around, Acura got it right.

Its sport-oriented crossover utility vehicle, the RDX, was added to Acura's lineup just six years ago, complementing the upscale, full-size crossover, the MDX.

But the RDX never quite caught on. Its best year was 2007, its first full year on the market, when 23,356 were sold. In 2011, sales totaled just 15,196.

The RDX's driving dynamics were spot-on, at least in the eyes of enthusiasts. But in an effort to distinguish the RDX from the larger V6-engine MDX, Acura installed a 240-horsepower, 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

It had plenty of punch but in practice delivered lousy fuel economy. Also, because of its handling-oriented suspension system, the RDX transmitted a molar-rattling ride on rough road surfaces.

So of all the vehicles in the Acura portfolio, the RDX was most in need of a replacement or, at a minimum, major surgery.

That's been accomplished with the all-new 2013 model, which is so unlike its predecessor that it could have come from another manufacturer.

There's a family resemblance in the design and styling But where the earlier RDX had a punishing ride, the new one is almost creamy, while still retaining decent handling from a more rigid body structure and more sophisticated steering and suspension system tuning.

Where the former model had power peaks and valleys, the new V6 engine pulls strongly throughout its range, and actually delivers way better fuel economy than the original.

Depending on the circumstances, it runs on three, four or six cylinders. The toggling back and forth among the different modes happens automatically and is unobtrusive.

The RDX gets a fuel consumption rating for the all-wheel drive model of 19 mpg in the city and 27 mpg on the highway, while the front-drive version does slightly better at 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway.

The original RDX with all-wheel drive had a fuel consumption rating of 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. But that was using the EPA's earlier, more generous and unrealistic ratings, which were subsequently cut back by about 10 percent across the board.

Contributing to the new RDX's performance and fuel economy is a six-speed automatic transmission. On the road, the tested RDX with the all-wheel drive had a solid, planted stance with tactile feedback through the steering wheel and good straight-line tracking. The power steering is electric, sensitive to vehicle speed and enhanced by a thicker and more rigid steering column. It also uses sensors to automatically correct the RDX's attitude in cornering.

Though not what an enthusiast would consider to be sports sedan handling, the RDX attacks twisting roads with precision. With new technologies that include a shorter pedal stroke, the brakes also deliver a confident, progressive feel.

Large and supportive front seats are particularly suited for long hours at the wheel. The back seats are similarly comfortable. Even the center-rear seating position is marginally acceptable, unlike many other vehicles.

Unaccountably, the rear seatbacks do not recline, a flaw from the original RDX.

The RDX also is remarkably quiet on the road, benefiting from a new tire tread design as well as strategically placed insulation and active noise canceling under the hood.

Acura considers the RDX's main competition to be the BMW X3 xDrive 28i and the Audi Q5 2.0T. Both are near-luxury crossovers of about the same size but with less interior room and, when comparably equipped, higher prices. They come with eight-speed automatic transmissions.

The base price of the tested all-wheel drive RDX was $36,605, which included full safety equipment plus automatic climate control, leather upholstery, power sunroof, a rear-view camera with three display modes, pushbutton starting with remote keyless locking, Bluetooth communications, Pandora Internet radio and 18-inch alloy wheels. Headlights turn on and off automatically with the windshield wipers.

The tested all-wheel drive RDX also had a technology package that included navigation with voice recognition, an ELS premium audio system, solar sensing climate control, satellite radio with real-time weather and traffic, and a power tailgate. It had a suggested sticker price of $40,305.

If you don't need the all-wheel drive, you can save $1,400 by ordering the otherwise identical front-drive version.

Specifications

Model: 2013 Acura RDX AWD four-door crossover utility vehicle.

Engine: 3.5-liter V6, 273 horsepower.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic with all-wheel drive.

Overall length: 15 feet 4 inches.

EPA passenger/cargo volume: 104/26 cubic feet.

Weight: 3,852 pounds.

EPA city/highway fuel consumption: 19/27 miles to the gallon.

Base price, including destination charge: $36,605.

Price as tested: $40,305.

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