When Acura engineers faced the task of designing the second generation of the automaker's entry- level luxury compact crossover, they decided to tweak it in every way possible in hopes of providing wider appeal, better fuel economy and higher levels of refinement.
For the 2013 model year, the Acura RDX was completely redesigned from the ground up: It boasts a new engine, a more mature, modern look; a roomier and more refined interior; improved fuel economy and a revised all-wheel-drive system.
The changes made sense because, Acura representatives say, the original RDX didn't quite resonate with the demographic for which it was intended. With the redesign, Acura is aiming the RDX at a more mature and mainstream buyer.
The RDX competes in the fast-growing and increasingly competitive luxury compact crossover segment, which already includes the Audi Q5, the BMW X3, the Cadillac SRX, the Mercedes-Benz GLK, Infiniti EX35, Land Rover's Range Rover Evoque and the Volvo XC60.
TWO TRIM LEVELS
The 2013 Acura RDX is available in two trim levels: base and base with Technology Package. Each is available with front- or all-wheel drive (AWD).
The retail price of the RDX in Puerto Rico, including excise taxes, ranges between $46,500 for a base front-wheel-drive model and $53,500 for a fully equipped AWD with Technology Package.
Standard features include 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors, rear privacy glass, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, power front seats (eight-way driver, four-way passenger), heated front seats, leather upholstery, a tilt-and-telescoping steering wheel, Bluetooth and a seven-speaker sound system with CD player, satellite radio, Pandora radio interphase, iPod/USB audio interphase and auxiliary audio jack.
The Technology Package adds Xenon headlights, foglights, power lift-gate, navigation system, solar-sensing automatic climate control and a 10-speaker Acura/ELS surround-sound audio system with 15 gigabytes (GB) of music storage.
SIX CYLINDERS, NOT FOUR
For starters, the powertrain was completely overhauled. The outgoing RDX's 2.3-liter, turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been replaced by a naturally aspirated, 3.5-liter V6 that delivers more horsepower along with better fuel economy.
While the old turbo-4 was a spirited performer delivering 240 horsepower, it didn't provide the fuel economy and refinement buyers expected.
By contrast, the new V6 engine is rated at 273 horsepower and 251 foot-pounds of torque, mated to a new six-speed automatic transmission with Sequential Sportshift via paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel.
It earned the Environmental Protection Agency's estimate of 20 miles per gallon (mpg) in the city, 28 mpg on the highway with the front-wheel-drive version (versus the 19 mpg city, 24 mpg highway of the outgoing turbo-4 engine).
Our tested vehicle, the RDX AWD model with the Technology Package, is rated at 19 mpg in the city, 27 mpg on the highway.
The more powerful and better- performing RDX accomplishes these numbers through various fuel-saving measures such as switching to hydraulic power steering, using cylinder deactivation while cruising, and the new six-speed automatic transmission that replaces the old five-speed unit.
SIMPLER AWD SYSTEM
The RDX borrows its AWD system from Honda's new CRV, but it is retuned by Acura for better performance. Acura says the new AWD system is lighter and costs less than the outgoing Super Handling-All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system it replaces.
With this move, the RDX gained fuel economy, but lost the enhanced handling capabilities provided by the SH-AWD system, which will be missed by more serious driving enthusiasts.
On the upside, the switch helped the RDX make significant strides in ride refinement, cabin ambience and luxury features.
The new RDX's ride quality is noticeably less busy than that of the outgoing model, while still doing a fine job controlling body roll, thanks to new dual-piston dampers with integrated rebound springs.
Strides in refinement are evident inside and out. From the low levels of road and wind noise to the glove-soft leather on the seats and steering wheel, the RDX interior is an unmistakably pleasant place.
The cabin feels more spacious too, although the actual dimensional gains are rather modest. The RDX provides 26 cubic feet of storage behind the rear seats and 61 cubic feet with the rear seat folded.
Seat comfort front and rear is very good, with firm, supportive cushions and plenty of head-and legroom. The use of higher-quality materials and two-tone dash/upholstery color schemes spices things up considerably.
The vehicle's front grille adopts a more corporate or mature "mini-MDX" look that is more cohesive than the face of the outgoing model. Its proportions are balanced and the styling looks clean and not as odd-looking as some previous efforts from Acura and other competing brands.
TOP SAFETY RATING
The new RDX comes standard with antilock brakes, stability and traction control, front side airbags, side curtain airbags and active front head restraints. A rearview camera is standard as well.
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gave the RDX the highest possible score of "Good" in the frontal offset, side and roof strength crash tests.
While it isn't as sharp on twisty roads as the outgoing model, the latest RDX still changes direction in fine fashion with minimal body roll and a precise, if light, feel to the steering.
Despite the loss of SH-AWD and the excellent cornering agility it conferred, the new RDX still handles extremely well. The vehicle's lower levels of road and wind noise, relaxed demeanor and increased refinement are more evident on the open highway.