CNET Editors' Rating
3.5 stars Very good
Review Date: 6/12/12
The good: The ELS audio system in the 2013 Acura RDX produces excellent sound, with crisp highs and strong bass, and voice command lets the driver request music by name. The rear seat offers plenty of legroom.
The bad: The navigation system does not dynamically route around bad traffic, and the voice command system doesn't include dial-by-name functionality with a paired phone's contact list.
The bottom line: The 2013 Acura RDX is a comfortable and easy-driving small SUV with a premium feel, but the cabin tech shows some flaws that will prove frustrating over time.
The new generation of Acura's smallest SUV, the RDX, represents both a step forward and a step back. For 2013, Acura updated the exterior styling, and increased the size just a little, but dumbed down the underlying performance technology.
The 2013 Acura RDX looks dramatically different from the previous generation, with nicely smoothed-over styling making for a refined, premium SUV. The grille is more subtly inset at the front of the car, above an invisible bumper, the hard parts hidden by a bit of seamless molding. At the rear, the exhaust pipes are completely invisible unless you crawl underneath.
The RDX also gains an inch in length and height, and sheds about 200 pounds. Its roomy cabin has leather seats and soft plastics over the dashboard. The rear seats fold down easily to maximize the cargo space. Rear-seat passengers will find more than ample legroom.
However, the dashboard looks largely unchanged. In historic Acura fashion, buttons litter the center stack and steering wheel. There are both a monochrome radio display and a color LCD in the dashboard. This latter mess comes from the fact that, rather than replace the dashboard's tech interface elements, Acura adds to it when it equips cars with its infotainment system. There is little excuse for this approach, as the LCD shows navigation, phone, and audio information, making the monochrome radio display redundant.
That said, the car's main interface controller, a large joystick/dial/button hybrid surrounded by buttons for direct access to specific infotainment functions, works very well. The interface is very usable, with attractive screens that are easy to navigate. On the destination entry screens, for example, Acura puts only six menu items on each, so the driver isn't flooded with a lot of distracting choices.
The destination screens are easy to navigate using the big controller on the center of the dashboard.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Voice command works well as an alternative way to use the car's infotainment features. It is pretty chatty, but the helpful voice prompts at each command can be cut short just by pressing the voice command button again. Along with entering destinations, the system allows voice selection of music from a connected iPod or the onboard hard drive. It would be nice if Acura extended the voice command to USB drives, which are the easiest way to keep a big music library stored in the car.
But in one way voice command in the RDX comes up surprisingly short. Most cars these days let drivers use voice command to access the contact list of a Bluetooth-paired phone, but the RDX does not, at least not directly. To dial by name, it requires the driver to 1st save a contact to the speed dial list, then record a voice tag for that entry. And there are only 20 speed dial slots. That lack of voice command for the phone system is a surprising gap in the RDX's technology.
The maps shown on the LCD look nice and clear. Acura includes only top-down-view maps, not perspective views, but zooming all the way in reveals building outlines, which can be useful when navigating through urban canyons. Along with the usual manual address entry and points-of-interest database, Acura includes Zagat listings for restaurants, complete with scores and comments. Another nice feature is a database of scenic drives, at least one for every state.
And while the route guidance uses big graphics to show upcoming turn maneuvers, it also has a major flaw. Acura integrates traffic data with its navigation system, and in fact was 1 of the 1st automakers to do so, but the routing algorithms do not make use of this data. The car will blithely program a route through the worst traffic jams in a region.
The RDX will show slow traffic on its navigation system, but will not dynamically route around it.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Unlike its big brother, the MDX, the RDX has few driver assistance features available. It has a rearview camera that does show three different views behind the car, making parking easier. However, it doesn't have adaptive cruise control, blind-spot detection, or anything else of that sort.
The award for best tech in the RDX's cabin has to go to the stereo system. It draws on a robust set of sources, such as the aforementioned hard drive and iPod, along with Bluetooth streaming and Pandora integration. And the audio from these sources comes out over an excellent system, Acura's ELS surround stereo. This 10-speaker system created very crisp, detailed sound. With multilayered recordings such as "The K&D Sessions," it not only made quieter layers audible, it produced striking bass. Its only flaw was letting higher notes get a little too shrill.
The stereo was pretty easy to hear in the well-insulated cabin of the RDX. True to Acura's premium intentions, road and engine noise are kept largely at bay, even with the larger engine now sitting under the hood of the RDX. Acura made a big change with this new model year, ditching the previous turbocharged 2.3-liter 4-cylinder for the company's 3.5-liter V-6, also used in the MDX and ZDX.
The rearview camera shows multiple views, such as a top-down look, good for close parking.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
The engine swap shows that Acura recognized the failed experiment of its turbocharged 4-cylinder. With its lower displacement it should have achieved better fuel economy, but the RDX proved too big for that engine. In CNET reviews, previous generations of the RDX turned in terrible real-world fuel economy. The V-6, which uses variable valve timing but not direct injection, makes more power and better fuel economy than the previous power plant.
By the numbers, the V-6 produces 273 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque, enough to easily propel the 3,300-pound RDX. EPA fuel economy comes in at 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway. In CNET's testing, the car delivered 21.5 mpg, close to its combined economy number of 22 mpg, and not bad for a five-passenger SUV.
Acura gives the cabin a few touches to emphasize the "sport" in SUV, such as the red engine-start button and the paddle shifters on the steering wheel. These paddles are really unnecessary, as the 6-speed automatic transmission that comes with the car doesn't have any sporting chops. There is a Sport mode, which keeps the revs just a little higher than normal, but each shift, whether manually selected or automatic, comes about with the usual lag of a torque converter-based transmission.
With the rear seats down, the cargo area is very spacious.
(Credit: Josh Miller/CNET)
Besides stepping back to its tried-and-true V-6, Acura also took its Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system away from the RDX. That means the RDX's optional all-wheel-drive system is very basic, acting as a front-biased system and shunting power to the rear wheels when needed. SH-AWD does neat things like torque vectoring across the rear wheels, making big vehicles such as the MDX corner like sport cars.
Taking away SH-AWD did not ruin the handling of the RDX, though. The suspension is rigid enough that the car can be put through high-speed antics in corners. Taking turns at speed, the car's tires made tortured sounds indicating the loss of a tread layer, but the body remained flat, with no wallow and not much lean.
That sport suspension tuning does have its drawbacks, however, with the RDX being jostled a little too strongly by rough patches in the road. The ride feels fine over smooth pavement, but potholes and cracks get communicated right through the seats.
Although a perfectly comfortable small SUV, the 2013 Acura RDX suffers from some tech flaws that will ultimately prove frustrating. Its engine and transmission work well enough, but do not use some of the latest efficiency technologies. The rigidly tuned suspension could do with some softening, given the likely buyers of the RDX. But overall it is an easy, no-hassle car to drive.
The cabin tech offers some nice features, but the lack of dynamic routing to avoid traffic in the navigation system is bizarre, considering how that feature has become standard in just about every other car with integrated traffic data. Likewise, it is very cool that Acura implemented voice command over iPods and music from the internal hard drive, but strange that it does not extend to letting drivers dial contacts from a paired phone by name. The speed-dial voice dialing is a poor substitute. The only real high point of the cabin tech is the stereo, with its many audio sources and excellent-sounding ELS system.
What You'll Pay
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Model 2013 Acura RDX
Trim All-wheel drive, Tech package
Power train 3.5-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic transmission
EPA fuel economy 19 mpg city/27 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy 21.5 mpg
Navigation Standard hard-drive-based with traffic data
Bluetooth phone support Standard with contact list integration
Disc player MP3-compatible single-DVD
MP3 player support iPod integration
Other digital audio Onboard hard drive, Pandora, Bluetooth streaming, USB drive, satellite radio
Audio system ELS 410-watt 10-speaker system
Driver aids Rearview camera
Base price $39,420
Price as tested $40,315
For people in business, there are tasteful flops and ghastly successes.
After enough such hard-knock schooling, the point becomes clear:
You can earn a pile giving people what they want. You cannot, necessarily, by giving them what you think they should want.
It's a point dawning on Japanese automakers, perhaps at the expense of their brand identities.
Nissan's Infiniti luxury brand recently introduced the JX35 crossover SUV, eschewing a number of touches that make Infiniti stand out. And, wow, the JX exploded out of showrooms to instantly become the second-best-selling Infiniti model.
Now it's Honda's Acura premium brand heading that way. The Honda Civic-based ILX small sedan is nothing to cheer about: too bland and tepid-performing (save for the very good 2.4-liter version).
The fully remade 2013 RDX crossover SUV has some of the same watered-down feel. But it went on sale April 2 and immediately was a big hit. June sales were nearly 3 times those of a year ago. May sales, a bit higher than June's, were the best of any month in RDX history, Acura says.
Launched in 2007 as an edgy, turbocharged, zip gun of a utility machine, RDX won points with auto writers, but not among people who pay actual money for vehicles.
The 2013 model is bigger, softer-feeling, smoother-driving. All worthy.
But it's also a bit dumbed-down from Acura's historic high-tech/high-class approach. The best example of that is the all-wheel drive. Previously, it was Acura's sporty super-handling all-wheel drive (SH-AWD). Now, the optional all-wheel drive setup is commonplace: front drive, with the ability to kick some power to the rear wheels as needed.
On the other hand, it works fine and probably will suit most people most of the time.
Acura tuned the system to allow some wheelspin up front before the rear wheels add their grab. That avoids the power-chopping traction-control engagement that happens in some systems before they deign to provide rear-wheel power.
It ought to be noted, too, that today's front-drive/all-wheel drive systems have graduated to credible, from the grades of D or F most earned in earlier times because they were slow to react and lacked sophistication in how they apportioned power. So perhaps the lack of SH-AWD is a theoretical dumbing-down, rather than a practical 1.
But there are other examples. The automatic transmission now pauses between hard-throttle downshifts. A driving buff would want it to snap down a gear right-by-gosh-now when the gas pedal is pushed hard.
In its favor, though, upshifts are crisp, and light-throttle downshifts remain agreeable.
Another example: Handling — defined as the elan and flat stance with which a vehicle rounds a tight, fast corner and the confidence it gives the driver while doing so — is OK, but doesn't invite you to do any flinging.
But, then, maybe you don't want to fling. Many SUV drivers don't.
The new engine is a 3.5-liter V-6; no more turbo four. Yippee, you say, noticing that its 273 advertised horsepower is a robust 33 hp more than in the turbo 4. What you won't see Acura champion, though, is that the V-6 has less torque than the 4-cylinder.
Reasons why a lot of buyers apparently don't care about any of those things:
•Roominess. Old RDX was a tight fit. New one's not. The rear seat, especially, is sized for adults. And the back bench is high enough that long-legged folk don't have to sit with legs jackknifed severely.
•Simple sophistication. The instrument panel is a pleasing layout of ordinary analog gauges, easy to see and decipher.
It's combined with the big screen that presents the navigation, audio system and other necessaries. A handy and decipherable knob controls those features in the RDX. A touch of the ol' BMW iDrive without the aggravation it can cause.
•Mileage. The RDX is rated low-20s in mixed city/highway use. You won't cause the oil cabal to weep, but neither will you feel as if you're being unduly punished for buying a vehicle that suits your needs.
•Ride comfort. Just enough firmness to avoid slop, and that's the blend a lot of people seem to prefer instead of the firm-skewed BMW/Audi approach.
You can't begrudge Acura doing whatever it takes to draw more buyers to the brand, but you have to leak a tear or two for the erosion of the brand identity and sporty ethic that gave rise to Acura's iconic NSX sports car. Acura will argue that it maintains the balance of feel and features that made it an alternative to some German offerings.
But others might as easily say they can tell the beginning of the end when they see it.
Nuts and bolts:
•What? Premium, compact, four-door, crossover SUV available with front-wheel drive (FWD) or all-wheel drive (AWD).
•When? On sale since April 2.
•Where? Made at East Liberty, Ohio.
•How much? From $35,205, including $885 shipping for base FWD model to $40,305 for AWD version with technology package.
•What makes it go? 3.5-liter V-6 with variable-cylinder management that lets the engine operate on 3, 4or all 6 cylinders to save fuel in undemanding driving, rated 273 horsepower at 6,200 rpm, 251 pounds-feet of torque at 5,000 rpm, 6-speed automatic transmission.
•How big? Similar overall to BMW X3 but nearly 300 lbs. lighter. RDX is 183.5 inches long, 73.7 in. wide, 66.1 in. tall on a 105.7-in. wheelbase.
Weighs 3,717 to 3,852 lbs.
Passenger space, 103.5 cubic feet. Cargo, 26.1 cu. ft. behind rear seat, 61.3 cu. ft. with rear seat folded, (76.9 cu. ft. including under-floor bins).
Turning circle, 39 feet, curb-to-curb.
Tows up to 1,500 lbs.
•How thirsty? FWD rated 20 miles per gallon in the city, 28 mpg on the highway, 23 mpg in combined driving. AWD: 19/27/22.
Trip computer in AWD test vehicle registered 25.8 mpg (3.88 gallons per 100 miles) in brisk highway trip from New York to Northern Virginia; 20 mpg (5 gal./100 mi.) in suburban driving; 18.4 mpg (5.43 gal./100 mi.) in suburban/city mix.
The Acura engineers outdid themselves. They took a fine 2012 Acura crossover SUV-RDX, tweaked and tuned it, put it in a sleek classic package and delivered a vehicle that hits all the sweet spots on the what a perfect SUV should be chart. Quick, sporty, safe, comfortable, powerful, all-wheel-drive (optional), economical, spacious, easy to handle, luxurious, high-tech, well-appointed, responsive, fun to drive.
And they nailed it.
Our test-drive weekend had us headed for Milwaukee. We know some of those streets “need some attention.” However, our 1st torture test happened almost immediately, the result of human error. Ours. After a briefing at Zimbrick Middleton, we decided to cruise through the neighborhoods into Madison. The voice-activated Acura Link Navigation system guided us flawlessly, turn-by-turn. Concert-quality Mozart played on the 410-watt ELS Premium Sound System. Ooops! We had forgotten Madison’s Highway of Perpetual Construction, University Avenue. Thanks to Acura engineers, we had the new suspension system which saved this elegant coach from being shaken into pieces. The Amplitude Reactive Damper system smoothed out most spine-bending bumps into hardly noticeable jiggles. We smiled. Bring on Milwaukee!
We started the weekend with a visit to the vibrant Brady Street area. On a friend’s tip we stopped at Zaffiro’s and ordered the award winning, extra-crispy cracker-thin-crust pizza (excellent!) along with their plentiful Zaffiro’s salad. This family operation, more than 50 years old, serves until midnight so if you arrive late, no worries
Next we instructed the RDX navigation system to take us to our headquarters, The Ambassador Hotel. We pulled into the entry and were greeted warmly by 2 gracious, knowledgeable doormen. The Ambassador consistently earns glowing reviews as 1 of those elegant urban-retro hotels you have to experience. We were delighted to give it a try.
This 1927 Art Deco jewel was rediscovered by a Marquette University alum under layers of commercial carpeting and dropped- down ceilings. Lovingly shined up, today’s Ambassador preserves the best of Art Deco elegance with marble floors, signature plaster-work and gleaming nickel sconces. Spacious rooms offer all the modern comforts, feather pillows, flat-screen televisions, free Wi-Fi and turn-down service. Envoy, the in-house restaurant, serves all 3 meals and proves that sometimes you should eat at the hotel! Caffé Deco serves Starbucks and The Envoy Lounge is a classy place to meet friends and enjoy expertly crafted cocktails. The Wisconsin Avenue location is convenient to Marquette University and the Ambassador often offers specials to alumni. Downtown Milwaukee is a short drive east.
Getting around town is easy using voice- activated navigation. On the freeway, the RDX cruises like a luxury sedan and, surprisingly, economically. Acura engineers replaced the 240-horsepower 4-cylinder turbo with a 3.5- liter V-6 packing 273 horsepower and Variable Cylinder Management. It gives you all the power you need, as you need it. It automatically shuts down 2 or 3 cylinders to achieve 19 mpg city and 27 highway with AWD, the best V-6 fuel economy in its class.
Milwaukee is brimming over with neat museums and tours. This trip was meant for catching up on some we’ve missed. Of course, a brewery tour is a must. We’d heard Lakefront Brewery is always fun so who were we to argue?
A repurposed coal-burning power plant on the Milwaukee River is award-winning Lakefront’s home. We’re not sure who has more fun on the Lakefront Brewery tours, participants or guides. Brian, our beer-loving leader, claimed title to “worst tour guide”. However we learned a lot about beer making and Lakefront’s history. They make the 1st certified organic beer, offer New Grist, gluten-free beer, and just released Wisconsinite, a tasty, light summer brew using all Wisconsin-sourced ingredients. You will see the original Bernie Brewer Chalet and big mug-o-beer rescued from old County Stadium. For $7 you get 4 beer tokens (for before, during and after the tour!) and a souvenir glass. Consider a Friday afternoon tour and stay for the fish fry and polka band.
Driving around Milwaukee, you appreciate that RDX is fitted with plenty of smart creature comforts, well-tuned bells and creative whistles. Seats are premium leather and 5 Wisconsin-sized adults ride comfortably. The 60GB stereo has Pandora Radio capability. Dual voice-activated climate controls, push-button keyless ignition and Active Sound Control ensure a comfortable, quiet ride. Multi-view rear video camera, Vehicle Stability Assist and motion-adaptive electric power steering keep you safe.
A brief visit to Historic 3rd Ward uncovered an amazing leather shop. Carrying on family tradition, David Mitchell crafts custom handmade premium leather briefcases, belts and purses using a 1936 Singer sewing machine. He addresses today’s consumer with briefcases in 4 sizes and full-grained cases for electronic notebooks and iPads. Ask for a tour. Mitchell is delighted to show you the work room and hides upstairs in his former tannery building. He proudly notes that former Governor Tommy Thompson and former Mayor John Norquist own Mitchell briefcases.
Heading back to museums, it was time to see the Calatrava. The iconic Milwaukee Art Museum building earns as much attention as its contents. The wings open daily at 10 a.m., flap at noon and close as the museum closes each day. Inside take a Naughty Bits tour or the You Think You’re Having a Bad Day route. Ask at the front desk for a guide.
Touring builds an appetite. The Travel Channel featured Ward’s House of Prime so we decided to try it. The classy restaurant has an easygoing, Rat Pack, retro nightclub ambiance with classic Deano and Frank tunes setting the mood. Ward’s earned a reputation for prime rib, though it also serves excellent steak, chicken, veal, seafood and vegetarian dishes. In fact, it lured the TV producers with cuts ranging from 8oz. all the way up to 40, 88 and 160 oz. If you can consume 1 of those in 1 sitting you’ll join Ward’s Wall of Fame. We found the (much) smaller cut delicious and enjoyed ahi tuna steak prepared perfectly as well. Ward’s also serves a full bar menu and maintains a superb wine list.
The Ambassador’s Envoy Sunday Brunch at $14.95 for endless individually prepared plates is among Wisconsin’s finest brunch values. We recommend crab cake benedict, huevos rancheros and cinnamon brulee French toast. Sadly, we didn’t have room to try steak and eggs, waffles or the Grand Avenue omelet. Start with a bloody mary from the lounge. It comes loaded with Slim Jim, mozzarella stick, veggies, asparagus and beer chaser.
Fueled by brunch, you’re ready for the new Milwaukee Museum Mile, 5 excellent facilities on a 2-mile stretch on the historic East Side near Milwaukee’s lakefront. Sundays are a great for this tour as all museums are open.
Visit Jewish Museum Milwaukee, telling the story of Milwaukee’s Jewish community and featuring the nation’s first Chagal tapestry. Nearby is Museum of Wisconsin Art at St. John’s On the Lake. Through a partnership with the West Bend museum it brings quarterly exhibits to this retirement community. Across the street a century-old Tudor-style mansion holds the Charles Allis Art Museum featuring art collected by the Milwaukee philanthropist. Villa Terrace Decorative Arts Museum stands on a bluff overlooking Lake Michigan and features 19th century ironworks by Milwaukee master, Cyril Colnick. Finally, North Point Lighthouse traces maritime history. It’s been in service since 1855 and has a 74-foot tower visitors climb for spectacular views of Lake Michigan.
As we discovered on the way home, we’d be doing the RDX a disservice if we just kept it in town. This crossover has some strong sport sedan DNA. It loves darting around back roads. Push the pedal down and 273 horses want to run and AWD grips corners like the Hulk. Acura engineers know there’s a little Andretti, Kenseth or Patrick in all of us. They got it right.
- By Gary and Mae Patrice Knowles
Gary and MaePatrice Knowles live in Madison where he is a freelance writer and marketing consultant to clients in travel, food, hospitality and entertainment and she is a public relations and communications consultant.
If you had asked us back in 2006 if the then-brand-new Acura RDX would be a success, our answer would have been yes. And why not? The Acura brand was still in demand, buyers were increasingly clamoring for luxury crossovers and the economy appeared to be in solid shape. And don't forget that the RDX was seemingly ahead of its time, pairing together a turbocharger and inline 4-cylinder engine before it became de rigueur among engine choices.
If you had asked us that question 6 years ago, we would've been dead wrong, because the RDX proved to be anything but a sure bet. The compact luxury crossover stumbled along with woeful sales over the past half-decade, with 2007 being its best year with a meager 23,356 units sold. As it turns out, American luxury car buyers weren't ready for a boosted CUV with a stiff ride, limited cargo-hauling capabilities and lousy fuel economy.
While the 1st RDX was a box office flop, Acura feels like it has an appropriate sequel for the 2013 model year. Gone is that performance-oriented turbo-4 that was so out of place. Honda's luxury arm has instead gone with the company's tried and true 3.5-liter V6, placed it in a new larger platform, and added a raft of much-needed refinement.
The 2013 RDX went under the knife in search of a softer shape, and what we see is a well-executed styling evolution that includes smoother lines, a more distinct greenhouse profile and more palatable mug shot. Acura designers streamlined the front end of the RDX with a new grille that loses the chunky proportions of the outgoing model. The fog lamp housings have also been transformed, with over-the-top brightwork replaced by understated simplicity. The headlight assemblies have also been re-imagined, now tapering off into the front wheel wells. Out back the D-pillar is a bit more pronounced as it tapers off toward the beltline. The taillights have also been tweaked, losing their demonic hawk eyes in favor of assemblies that better match the headlights.
The RDX definitely looks more grown-up on the outside, and similar progress takes place within the cabin. The previous model featured a more compartmentalized dash, but the 2013 receives a total makeover with flowing lines that taper off into the center instrument panel. The dash continues to feature soft-touch materials, but faux nickel accents have been added to provide more visual appeal. The steering wheel is mostly unchanged, with a great, leathery grip and multitude of buttons. The gauge cluster also has been reworked, swapping out individual housings for each gauge for a centrally enclosed area with an LED display resting in the middle. Another big change is a new housing for the 8.5-inch LCD screen, which now rests higher and settles deeper into its own cove. We really liked this modification since it blocks out sunlight and makes the screen much easier to read.
The RDX also scores points for its very comfortable front seats, which offer useful side bolstering and terrific thigh support. The back seats offer plenty of real estate as well, with 38.3 inches of legroom. That number compares favorably to the BMW X3 (36.8 cubic inches) and blows away the similarly sized Infiniti EX (28.5 cubic inches). The RDX manages a cargo draw when compared to the Audi Q5, with 26.1 cubic feet of space behind the 2nd row seats and 61.3 cubes when they're folded flat. The Q5 wins with 29.1 cubic feet when the 2nd row seat are upright but comes up short with 57.3 cubic feet when they're stowed. It's worth noting that the 2nd row seat of the RDX doesn't fold completely flat, which can be a problem when sliding larger items in through the hatch.
Our positive impression of the RDX's interior was aided by the fact that our model is completely loaded. This Silver Moon tester tipped the fiscal scales at $40,315 including an $895 destination charge. Acura deserves credit for streamlining the ordering process while also providing a slew of standard features right out of the gate. This RDX arrived with all-wheel drive ($1,400 option) and the Technology Package ($3,700), or essentially every option that this Acura offers. The tech adds ELS Surround Sound, navigation with voice commands, solar-sensing climate control, High Intensity Discharge (HID) headlamps and a very clear and easy-to-utilize multi-view rear camera. Each RDX also comes standard with a 10-way power driver's seat, moonroof, leather seating surfaces, Bluetooth, USB and more.
As mentioned earlier, one change for 2013 that will likely break a few enthusiasts' hearts is the loss of the turbocharged 2.4-liter inline 4-cylinder engine in favor of Honda's excellent 3.5-liter V6. (Click here to read more about why Honda killed this engine.) Worry not, we say, because the 273-horsepower V6 offers 33 more horsepower and its 251 pound-feet of torque is within 9 lb-ft of the boosted 4. The big 6 feels very powerful and refined, with excellent off-the-line acceleration and prodigious passing power on the highway. The new 6-speed automatic transmission is glass-smooth with its seamless shifts, and paddle shifters are available on the steering wheel for the DIY crowd. We're not always proponents of combining paddles with traditional automatics, but in this case the shifts are reasonably fast and the paddles fun to use.
Acura has also put a lot of work into the RDX's chassis to smooth out the rough ride that characterized the last-generation model, which makes sense given that U.S. buyers' in this segment typically demand comfort over performance. Since the MacPherson struts and multi-link rear suspension are carryover, the big change is Acura's Amplitude Reactive Dampers. The dampers are 15% softer, yet at the same time offer increased structural rigidity and reduced body-roll. We felt the difference on the street, as bumps and potholes were far less perturbing to our kidneys, and at the same time, this crossover still doesn't mind being tossed around. It helps that the 2013 model is 93 pounds lighter than the last RDX; an impressive number considering the addition of the 3.5-liter V6. It helps that Acura opted for attractive 18-inch wheels mated to 235/60R Michelin rubber, instead of going with heavier and costlier 19s or 20s.
1 source of disappointment is the loss of Acura's dynamic SH-AWD. That system could route 70% of the engine's power to the rear wheels, while the new, simpler on-demand setup can only manage a 50/50 power split. Steering feel has also been dumbed down a bit, as this new electronic unit feels numb and light compared to the old model's hydraulic steering.
Both the steering and the Honda CR-V-sourced AWD system aren't as engaging as we'd like, but those new additions to the RDX help improve fuel efficiency greatly. The 2013 AWD RDX boasts EPA-estimated fuel economy of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 27 mpg on the highway. Despite firing on 2 fewer cylinders, the 2012 model managed only 17/22, giving the new RDX a substantial advantage. And those numbers translate into terrific real-world fuel economy, as we managed an impressive 24.2 mpg in mixed driving.
In the end, the "mainstreaming" of Acura's RDX means the succeeds where it once failed. It is now more refined and more comfortable, while continuing to offer plenty of get up and go. Some will miss the edgier dynamic handling of the last model, but far more will likely appreciate this kinder, gentler RDX. Best of all, the RDX now delivers sedan-like fuel economy with improved aesthetics and a more user-friendly interior, all of which should translate into the only thing that really matters to Acura: more sales.
Far be it from me to fall in love with my own clippings, but I did go back to read my review of the 1st-gen Acura RDX from 2006. I said it could be more perfect—it could “fairly reapportion congressional districts every time you turn the key or make sure Steven Seagal never-never-never makes another blues record.” My God, that’s overwritten.
The point: I thought highly of the original Acura RDX entry-luxury crossover. I’ll take mine in black with big color-matched wheels, tech’ed out with an ELS sound system and Acura’s torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive running gear, which it calls, in all seriousness, “super-handling all-wheel drive.” In the scroll up yonder it is recorded that I have convinced no fewer than 3 people to buy an Acura RDX. I’m a fan, OK?
For model year 2013, Acura just wrecked this thing.
I’m in 2 states of mind: annoyance and resignation. It rather ticks me off that Acura felt it necessary to mediocritize my RDX—no longer the defining SH-AWD, no longer the feverish 2.3-liter turbo 4 but a plug-and-play corporate 3.6-liter V6, and significantly less joy at the wheel, by way of downward nominalization—but I understand why this vehicle is what it is. In the business, they call it product planning.
Here’s what I know about product planning: It’s ruthless. You may build a hot little compact-crossover that drives the wheels off just about anything in its class (BMW X3, Mercedes GLK). It might be the darling of hard-nosed car critics, an artistic success, big in college towns. It might be, head-to-head with class competitors, the best vehicle in your portfolio. None of that matters when the accountants tell you it costs too much to build and it isn’t selling. That, in corporate terms, is nonnegotiable.
The turbo’ed RDX I loved blew a hole in Acura’s Corporate Average Fuel Economy numbers—17/22 miles per gallon on 91-octane gas (oof!)—and the SH-AWD feature was expensive and underused by consumers. These and a thousand other deeply considered matters of design, manufacturing (in Ohio, by the way) and marketing eventually crystallized in the CAD files to produce this vehicle.
The arc of the automotive universe is long, but it bends toward lameness.
To be fair, Acura’s product planners aren’t wrong, exactly. The RDX’s edgy, sport-compact vibe was a bit of a segment outlier. Nobody was really exploiting the “super.” The new RDX is slightly larger yet significantly lighter (around 200 pounds), despite the larger V6 engine under the hood. That engine, a port-injected VTEC, puts out 273 horsepower, 33 more than the turbo 4, albeit with slightly less torque. This powerplant swap translates precisely as you’d expect: The new RDX comes off the line in no mighty hurry (zero to 60 mph in about 8 seconds), but the car does feel more relaxed, less strained, at interstate pace.
The automatic transmission gets an extra tall cog for 2013, making it a 6-speed. That, and the simpler AWD system with fewer mechanical losses, helps send mileage soaring. The 2013 RDX gets 19/27 mpg, city/highway.
The less-dexterous AWD system is on-demand, operating in front-wheel drive mode until significant wheel-slip occurs and then shunting a maximum of 50% of engine torque rearward in search of traction. The old system could split torque up to 30/70, front/rear, depending on grip and driving inputs, and it had the pioneering, torque-vectoring SH-AWD. Again, it’s unlikely that many consumers will miss the sport-oriented AWD system—most will be content just to avoid slipping and sliding on icy patches.
What we have, then, is a righteously recalibrated RDX, a vehicle more in line with consumer requirements, 1 that is lighter, more fuel-efficient and still pretty wonderful on the equipment list. The RDX AWD with Tech package ($40,315) I drove comes with a long list of e-comforts, including a new 15-gigabyte hard disk serving the navigation system (real-time traffic/weather and Zagat ratings functions), a 410-watt ELS sound system and lots of cabin amenities. Meanwhile, as with all Honda/Acura products, you feel the results of.
So, hardly wrecked. It’s even unfair to say the RDX is de-contented. It’s just differently contented. Or you could say that it seems to be haunted by ghosts of specialness past. It’s also about $1,500 more expensive than it was previously. The bosses love that.
And yet, as with Volkswagen’s recent realignment of the Passat, the new RDX seems to be finding more of an audience. July sales were up 142% year-over-year. I guess that’s why I don’t work in product planning.
It is curious that just as the rest of the market is turning to small-displacement, high-tech turbo fours to address CAFE issues, the RDX is going in the other direction with a naturally aspirated V6, one without direct-injection plumbing. I would also observe that the RDX’s segment is becoming crowded with some very fun-to-drive cars, from Subaru to BMW. Is less sporting really a good thing, longitudinally?
Taken on its own, the RDX is pretty agreeable company. The exterior styling has been updated to incorporate Acura’s more recent facial features, with sloe-eyed high-intensity-discharge headlamps flanking the alloy-banded grille. The RDX’s proportions and silhouette betray its genetic links to the Honda CR-V—built alongside the RDX in Ohio—but the RDX is in no way unhandsome. The surface detailing includes four strict and crisp light lines defining the sides of the vehicle. All the visual arithmetic—dash-to-wheel ratio, overhangs-to-wheelbase, windshield and backlight angles—adds up. The RDX blandly appeals.
The interior is also chapter-and-verse for Acura, with supple, well-structured, leather-covered seats, and dash and trim materials comprising dense urethanes interleaved with bands of alloy trim. The rear seat backs now fold down flat without trouble, with a single easy-to-reach latch on either side of the car; and the rear legroom has been enlarged, as has the door opening. Getting in and out of the rear cabin is now much easier. The RDX may be commodity car building, but of a very high order.
It might not be the car I once loved, but then, as my wife frequently observes, it’s not all about me. The less and more of the new RDX adds up to more of what a lot of people want. I’m just not 1 of them.
2013 Acura RDX with AWD and Tech Package
Price as tested: $40,315
Powertrain: Naturally aspirated 3.5-liter SOHC, 24-valve V6 with variable valve timing; 6-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift mode; front-wheel drive with on-demand all-wheel drive
Horsepower/torque: 273 hp at 6,200 rpm/251 pound-feet at 5,000 rpm
Redesigned for 2013, the Acura RDX compact sport utility vehicle is slightly larger, with a more compliant ride, than its predecessor and has more power than ever while beating the popular Lexus RX 350 in fuel economy ratings.
The new RDX also has more front- and rear-seat legroom than a Mercedes-Benz GLK SUV and much more cargo space.
Better still, the revamped-for-2013 RDX is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where it ranks above average in expected reliability.
Pricing is increased an average $1,013 across the 4 2013 RDX models from 2012 prices, and the top RDX — with all-wheel drive and technology package — now is just over $40,000.
Specifically, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2013 RDX is $35,215. This is a front-wheel drive RDX with 273-horsepower V-6 and all the standard amenities, such as leather-covered seats, heated front seats, moonroof, rearview camera, keyless access, push-button start, 360-watt audio system, Pandora Internet radio interface and SMS text messaging system. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for an all-wheel drive, 2013 RDX is $36,615.
But even with the price increase, the RDX remains one of the most affordable of smaller-sized, 5-seat, luxury-branded SUVs.
As an example, the starting retail price for a 2013 Lexus RX 350 with 270-horsepower V-6 and front-wheel drive is $40,205, while an all-wheel drive, 2013 RX 350 starts at $41,605. The RX 350 is the best-selling, smaller-sized, luxury SUV in the United States. Meantime, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK has a starting retail price of $37,995 and comes standard with 302-horsepower V-6 and all-wheel drive.
Some fans of the 1st-generation RDX, which came to market in 2006 with a turbocharged 4 cylinder and a firmer ride that lent itself to sporty handling, might grumble over the changes for 2013.
But sales of the RDX peaked at 23,367 in 2007 and totaled just 15,196 in calendar 2011, which indicated that there's not a big market for a sporty-handling, turbo, compact SUV.
And by making the RDX more mainstream — with a smooth-performing V-6 instead of sometimes jerky turbo power and with a comfortable, refined ride that makes everything from city streets to concrete highways more tolerable — Acura is broadly expanding this SUV's appeal.
The pleasing ride was 1 of the 1st things noticed in the test RDX AWD Tech model priced at $40,315.
The new RDX suspension, along with slightly wider track and longer wheelbase, managed even potholes with ease, removed the sharpness of speed bump undulations and smoothed out the "whomps" of expansion cracks on bridges.
A 3-hour drive on highways and country roads in the quiet RDX interior was fatigue-free on nicely supportive but not overly firm front seats. Driver and passenger remarked the trip could have gone on without a problem.
The suspension —MacPherson struts up front and a multilink design in back — use new dampers that will be put in other new Acuras.
These amplitude-reactive dampers are new to Acura and have a 2-valve design that basically acts like 2 suspension systems. One is "soft" in situations such as small bumps and smooth roads and the other is firm, for big bumps and during aggressive cornering.
The driver, however, does nothing to activate these dampers, which work automatically.
Horsepower is boosted by 33 in the new RDX because of the 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6. This is the same engine that's in the Honda Odyssey. Honda is Acura's parent company.
Peak torque of 251 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm from the V-6 is a bit less than the 260 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm from last year's 2.3-liter, turbo 4 cylinder.
But the test 2013 RDX moved forward with spunk and merged well into traffic. Power came on smoothly through the new 6-speed automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel for drivers who want to experience some sporty shifts.
Sounds from the V-6 also were quieter and less frenetic than those that came from the turbo 4.
Most impressively, the tester with AWD delivered nearly 24 miles per gallon in combined driving that was some 70% at highway speeds and 30% on city streets.
This is in part because of a fuel-saving, engine cylinder deactivation system that worked seamlessly in the test RDX to shut down cylinders that weren't needed at times.
Plus, the new RDX is more aerodynamic in its styling and weighs some 600 pounds less than the Lexus RX 350.
No wonder, then, that the federal government's fuel economy rating of 19/27 mpg for a 2013 RDX FWD is better than the 19/24-mpg rating for last year's 4-cylinder RDX. And it's higher than the 18/25-mpg rating for the 2013 Lexus RX 350 FWD.
The tester's mileage gave a 380-mile range on a single tank, and while premium gasoline is recommended, it is not required.
Inside, the new RDX instrument gauges are a bit less sporty and more mainstream than before, which fits nicely with the new personality.
Most notable are the sizable buttons and controls on the center part of the dashboard. There's no hunting to find tiny knobs or subtly indented buttons.
The rearview camera comes standard with yellow lines that depict the width of the RDX along its projected, rearward path as the vehicle backs up.
Front and rear legroom of 42 inches and 38.3 inches is better than what's in the Mercedes GLK, especially the GLK's 35.1 inches of back-seat legroom.
The RDX bests the GLK in cargo space, too, offering 76.9 cubic feet behind with rear seats folded vs. just 54.7 cubic feet in the Mercedes.
2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech vs. 2013 Infiniti EX37 Journey AWD: When price and passenger room are not a big concern.
Price: Acura, $40,315 as tested, no options; Infiniti, $49,200 as tested ($41,000 base price).
Conventional wisdom: Oooo. Ahhhh.
Marketer's pitch: The Acura is "built for the size of your life." The Infiniti is "the ultimate personal expression."
Reality: Some oooage and ahhage will occur.
The challenge: Say you have 40 grand (more or less) to blow on a nice all-wheel-drive crossover. You don't need a lot of space and you want a name that's going to make the neighbors at least look up from their iPhones when you drive past on the cul-de-sac.
Acura and Infiniti may not be the competitors 1 thinks of immediately, but the 2 luxury brands from long-standing Japanese carmakers (Acura comes from Honda and Infiniti from Nissan) offer crossovers at about the same price point. The vehicles go in dramatically different directions from there.
This week, we'll get to know both crossovers from the inside, and next week get underneath and take them out on the road.
Inside: Both Acura and Infiniti bathe their owners in understated elegance. Buttons and shifters don't "click"; they glide like fancy silver knives through gently whipped butter. Soft leather surfaces abound, and I'm sure the cows were honored to sacrifice their lives for such a worthy afterlife.
The Infiniti's simple elegance won me over. The RDX dashboard and door panels suffer from Acura Overdesign Syndrome. The many curved lines inside the RDX intersect so many times that it ends up looking like a shar-pei.
Perfect temperature: The always roasted Mr. Driver's Seat and the lovely but chilly Mrs. Passenger Seat are the ideal test couple for dual-zone heating.
The Acura heats like most other vehicles, and I could feel her 81-degree sauna seeping into my 69-degree comfort zone. But the Infiniti's graciously dual-curved dash places the heater vents inside the curves, helping keep the temperatures on their own side. (Yes, the seat heater wars devolved; at 1 point, Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 had to say, "Don't make us make you turn this car around.")
Friends and family: Perhaps I exaggerate. Surely, no family would put all 4 versions of its offspring together in the backseat, especially when 3 are adult children like the Sturgis Kids.
In fact, even 3 is kind of brutal, especially in the Infiniti. The EX37 begins life as a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and thus inflicts center humpitis, which is the pain in the ankles and knees 1 gets from sitting atop Mount Driveshaft.
The Acura also offers more headroom and foot room for passengers. Still, even the Acura is surprisingly tight up above, considering how much taller it is than the EX37.
Cargo: The Acura also carries more people's stuff. Behind the rear seat, it offers 26.1 cubic feet of space, while the Infiniti has just 18.6.
Infotainment: The RDX offers Acura's standard setup, with white-letter stereo readout underneath the LCD display. But the stereo information also shows up on the LCD, if desired. Still, it's light years behind Cadillac's latest offerings - and even Ford's. It's like the difference between my old LG flip phone with the QWERTY keyboard and the iPhone.
Still, Infiniti should be commended for picking the best of olden days. 2 knobs positioned just underneath the LCD screen at the left and right were instantly recognizable. I knew the left 1 was for volume and the right for tuning the radio (or XM, here in the 21st Century). Every stereo system should be this easy.
But the EX37 gets points off for the pretty silver analog clock with hash marks for every 5 minutes. When your life revolves around traffic on the 2s (or the 1s or the 4s), approximate is not close enough.
Premium sound? Both sound systems were well above average. But I'm never impressed with a "premium" sound system that doesn't have a midrange adjustment, just bass and treble. Neither crossover offers this 3rd adjustment. It really misses out on the full range of sound without it.
2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech vs. 2013 Infiniti EX37 Journey AWD: When price, passenger room, and driving excitement are not big concerns.
Catching up: Last week, we compared prices, features and interiors of the RDX and EX37. This week, we take them for a spin.
Similar prices, different vehicles: Buy a bare-bones Acura RDX 2-wheel drive, and the power comes from the front wheels. A cheaper EX37, however, drives only the rear. So from the bottom up, these 2 crossovers travel different paths.
Under the hood: The Acura offers 273 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V6. The acceleration is a delight; my notes include the scrawl, "This Acura really kicks."
A larger 3.7-liter V-6 differentiates the 2013 EX37 from the previous EX35 (3.5 liters). The engine produces a rocking 325 horses for speed aficionados. Yet because the Infiniti tips the scales at a beefy 5,024 pounds, it's more lethargic than the comparatively lithe 3,852-pound Acura.
Getting in gear: The EX37's power is transferred through a 7-speed automatic gearbox with shift capability, while the RDX has just 6 gears.
Though I have to say the shift capability does not translate into shiftability. It's just not all that fun to row through the gears in some vehicles, and the EX37 is 1 of them. And don't get me started on steering-wheel paddle shifters like those offered in the RDX. Click. Wow. I shifted. Snore.
Sturgis Kid 4.0, age 12, notes that the EX37 always sounds like it's going fast, so the hum of the exhaust note is nice. The Acura is a more sedate soundtrack.
On the curves: The handling in the Acura is crisp and has good feedback from the road, but it's not extremely sporty. The EX37 is even a bit more mundane. That surprised me because the RDX stands a full 4 inches taller than the EX37. But the Infiniti's extra weight makes a difference.
Neither had the taut steering of, say, the Mazda CX-5 or the Volkswagen Tiguan crossovers.
Driver's seat: Driver comfort in both vehicles was phenomenal. Gauges are easy to read; controls are thoughtfully designed and easy to reach.
Night shift: The lighting available to EX37 occupants throughout the vehicle is helpful and not too bright. But people searching for cargo in the rear at night will need a flashlight: The tiny light on the door offers little assistance, and the searcher can eclipse what little illumination it offers.
The RDX's lighting did the job for passengers as well as cargo hunters.
Technology: The AroundView Monitor that drew my raves in the review of the Infiniti JX35 comes as part of the $3,050 Infiniti EX37 Premium Package (which also adds navigation, larger LCD monitor, Bose premium sound, advanced climate control, and more). The AroundView's 4 fish-eye cameras and software almost give drivers a Google Earth view of the vehicle when backing up.
Acura has a backup camera, too.
I spent my time with the EX37 during Hurricane Sandy, and I learned that this (and probably every other) camera system needs a feature added: a drier/defroster. Water on the camera renders it almost completely ineffective, though Infiniti's little sonar wave drawings, which change color depending on an object's distance, adds a fail-safe.
Fuel economy: The Acura RDX posted just under 24 m.p.g. I observed about 22 m.p.g. in the EX37. The mileage was recorded in a mix of highway and suburban driving. Feed both vehicles premium only.
Where/how they're built: The Acura comes to us from East Liberty, Ohio, while the Infiniti hails from Tochigi, Japan. Both vehicles get above-average marks in Consumer Reports reliability testing.
In the end: Lovers of the tried-and-true who need a real back seat would find the Acura a more rewarding purchase, while people interested in pushing the envelope and not carrying passengers or cargo might find the EX37 a better choice. Me? I don't find enough delight in either to not save almost half my money and get a Mazda CX-5.
But if I had to have luxury from these makers, I'd go for the Acura TSX wagon or spring for the Infiniti JX35.
We recently called on the 2013 Acura RDX AWD for a winter-time trip to the Rocky Mountains. While the weather cooperated for nearly the entire trip, the added ride height and all-wheel drive came in handy in a few off-beaten snow-covered roadways during the 1700-mile five-day trip.
With a new 273-hp 3.5-liter V-6 under the hood, the 2013 RDX has plenty of power for onramp merging and passing at highway speeds. On the highway, the RDX rode smooth and tackled curves well despite vague steering feel. In our 2013 Acura RDX AWD Arrival, we noted that the new V-6 engine outshined the previous 240-hp turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 at the drag strip with 0-60 mph arriving in 6.3 seconds. While the RDX handles highway curves well, the new model's basic all-wheel-drive system gives up cornering prowess compared to the previous model's SH-AWD system.
The heated (front) leather seats are comfortable and soothed during the 10-hour, 700-mile trip out of Los Angeles, though we wouldn't mind if the door and center console armrest were positioned higher. Inside, the RDX proved roomy when filled with four adults on a 200-mile round trip to and from our destination to just south of the Utah-Idaho border. While the weather cooperated for most of the trip, the ground clearance and all-wheel drive performed well while other cars spun out on the 210 highway in Southern California during an unexpected downpour.
Over the course of the trip and 1700 miles, the 2013 RDX averaged 23.8 mpg including stop-and-go driving and city driving as well as highway speeds when traffic and weather allowed. The worst leg of the trip was 21.3 mpg and the best leg averaged 26.2 mpg with variations due to elevation changes. On average, the RDX traveled 242 miles between fill ups on about 3-quarters of a tank. The 2013 Acura RDX with all-wheel drive is EPA-rated at 19/27 mpg.
Overall, we liked the RDX on the road trip and grew to admire its subdued styling, though we wonder whether more expensive alternatives like the BMW X3 and Mercedes-Benz GLK350 might perform a bit better on a similar trip. The RDX competes in a crowded class, but our road trip experience and recent sales suggest Acura may have moved the entry-level premium crossover in the right direction with its 2nd generation.
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