Bucking The Downsizing Trend For All The Right Reasons

2013 Acura RDX

Sometimes in life, you hit the nail right on the head, sink a hole-in-one or strike a perfect bullseye. It happens in all walks of life – from the original Star Wars trilogy to the Apple iPod. It even happens from time to time in the automotive realm. Take, for instance, the 1965 Ford Mustang or the original Acura Legend.

Other times, we're not so lucky. Like the ill-begotten Star Wars prequel trilogy, the automotive world has played host to a long line of underwhelming encores. The Mustang II comes to mind, and so does the Acura RL.

Of course, every so often, automakers release a car to market that's just isn't quite fully baked, like the ill-timed and poorly received Edsel from Ford. Though not nearly as obvious, the first-generation Acura RDX falls into this unfortunate camp.

Originally marketed to the upwardly mobile male Gen-X population – a guy Acura named Jason back in 2006 – it turns out that well-to-do, tech-savvy men aren't actually all that interested in an entry-level premium crossover from Honda's luxury division. And that's why, for 2013, the Acura RDX is being re-aimed at the heart of the market: namely, baby boomers and young couples – defined by Acura as DINKS – "Dual-Income, No Kids" – who prefer quiet, comfortable and composed to quick, nimble and raucous.

2013 Acura RDX side view2013 Acura RDX front view2013 Acura RDX rear view

The transformation of the Acura RDX begins with its exterior. In place of the pug-nosed look of the original – made necessary in part by the inclusion of an intercooler and its assorted plumbing – is a more refined, upscale appearance. There's still no mistaking the RDX for anything but an Acura, due primarily to the large metallic fascia up front and the crisply angular styling down its flanks and hind quarters. A faux spoiler of sorts is formed by the shape of the D-pillar and the top of the liftback, lending an air of sportiness missing in much of this segment.

Growing an inch or so in every direction, the 2013 Acura RDX's cabin is endowed with more space for passengers and cargo. At 103.5 cubic feet of total volume, the RDX offers more room than any of its closest competitors, who are, as defined by Acura, the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX and Mercedes-Benz GLK. We'd add the Lexus RX 350 to that list, and it also has less overall room inside.

One notable change to the RDX formula is a redesigned cargo opening. At 48.8 inches, it's a full 6.5 inches wider than before, and without any odd contours or shapes, it's much easier to load large and bulky items into the rear cargo area where there's 26.1 cubic feet of storage with the second row up, and 76.9 cubic feet with it stowed.

2013 Acura RDX rear cargo area2013 Acura RDX rear cargo area2013 Acura RDX rear cargo area2013 Acura RDX folded rear seats

Acura has redesigned the interior of the new RDX to feel more open and spacious, utilizing deep cutouts in the dash in front of both the driver and passenger. The ploy works; after sitting in a previous-gen RDX for a few minutes, it is clear that the new model offers an overall impression of airiness that its predecessor lacked. Acura has also designed in a lot of cubby space in the new RDX, including spaces up front to store phones and electronics near their associated auxiliary and USB inputs ahead of the shifter and in the center console.

Acura has loaded a lot of technology into the 2013 RDX, too, including keyless entry and push-button start, Pandora internet radio (with pause and skip buttons) and Bluetooth connectivity that can display SMS text messages via the in-dash display. Also new is a so-called Multiview rear camera system that offers three distinct viewing modes – wide view, normal view and top view – each of which gives a useful look at what's lurking behind the car's rear bumper. Wide view in particular is a nice touch, offering a 180-degree field of view.

Opt for the Technology Package and you'll get a hooded eight-inch screen in the center of the dash with VGA resolution. A 60-gigabyte hard drive is used to store map data, leaving 15 gigs free for media storage. Buyers who opt for this package will also get an upgraded 410-watt ELS surround sound audio system and a power liftgate.

2013 Acura RDX interior2013 Acura RDX gauges2013 Acura RDX instrument panel2013 Acura RDX rear seats

Just as notable, however, are the technologies that the RDX is missing. For instance, there's no blind-spot warning system, no adaptive cruise control, no parking assist, no lane-departure warning and no rain-sensing windshield wipers, though there is a provision to turn the headlights on when the wipers are activated. Some buyers won't care about high-tech features such as these, but in many cases, they come as standard equipment or are optional on comparable models from competitors.

It's also worth noting that there's only one engine available: a 3.5-liter V6 with 273 horsepower and 251 pound-feet of torque in lieu of the last RDX's turbocharged four-cylinder. While enthusiasts (ourselves included) may initially bemoan the absence of Honda's high-output turbo mill, after piloting the RDX, we can safely say the V6 route was their best course of action. Not only is acceleration to 60 miles per hour kept the same (timed just under seven seconds, according to Acura), but the six is smoother, quieter and more refined than the engine it replaces.

Gone, too, is the Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system that received so much positive fanfare in the original RDX. All-wheel drive is still available, but it's a much more plebeian on-demand system that can send as much as 50 percent of the engine's torque to the rear wheels. Sure, it works as intended, but it's not very exciting, and it doesn't assert itself when driving like the SH-AWD technology did. We miss it, but Acura contends that its new system is lighter and less expensive, leading to increased fuel economy and a more attractive price point. Plus, it will still help the RDX through inclement weather in snowy climes.

2013 Acura RDX engine

Also helping save fuel is Acura's Variable Cylinder Management, which is capable of operating the 3.5-liter engine on three, four or all six of its cylinders. Even when the driver is paying rapt attention, there's no discernible change in engine feel or sound from inside the cabin, but, with estimated ratings of 20 city, 28 highway and 23 combined (19/27/22 with all-wheel drive), this tech pays big dividends when it comes time to fill up. Those figures are two mpg higher in the city and five mpg higher on the highway than the last RDX with two less cylinders, and they put the RDX at the top of its class in fuel mileage. Unfortunately, despite the loss of forced induction, Acura still recommends premium fuel.

Driven back-to-back, the 2013 RDX is quieter and smoother in operation than the model it replaces, though there's definitely less torque when accelerating from a standstill. We checked the spec sheet to verify our feeling behind the wheel, and sure enough, the old engine offered up 260 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm – that's nine more torques at 500 fewer rpm than the new V6. Once moving, however, there is abundant passing power. We don't think any of its target buyers are going to miss the rush of turbocharged torque provided by the old 240-hp 2.3-liter four.

For 2013, Acura has finally fitted the RDX with a six-speed automatic transmission, replacing the aging five-speed of its predecessor. The first five ratios of the new transmission are lower than before, while the sixth gear is 16-percent higher than the top gear of the old unit. This keeps the engine spinning at a lower speed on the highway while keeping it in its higher-rpm powerband everywhere else.

2013 Acura RDX headlight2013 Acura RDX grille2013 Acura RDX wheel2013 Acura RDX taillight

RDX buyers will also appreciate the 2013 model's newfound smooth ride. While the suspension remains MacPherson struts up front with multi-link trailing arms at the rear, Acura has employed new Amplitude Reactive Dampers that offer a more compliant ride (the main damper spring is 15 percent softer) while lessening body roll in the corners. The trick shocks use twin valves and integrated rebound springs to keep up and down movement in check. Plus, they attach to a stiffer body structure using new mounts that improve ride and handling. Eighteen-inch alloy wheels are fitted with 235/60 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires, making for a track that's 1.3 inches wider up front and .8 inches wider at the rear.

We definitely noticed the improved ride of the 2013 RDX, but were unimpressed with the feel of its electronic power steering. Despite the fact that Acura has included a more rigid steering shaft to cut down on unwanted vibration, the variable-speed steering setup feels much less natural than the old model's hydraulic system. Acura's engineers lessened the force required to turn the wheel at low speeds, but all we noticed was that finding and locking in on straight ahead required much more thought, and we never quite came to grips with how much effort it took on the wheel to execute a change of direction. Add it all up and what you're left with is a smooth operator that doesn't beg to be hustled like the last RDX.

2013 Acura RDX rear 3/4 view

Considering the added refinement and the increase in size and additional standard equipment, Acura has managed to keep pricing mostly in check for 2013. Base price is $34,320 plus $885 in destination charges, and an RDX outfitted with the Technology Package begins at $38,020, while all-wheel drive adds $1,400. For the record, these prices are about $1,400 more than the 2012 RDX, but it's still several thousand dollars less than competitors such as the BMW X3 and Audi Q5.

Judging by the new demographic Acura is aiming at, the brand has managed to craft exactly the machine they decided their customers wanted. When you consider that the sales leader of the segment is the Lexus RX, it's easy to understand why Acura chose to soften the edge of its entry-level crossover. It's not going to light many fires in the hearts of driving enthusiasts, but it's not supposed to anymore. As a somewhat lower-cost alternative to its European rivals, the 2013 Acura RDX ought to make plenty of sense to the sizable segment at which it's directed.