2013 Acura RDX aimed at mainstream buyers

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by TOM VOELK / KING 5 News

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KING5.com

Posted on April 13, 2012 at 1:30 PM

Updated Friday, Apr 13 at 1:33 PM

There are two kinds of people reading this review of the 2013 Acura RDX. The first would be mainstream buyers thinking about a RX350, Q5, SRX, GLK, FX35, XC60, or any other luxury crossover with no vowels in the name. The others are car geeks that devour everything they can about the automotive world. You know who you are.

Car geeks loved the original RDX. It was light weight, had a powerful turbocharged four-cylinder engine and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive that overspun the outside rear wheel to give it a handling advantage. Very cool stuff and mucho fun to drive. Mainstream buyers just didn’t get it though and headed off to buy more Lexus RX350s.

The new RDX is aimed directly at the mainstream. In some ways it follows the predictable path redesigned vehicles often take -- slightly larger inside and out, more fuel efficient too. But it isn’t trying to capture the edgy design and personality of the outgoing model. I have to believe the changes they’ve made to the personality will make it the most popular model Acura sells, even though it’s missing features the other brands have had for years.

Back to the Future

That outgoing turbo four-cylinder is what many automakers consider to be the engine of the future because they’re powerful, lightweight and fuel efficient. So it’s a bit of a surprise that under the hood of the 2013 MDX you’ll find… a V6? I’m not complaining. The classic 3.5-liter unit has 273 horses on tap, up by 33 horsepower. It’s smoother than the turbo and it sounds good. Between the two motors, the V6 will be an instant crowd pleaser on test drives.

The automatic transmission adds an extra gear, for six-speeds now. Shift manually if you want with paddle shifter on the steering wheel.

The good news is that fuel economy is up substantially. The AWD tester I’m driving is EPA rated at 19 mpg city, 27 highway. That’s a 5 mpg increase in highway fuel economy versus the previous RDX and Acura says it’s now best in class. On a long drive to Forks, WA to visit Evil Twin (where else would he live?) I saw 29 mpg. Front drive models are rated at 20/28. There’s variable cylinder management at work here. In other words RDX can run on as few as three pistons, depending on how much power is needed.

No Lack Of Power

0-60 spools up in just under seven seconds. There’s a big improvement in the ride quality, sharp bumps are soaked up quite nicely but it doesn’t roll like an old Cadillac in hard cornering. Steering effort feels hefty and European. The composed RDX handles very well though it’s not as crisp, nimble and flingable as before. Car geeks (who probably never bought the first one) may grouse about this but the harsh reality is that most buyers will prefer the substantial and comfortable dynamic of the 2013 model. It’s very balanced.

There is much less road noise now, very little wind noise gets though at high speeds, making it an excellent road trip vehicle. When it comes time to stop and take a photo of a scenic vista, RDX is very capable and secure.

Mudfest Winner

Not very many people are going to head off-road with this rig but at the 2012 Mudfest SUV competition, I and 24 other auto writers beat the snot out of it on a rough course at Dirt Fish Rally School. RDX has no problem handling rugged forest service roads and moderate pool of water. It’s doubtful owners will ever punish their cars to the degree we did. In the end it won the title of Best Family SUV and received high praise from every writer emerging from its mud caked doors.

I’m driving the very one used at Mudfest. It’s a testament to the RDX that after the punishment, there are no squeaks, groans or rattles. None

Car geeks will groan because RDX no longer uses Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. It now uses AWD with Intelligent Control, which is very similar to the system in Honda’s new CR-V. Mainstream buyers will probably never know or care, as long as they don’t get stuck in snow or mud. In normal steady driving, all power is sent to the front wheels. It automatically sends power to the tires with the most grip.

Go With The Flow

There’s a new approach to the interior. Hard angles are replaced with flowing and inviting lines.  All the expected stuff is here- soft touch materials, phone and iPod integration, and contoured heated leather chairs. Hit reverse and the mirrors swing down to show wheel scraping curbs. The rear view camera is adjustable, it shoots straight down to help when hooking up a trailer hitch alone, or switched to a ultra wide mode to get the big picture.

The center stack has less of the swarm of buttons normally found on Honda products. There is dual-zone auto climate control and keyless ignition to make life easier. Lots of places to stash stuff too.

Using the tech means turning, nudging and pushing the familiar Honda interface. Personally, I prefer touch screens but the familiar knob works just fine. There are voice commands too but they system doesn’t seem to like my voice. The optional nav system offers up traffic information and weather forecasts. Hook up a smartphone and there’s Pandora streaming music. It can also read incoming text messages depending on your phone.

Acura ELS sound systems have always been among my favorites and this one is no different. It doesn’t color the sound, bass is tight and accurate. Play DVD audio disks and the surround sound stage is mesmerizing. The hard disk has 15 gigs dedicated to music storage, plus there’s Bluetooth audio streaming. XM satellite radio continues to sound grainy and thin.

Space In The Back

Moving to the rear, there’s plenty of leg and foot room for average sized adults. The floor is flat, the bench is wide enough for three adults, two if they’re large or using the folding armrests with cupholders. There’s two seat pockets and storage in the doors too. Too bad the seat doesn’t slide fore and aft to max out leg or cargo room.

And this is where my gripes begin. A premium brand like Acura should include surprise and delight features like heated seats in the back. Also, the rear seat backs should recline and have side impact airbags. There’s no power port or adjustable air vents either. It smacks of cost cutting.

Other misses? The interior windshield pillars are plastic, not wrapped in cloth. It’s fine that my tester does not have a panoramic roof, blind spot warning system, ventilated seats, or radar assisted cruise control, but in this class they should at least be offered. And they’re not.

Better Cargo Access

At least there’s a power hatch on the new MDX. The folks at Acura say the cargo hold is larger now and the trunk opening is significantly wider. Hefty handles on the side make it very easy to drop the seat backs. No power port or storage under the load floor. Good to see a spare tire, crossovers do end up on remote forest roads far away from roadside assistance. As far as cargo room goes, a Honda CR-V holds 12 bundles, the RDX with its sleeker silhouette takes on eight. And if you’ve watched the video and are wondering of there’s any way another can wedge in, it won’t. I’m a professional.

The 2013 model is an attractive rig with less severe lines. Acura has toned down the bionic beak across the board and it works well here, instantly announcing an Acura is heading your way without looking like an angry robot. It looks and feels like a smaller MDX, which is a good thing.

About the only major option left to buy on this Tech Package RDX are roof rails and cross bars (which will set you back $900).

And The Price Is…

RDX starts at $35,215 including destination for a front-drive model. This AWD Tech Package rig is $40,305. That’s a good deal. Comparably equipped, that’s thousands less than other luxury crossovers though remember, it doesn’t offer some of the super fancy tech the others get.

The 2013 RDX is a well done crossover that hits a broad sweet spot and it immediately impresses on a test drive. It’s only after a good hard look will shoppers find missing features, and that drops it from the luxury segment to the near-luxury category. While I firmly believe a lot of the doo-dads missing from the Acura’s option list are superfluous, many shoppers in this category will judge it by what’s not available. At the very least there should be an “advanced technology” package available for those who want it.

Mock overkill if you want but Acura needs more than “smart luxury”, it has to pack more wow into their cars if it wants to be seen as the equal to Lexus, BMW, Mercedes, Audi, Infiniti and Cadillac. With RDX I’d settle for radar assisted cruise and panoramic roof. RDX is a very satisfying car at a good price point but without the next level of features it appears they aren’t trying as hard as the others. Modesty is an excellent quality in people, not luxury cars.

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