Thumbs Up: Better looks, more power better fuel economy.
Thumbs Down: No blind spot or cross-path warning?
Buy This Car If: You want a compact luxury crossover with bulletproof reliability.
The first-generation Acura RDX was an answer to a question that few buyers were asking. It was relatively sporty, given it’s forced-induction four-cylinder engine and available Super Handling All Wheel Drive, but it was also a thirsty beast, returning just 19 mpg around town and 24 mpg on the highway in front-drive trim. Opting for the SH-AWD drivetrain lowered this even further, to 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway. For a compact crossover those were disappointing numbers.
To build a better (and all new) RDX for 2013, Acura took an unusual step: it upsized the engine, going from a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder to a normally-aspirated 3.5-liter V-6. Horsepower jumps from 240 to 273, but torque shrinks a bit from 260 pound feet to 251. The net result is a smoother engine that seems to pull just as hard, while delivering better fuel economy thanks to tricks like cylinder deactivation. For 2013, front-drive RDX models now get 20 mpg city and 28 mpg highway, while AWD models (which, sadly have abandoned the SH-AWD configuration) return 19 mpg city and 27 mpg highway.
If better performance and greater fuel economy aren’t enough to convince you that the RDX is worth shopping, the crossover’s new sheet metal may just do the trick. Last year’s RDX wasn’t much of a looker, and the crossover’s once-stylish exterior lines had grown both plain and dated compared to more contemporary rivals. The 2013 RDX, on the other hand, wears a much more distinctive front end, a bolder profile and a more chiseled rear.
The new RDX’s harder lines, most noticeable in the upswept character lines on the doors or the accents beneath the taillights, give the crossover a more athletic appearance than last year’s model. The new, larger roof spoiler helps this look, too, and the overall effect is an RDX that looks both more contemporary and more muscular than the model it replaces.
It appears as if the windshield now carries a steeper rake than last year, while the roofline seems to plunge just a bit more dramatically (thankfully, without impacting rear passenger headroom) than on previous models. Both add to the RDX’s style, but both also help reduce drag and boost highway fuel economy, adding form and function at the same time. We’re not sure we like the new chrome trim around the daylight opening, but it does draw the eye quite a bit more than last year’s all-black-trim greenhouse.
The inside of the new RDX sees as dramatic a change as the exterior and drivetrain. Last year’s dashboard was an oddly-shaped, three-tiered mess that had no place in a vehicle with luxury aspirations. For 2013, the RDX sports a dash that’s more functional, more aesthetically pleasing and far more upscale in appearance. In fact, we’d proclaim the RDX’s new dash, with its sculpted crash pad, aluminum trim, contemporary center stack and large instrument display to be the nicest we’ve seen on a Honda product to date.
Even the instruments received a touch of class for 2013. Gone are last year’s hooded pods, replaced by a large, shrouded display containing the temperature gauge, tachometer, driver information display and fuel gauge. Tach and speedometer are raised above the background and embellished with metallic trim rings for a look that’s more luxury than sport. In the case of the RDX, we say that’s a good thing.
Front seats, on the other hand, appear to carry over largely unchanged from last year. There are new, less obtrusive headrests and changes to side bolsters, likely to add durability. Otherwise, the seats are as good as last year, which is to say they’re all-day comfortable for a variety of drivers and passengers. As you’d expect from a luxury crossover, the front chairs get heating elements for cold-weather comfort. While both front and rear seats use perforated leather seating surfaces for better ventilation, cooled seats aren’t on the available option list.
Rear seats appear to have gotten a makeover from 2012, which will be good news for those relegated to the RDX’s second row. Gone is last year’s oddly-Spartan rear bench, replaced by a rear seat that offers both side and hip bolstering. There’s a surprising amount of both head and leg room in back, and we can’t imagine that many passengers will complain about having to spend time there. That might not be the case on the coldest of winter days, however, since only the front seats are heated.
Power now comes from the aforementioned 3.5-liter V-6 which is an improvement in every way (except perhaps weight) over the outgoing turbo four. As mentioned, the new engine puts out 273 horsepower and 251 pound feet of torque, which means it’s not nearly as high-strung as last year’s motor. Gone is last year’s five-speed automatic transmission, replaced by a six-speed unit for better performance and fuel economy. The wheel-mounted paddle shifters return, but to be honest we wonder how many crossover buyers prefer to row their own gears via paddles. With the transmission in Sport mode, the RDX will run from 0-60 mph in a tick under 6.5 seconds, assuming you can get the front tires to hook up without too much drama. As for fuel economy, the EPA says you can expect 20 mpg in the city and 28 mpg on the highway. With two passengers and luggage, traveling somewhat faster than the posted 70 mph limit, we saw an indicated 26.7 mpg on the highway.
If you expect the handling of the 2013 Acura RDX to rival that of the 2012 model, you’ll likely be a bit disappointed. We say that’s a good thing, since the 2012 model may have been a bit too hard-edged for compact crossover shoppers, whereas the 2013 RDX seems to find a just-right blend of handling and ride comfort. In corners, there’s more body roll than last year, and it feels like there’s a bit more understeer, too. That said, we’d still put the new RDX new the top of the handling list for compact crossovers, since it communicates quite well to the driver as you approach its limits. No one will buy a compact crossover to fill a shelf full of autocross trophies, and in the real world the RDX handles far better than the average driver will need it to. The good news is that it’s now more comfortable for the daily grind than the previous version.
The compact luxury crossover class is a tough one to compete in, and the previous Acura RDX was, in many ways, like bringing a knife to a gunfight. The new RDX addresses the weaknesses of the old model without introducing any new ones, and provides a solid blend of comfort, handling and value. If you’re shopping for a new vehicle in this segment, the RDX should definitely be on your “must drive” list, but it does have one glaring weakness; unlike most competitors, the Acura RDX doesn’t offer available safety features like blind spot detection or cross-path warning.
Honda supplied the 2013 Acura RDX with the Tech Package (including voice-guided navigation, reverse camera, Real-Time Traffic and Weather, premium audio system, GPS-linked dual-zone climate control, power tailgate, HID headlights, fog lights) for our evaluation. As equipped, the sticker price was $38,915.
For comparison, a similar front-wheel-drive Lexus RX 350 would sticker at $42,960, while a comparable rear-wheel-drive Infiniti EX35 Journey would price at $44,350.