PHOENIX, AZ — When the original Acura RDX debuted in 2007, it did so with some brash positioning riding shotgun. The message back then was all about engineering and next-generation technology. Television commercials portrayed the RDX as a modern-day, mechanical superhero capable of powering through the urban jungle while said jungle threatened to collapse into a smoldering heap of rubble.
The commercials were just this side of a Michael Bay vision for the future and, as such, more than a little bit of overkill. But the RDX did have its forward-thinking hat on; it boasted the first turbocharged engine in brand history, as well as their proprietary torque-vectoring all-wheel-drive system, which sends power to the outside wheels to aid in cornering.
One generation and some five years later, the emphasis has shifted away from what’s next and over to what’s proven successful. This makes sense — the compact crossover segment isn’t exactly noted for producing cutting-edge driving dynamics and some entries are downright mushy. The all-new 2013 Acura RDX isn’t mushy, per se, but it’s definitely more middle-of-the-road than its predecessor.
First off, the new RDX employs a more old-school all-wheel-drive system, a system that doesn’t over-rotate the outside wheels to produce more cornering capability. In fact, when cruising down the road, the rear wheels aren’t engaged at all; this system is classic, on-demand AWD that only sees power routed to all four wheels when traction is in question.
While this development removes any suggestion that the RDX is designed for sporty driving — let alone apocalyptic crime-fighting — It does help drive improved fuel efficiency. This point serves to highlight what was the primary criticism with version 1.0; despite the fact that the Acura was powered by a small, turbocharged 4-cylinder engine, it had a surprising thirst for premium fuel. This led to the other major change for the new model year: replacing that engine with a 3.5-litre V6 of the non-turbocharged variety.
While it may seem contrary that a larger engine would produce better fuel efficiency, this is precisely what the new Acura RDX promises. The V6 is calibrated for economy rather than outright pace and it’s designed to automatically run on fewer cylinders at cruising speeds. So, while this engine is more powerful than the old one — 273 horsepower versus 240 — it’s a better friend to the environment at the same time.
Also new is a 6-speed automatic transmission in place of the 5-speed ‘box with the addition of the extra gear also helping drive improved fuel efficiency. In sport mode, top gear is not available as the goal is racier driving; along this same theme, paddle shifters mounted on the steering column can be used to shift the transmission manually.
All told, these changes combine to give the new RDX a far less edgy feel than the original. While the new engine has more power and more torque, it doesn’t feel like it. In fact, at any point below 3500 rpm, the V6 feels blunted. Using the paddle shifters makes the driving experience mildly spicier, but that’s about it.
The change in the all-wheel-drive system would go completely unnoticed by all but the most aggressive drivers. Sure, you can’t really throw the RDX into the nearest hairpin turn with anything resembling real aggression, but how often is this the goal of the typical compact crossover driver? (Hint: never.) The on-demand AWD, combined with a decent set of seasonal tires, will be more than enough to keep the Acura planted to the road.
Another criticism of the original RDX was its ride; it’s not easy to design a suspension system that offers a sporty driving experience combined with a compliant ride. The Acura definitely veered too far from the proverbial comfort zone, but that, too, has been rectified on the new version: This crossover has a supremely composed ride that borders on the limousine-like.
From the outside, the new RDX resembles its predecessor, but changes have been made: a new lower hood leads to a redesigned and more distinguished front grille that’s bracketed by wider air openings and more elegant headlamps. In the interests of convenience, all four doors on the Acura open wider for easier access and the rear hatch opening is bigger as well.
Inside the passenger cabin, the true nature of the RDX is confirmed: The seats and steering wheel are ensconced in soft-touch leather, more shoulder- and leg-room has been carved out for all passengers, and total interior volume has jumped to 2931 L — the new standard for the compact crossover class.
As per Acura tradition, the RDX is also loaded to the gills with technology, including a 7-speaker sound system with XM satellite radio, auxiliary input jack, Bluetooth connectivity and SMS text messaging. An optional technology package adds a navigation system, solar-sensing dual-zone climate control, a power tailgate and a higher-end audio system with surround sound.
To nutshell it, the 2013 Acura RDX offers people more of what they really need in a compact crossover (comfort, convenience) and less of what they think they need (razor-sharp handling, excitement). Pricing starts at $40,990 (right in the sweet spot for the “entry-luxury” set), while the technology package adds another $3,000 to the tab.