2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech. Click image to enlarge

First Drive: 2013 Acura RDX

Manufacturer’s web site
Acura Canada

Review and photos by Chris Chase

Photo Gallery:
2013 Acura RDX

Just as it seems every other auto manufacturer is flocking to the turbocharged four-cylinder as a fuel-efficient replacement for the ubiquitous V6, Acura moves the other way with its second-generation RDX crossover. Where the original had a 2.3L turbo motor, its more grown-up replacement becomes part of the flock of Hondas and Acuras using the company’s 3.5L V6. It arrives in the RDX just as numerous other crossovers – the BMW X3 and Hyundai Santa Fe, notably – adopt turbocharging.

The argument that a smaller, turbocharged engine will run more efficiently than a larger V6 producing similar horsepower does hold some water. I’d suggest that in many types of vehicles, crossovers included, most buyers couldn’t care less what’s under the hood, as long as the car goes the way the target buyer thinks it should, and isn’t a gas hog.

If fuel consumption is a concern, Natural Resources Canada’s estimates for the new RDX paint a positive picture, with ratings of 10.7 L/100 km (city) and 7.3 L/100 km (highway). Those figures are an improvement over the outgoing RDX’s, but don’t break any ground in this vehicle class.

Real-world driving tells the true story, however. My RDX tester averaged 12.6 L/100 km in city driving, and pulled off 8.5 L/100 km on a road trip that took us along Ontario’s Highways 416 and 401 at cruising speeds between 110 and 120 km/h. A four-cylinder BMW X1 I tested last year averaged 10.1 L/100 km in city driving, and a Ford Escape with that company’s 1.6L turbo (and much less powerful) engine averaged 10.9 L/100 km in the city. I haven’t yet had the chance to do a full road test of the new Santa Fe.

2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech. Click image to enlarge

Given the way the market is moving toward turbocharged engines with direct fuel injection, Acura’s decision to stick a V6 in the RDX seems based on economics. It saves the company the cost of developing a new turbocharged engine (the old RDX’s engine was the only one in the Honda/Acura fleet that used turbocharging), but still gives the company some fuel-saving tech to talk about.

This engine has Honda’s Variable Cylinder Management (VCM) system, which shuts down three of the engine’s six cylinders under light loads – when maintaining a constant speed or accelerating very gently on flat roads. It works well, insomuch as you can actually tell from inside the car. When VCM is active, the sensation is a bit like that of “lugging” an engine at low revs, in too high a gear. A very subtle vibration can be felt through the car’s structure, but you have to pay attention to notice.

Any kind of meaningful acceleration requires bringing those three lazy cylinders back to life, which happens just as imperceptibly. Throttle response is very good, without being abrupt, and the also-new six-speed automatic transmission is great at doing what it needs to do, when it needs to be done. Manual control happens via shift paddles behind the steering wheel. These work all the time, but in regular drive mode, the transmission reverts to full automatic operation after a few seconds, unless you’ve downshifted for engine braking, at which point it will hold whatever gear you’ve selected until the car stops or the driver gets back on the gas. A “sport” mode calls up a more aggressive shift program that also allows full manual control.

It all works well, but the engine’s 273 horsepower and 251 lb-ft, and the way that power is delivered, seems rather ordinary. Even a relatively puny 2.0L turbo engine is capable of similar horsepower, but with more impressive torque, which translates into seemingly effortless low-rev power. This V6 is strong and smooth, but if Acura was looking to hold on to any of the first-generation RDX’s sporty demeanour, sticking with turbocharging would have been the way to do it.

2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech
2013 Acura RDX Tech. Click image to enlarge

This new RDX sticks with the old car’s firm ride. A few of my peers say this one is softer than the first-gen model, but I’m not so sure. If other crossovers may (that being the operate word) manage better fuel economy, some of them definitely go down the road more quietly; the RDX’s interior noise levels are notably higher than the Hyundai Santa Fe’s, for example. That said, the RDX is a more satisfying vehicle to drive, with communicative steering and strong brakes connected to a firm, responsive pedal. The only thing out of place about how the RDX goes down the road is a noisy rear suspension that clunked loudly over broken pavement.

If the suspension verges on uncomfortable, the interior helps to make up for it, with firm but supportive front seats. The cushy rear bench coddles two passengers, and offers more legroom than the old car, but that measurement still isn’t terribly generous. Naturally, there’s less comfort for three, but the RDX’s rear quarters proved wide enough for a pair of adults and a toddler in a car seat. The 739L cargo area is handy, but my favourite feature of the RDX’s way-back is the remote rear seatback release handles borrowed from the Honda CR-V. These are located just inside the tailgate, on either side of the trunk, and a single tug flops the seatbacks down to a not-flat fold, expanding cargo volume to 2,178L.

Acura’s trademark button-intensive dash appears here, but either the brand’s designers have somehow refined its layout or I’m simply getting used to it, as I was surprised by how little it annoyed me.

For the driver, the standard HID headlights are brilliant, both literally and figuratively. They’re aimed too high, however, and couldn’t have been anything less than blinding for oncoming drivers, or those who got a rearview mirror full at night.

Acura asks $40,990 for the base RDX, which comes standard with sunroof, HID headlights, intelligent keyless entry and leather seating, Bluetooth, dual-zone automatic air conditioning and a backup camera. My Tech tester costs $43,990, and adds navigation, a fabulous-sounding 410-watt surround-sound stereo, power tailgate and an upgraded solar-sensing, GPS-linked climate control system.

If the move away from forced induction just as it has begun to find favour with other carmakers seems strange, it’s one that contributes greatly to the RDX’s newly grown-up attitude. This car’s predecessor was never quite right for mass consumption, and Acura’s only problem now is that this new car will almost certainly steal sales from the brand’s larger MDX crossover. I suppose that’s a good problem to have, and one that points to an even larger, more upscale MDX in the future. Ironically, how much do you want to bet it will use a turbocharged engine?

Pricing: 2013 Acura RDX
Base price: $40,990
Options: $3,000 (Tech package)
A/C tax: $100
Freight: $1,945
Price as tested: $46,035

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