SCOTSDALE, AZ – The Acura RDX has grown up. The 2013 version of Acura’s compact luxury SUV has a bigger engine, more interior room and is ready for battle against some heavy players in the fastest-growing segment of the Canadian auto industry.
When Acura unveiled the first-generation RDX in 2007, it pretty much launched a new segment – compact luxury SUVs. Since then a wide variety of competitors has joined the fray making it the fastest growing segment in the country over the past five years, going from 8,133 units in 2007 to 27,477 last year. There is no sign of a letup with a further 13% growth by 2016. Acura expects the second generation RDX to gain a bigger slice of this pie.
Accordingly it has been thoroughly redone with a brand new look inside and out, a V-6 engine instead of a four, a new transmission, a new all-wheel-drive system, a heavily reworked suspension and a myriad of other upgrades.
The 2013 RDX sports Acura’s signature big-mouth grille. bisected by a satin-finish bar across the middle. Pronounced fender flares at both front and rear and a pleasantly horizontal treatment at the rear differentiate it from its predecessor and the competition.
Bigger and roomier
The new RDX is only slightly larger on the outside, having gained 25-mm in overall length, 2-mm in width and 23-mm in height. But the additional 35-mm of wheelbase hints at the biggest change – interior room.
The interior has been fully updated with special emphasis on ensuring the new model offers mid-size utility in a compact package utilizing what the design team call high density packaging. The cockpit incorporates separate zones for driver and passenger, with a canopy over the dual analog instruments facing the driver, a hooded screen atop the centre stack and a bi-plane surface in front of the passenger.
The engineering team is especially proud of the amount of space it has provided without increasing exterior dimensions. Compared to the previous RDX, Cadillac SRX, Audi Q5, BMW X3 and Mercedes GLK the 2013 RDX has more front- and rear-seat leg and shoulder room and a greater total passenger volume.
This artful packaging allows the cargo area to accommodate two more suitcases and to accommodate four sets of golf clubs sideways through a hatch opening that is 165-mm wider – more than 1.2 metres (4 feet) in width.
Replacing the turbocharged four-cylinder engine used previously is Honda’s 3.5-litre V-6. Producing 273-horsepower, 33 more than the outgoing engine, it features variable cylinder management, allowing it to operate on six, four or three cylinders depending on load.
Paired with a new six-speed automatic and a new, highly-efficient AWD system the result is class-leading fuel economy.
While the engine is used in other Honda and Acura vehicles it has been massaged for this application, with special attention on reducing friction. Similarly the transmission is used elsewhere but for the RDX a number of modifications have contributed to more efficiency – and refinement. With six gears instead of the five used previously it offers a better ratio spread.
A number of other factors contribute to the excellent fuel efficiency including improved aerodynamics, revised electric power steering, low rolling resistance tires, revised fuel pump and reduced brake drag,
The new compact lightweight AWD system has "intelligent control". On dry surfaces, at launch it sends 25% of engine output to the rear. When the RDX reaches cruising speed it puts all the power to the front wheels for stability and maximum fuel economy. It can send 10% to the rear under acceleration. On ice, snow or other slippery conditions it can send 50% of power to the rear as needed and for launch or when acceleration is needed.
A lot of work went into the balance between agile handling and a high quality ride. Body rigidity has been increased, along with tire size (235-mm on 18-in wheels) bushings and sub-frame mounts are new as are "amplitude reactive" shock absorbers which employ a combination of softer springs for improved ride over sudden imperfections and a secondary spring and valve set to ensure less lean and sway in the corners.
Brake feel has been improved which you notice immediately upon the first application, The pedal is firm and stopping action commences at the very top of the pedal movement.
Quiet and refined
The other thing you notice early in the first drive is how very quiet and refined the RDX has become. Acura claims best-in-class road and cabin noise levels and I’m inclined to believe it. No less than 14 different measures are listed as contributing to this accomplishment, ranging from the usual – thicker glass and insulation, to the more advanced like active noise cancellation.
The new engine is silky smooth and heard only under sustained wide open throttle. The transmission upshifts seamlessly, but was surprisingly harsh when downshifting while climbing more than 5,000 feet into the hills nearby. I averaged 8.9 litres/100 km over a couple of hundred kilometres of "spirited" driving in the mountains and 7.0 at sustained legal speeds on the flat. Obviously the development team accomplished the goal of great economy without sacrificing performance.
The steering had lots of heft and feedback at speed and was effortless in parking situations.
The 2013 RDX comes in only one trim level, which can be enhanced with a "tech" package. The price has gone up by $500, but this new price includes $3,500-$4,500 in additional content. Standard equipment includes: air conditioning, heated leather seats, power windows, mirrors, locks and seats, power moon roof, 360-watt audio system, SMS text messaging function, keyless entry with push-button start and a rear view camera with three unique viewing angles.
The Tech package adds: bi-lingual voice-activated navigation system, solar-sensing dual-zone automatic climate control, power rear liftgate and an audio upgrade.
The 2013 RDX will play a key role in the re-launch of the Acura brand as it attempts to attract new customers with a blend of luxury and technology.