Honda and its upscale Acura division have been on a conservative track with their most recent spate of new models. Rather than mess with success, the design team has obviously been instructed to maintain a clear connection with the outgoing vehicles.
The 2013 Acura RDX strays only slightly from this direction but when parked alongside the previous version the changes seem more dramatic.
The biggest change, however, is found under the hood. The turbocharged four-cylinder engine used in the predecessor model has been replaced by a normally-aspirated V-6.
Not only does this move go against the downsizing and turbocharging trend currently raging through the industry, it is a reversal in direction for Acura’s smallest SUV as well.
More refined and polished
Known previously as a sprightly little ute with great handling and a peppy little engine that loved to rev, the new RDX is a more refined, more polished CUV with great road manners and a smooth, silent engine. It is like a rambunctious teen that went away to school and returned a polished adult.
Acura was the first of the Japanese upscale brands and has been selling cars in Canada for 25 years, during which time it often led the luxury ranks in sales.
One of its most successful vehicles has been the MDX. The big SUV was followed in 2007 by its smaller sibling, the RDX which arguably created a new "small luxury SUV" segment.
It didn’t take long before the competition jumped into the game. The new category became the fastest growing segment in the country over the past five years, going from 8,133 units in 2007 to 27,477 last year with no sign of a letup. Industry experts predict a further 13% growth by 2016.
More luxury, comfort and space
Acura developed the second generation RDX to capture a bigger slice of that pie with more emphasis on luxury, comfort and space. It is 25-mm longer overall and an additional 35-mm between the front and rear axles has resulted in more interior room.
In addition to the new engine, the transmission and all-wheel-drive system are new and the suspension has been heavily reworked.
The 2013 RDX sports Acura’s signature, love-it-or-hate-it big-mouth grille remains, bisected by a satin-finish bar across the upper half. Pronounced fender flares at both front and rear and a pleasantly horizontal treatment at the rear differentiates it from its predecessor and the competition.
The new RDX utilizes what Acura calls "high density packaging" to create mid-size space in a compact vehicle. It claims the RDX has a greater total passenger volume and more front and rear leg- and shoulder-room than most SUVs one size larger outside.
Compared to the outgoing model it holds two more suitcases and will also accommodate four sets of golf clubs sideways. The rear cargo door or hatch is almost 1.5 metres wide.
The interior, although pretty sombre, in dark shades is extremely well finished with exceptionally tight panel gaps, top quality material and soft touch surfaces where needed. And the passenger accommodations are luxurious.
Standard features include dual-zone climate control, automatic headlights, automatic day/night rear-view mirror, HandsFreeLink, HomeLink, colour information display, keyless entry, push-button start, tilt and telescopic steering wheel with audio and cruise controls, seven-speaker 360-watt audio system, satellite radio, power windows, locks, sunroof and seats, heated folding mirrors and leather seats, hill start assist and a rear-view camera.
An Active Sound Control system, which cancels out much of the outside npose that would otherwise reach occupants ears, gets some of the credit for the additional refinement of the new RDX.
The V-6 engine has 33 more horsepower than the turbo four, but uses slightly less fuel thanks partly to the latest version of Honda’s variable-cylinder-management system, which shuts down some cylinders under low or no load conditions.
But be warned that, like others of its type, this system works only at steady speeds on long and extremely flat roads.
Other steps taken to lower fuel consumption include electric power steering with a pleasantly hefty feel, low rolling resistance tires, a brake system that has been tweaked to reduce friction or drag and a more aerodynamic shape.
Shared with a number of other Honda and Acura vehicles the 3.5-litre V-6 is a very smooth and quiet engine.
It allows the RDX to step off the line smoothly with no delay and it pulls smoothly and effortlessly to redline as we have come to expect from a Honda engine.
Highway manners are considerably improved in this latest RDX iteration. Where the outgoing model could be a bit jittery on its stiffer suspension and performance tires, the new one is supple.
Some of the credit goes to the new tires, some to a stiffer platform and some to springs that are 15% softer. But most goes to what Acura calls "amplitude reactive dampers" – shock absorbers that smooth out the ride without negatively affecting handling.
The heavier, more complex and extremely impressive SH-AWD (Super Handling) system of the previous version has been ditched in favor of a more compact and contemporary one with intelligent control.
With decreased emphasis on tackling the twisties, that loss will likely be felt when pushing hard in winter conditions but was unapparent on dry summer roads.
The 2013 Acura RDX is aimed at a different – and wider – market than the old. As an enthusiast I will miss the old one but recognize that I am in the minority.