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Acura RDX: An up-and-comer for up-and-comers

2013 Acura RDX

Honda

Overall Rating
9
Looks Rating
8.5
Looks
Contemporary, but in the eyes of this beholder, not particularly beautiful.
Interior Rating
9
Interior
Good seats, a pleasant look and feel overall, quiet at speed and with good cargo capacity.
Ride Rating
8.5
Ride
A touch softer and with improved body control so it doesn’t toss you around quite as much.
Safety Rating
8.5
Safety
Loads of safety features, high ratings, but a less sophisticated all-wheel-drive system.
Green Rating
8
Green
Smart of Acura to offer a V-6 with better fuel economy than the four it replaces.

'Unverified area ahead, use dotted lines for guidance."

This caution, voiced by the nav system in Acura's new RDX, may well have reflected some momentary anxiety among company management when this second-generation version hit the showrooms earlier this year.

But it now appears the RDX is steering towards its intended marketplace destination with GPS precision.

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At least based on the number of buyers who had signed on the dotted line at the bottom of a sales contract by mid-year. By then RDX (including 2012 models) numbers had already exceeded two-thirds of the total number sold last year. That helped Acura record a bright-spot bump in "truck" sales of 27.3 per cent, while passenger car numbers were all but flat.

Acura introduced the compact RDX for 2006 – then about the same size as the CR-V but more mechanically sophisticated and potent, ritzier and rakishly stylish. It was aimed at a younger demographic seen slotting in below the larger MDX, which had already been greeted with more than a modest degree of buyer enthusiasm. Acura has since rounded out its offerings with the ZDX, a big sporty-crossovery-coupe-like creation.

The latest RDX arrived espousing a marketing approach that appears directed at attracting not only those on their way up but those, if not exactly on their way down, at least considering down-sizing, including their transportation requirements. Although not all the way down-market to something without an Acura badge.

Which is reflected in the pricing that starts at $40,990 for the base vehicle and $43,990 for the Tech Package-equipped tester, both with AWD.

When the original RDX arrived, it was powered by a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine, getting a jump on the current shift by rivals towards use of this type of engine to meet fuel economy demands. But this new RDX bucks that trend with a powerplant more mature luxury buyers may find acceptable, a familiar smooth-spinning 3.5 litre V-6. Albeit one that generates its worthwhile improvement in power without penalizing them at the pumps.

It accomplishes this by performing the clever trick of being capable of running on six cylinders – with which it makes 271 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque – or four, or even three cylinders when power demand allows. Aided by a new six-speed transmission (with paddle shifters few will ever use and that actually get in the way a bit) it scores ratings of 10.7 litres/100 km city and 7.3 highway compared to the 240-hp, four-cylinder RDX's 11.7 city/8.7 highway. I averaged 9.0 for the test period and 8.7 at highway speed.

Subjectively the six gives the RDX smoother and more linear power delivery, but in reality there's very little in it. Drivability is excellent, with the six-speed automatic always on the job selecting the right gear – more than making up for the minor reduction in torque – and it's supposed to be a tad or two quicker to 100 km/h.

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Also helping fuel economy is the new CR-V-style all-wheel-drive that's simpler and lighter if not quite as brilliant as the previous version's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system. There's no practical way for me to really evaluate this move, other than to say it'll do a good job, but won't match the performance of the more sophisticated system.

The new RDX's light, yet stiff and crash-safe, structure still employs a MacPherson strut front and multi-link rear suspension but it's been tuned – and ride motions tamed with Amplitude Reactive Dampers – to resonate a little more compliantly with the seat-to-posterior interface of those who may place comfort ahead of cornering.

The new electric power steering is perhaps a little artificially weighted but overall the RDX, while feeling a little softer on its suspension, is still quite firmly sprung and steers well and goes around corners confidently.

Externally, the RDX is only a little bigger but its previous sporty/edgy look has been replaced with a shape that was held to the buffing wheel a little longer, emerging with a smoother and more polished form that also manages to look larger and somehow more substantial.

Modest real gains have been made in interior room, mainly through a process of paring off slivers of excess here and there and rearranging the furniture, but they translate visually into a cabin that looks and feels roomier and is pretty classy in a techy kind of way.

Two will find it quite comfortable in the open and roomy rear-seat area. And behind that is 739 litres of cargo room (down from 782 litres), which expands to 2,178 litres (up by 461 litres) when the 60/40-split seatbacks are folded. Access is via a larger hatch opening.

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The dash is conventional enough in terms of the layout of the essentials, but nicely done in terms of style and materials and cabin sound levels are low.

Equipment includes all the comfort and convenience items you'd expect in a $40,000-plus vehicle and includes such things as heated, power, leather seats, heated side mirrors, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth, auto headlights and a moonroof. The Tech Package adds navigation with voice-recognition and a 200-mm LED VGA backlit display, 410-watt Acura ELS Surround Premium sound system, GPS-linked solar-sensing dual-zone climate control and a power tailgate.

Some have knocked the new RDX's somewhat less-sporty driving persona – but let's not forget this is a crossover SUV, so who really cares as long as it's pleasant to operate and competent. The other things it has gained make it a better, and more overall rounded, vehicle.

globedrive@globeandmail.com

Tech specs

2013 Acura RDX Technology Package

Type: Luxury crossover

Base Price: $43,990; as tested, $45,934

Engine: 3.5-litre, DOHC, V-6

Horsepower/torque: 273 hp/251 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy: (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/7.3 highway; premium recommended

Alternatives: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Infiniti EX, Land Rover LR2, Mercedes-Benz GLK, Volvo XC60

BOB ENGLISH

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