2013 Acura RDX Tech: flying under the radar

The Acura brand has been around for a quarter of a century now, and it seems like it's still searching for its true identity.

While mainstream brands are piling on more luxury features in more refined packages, the luxury brands are reaching down with lower priced products, seeking to please buyers who want a little extra for their hard-earned dollar.

The 2013 Acura RDX, fresh off a total redesign, seems lost in the middle. It feels too much like a Honda and not enough like Acura; at least, now that the new 2014 Acura MDX is on the market.

Yet the RDX has little shortcomings, despite its identity crisis.

Out with the turbo four, in with the V6

Now that several manufacturers are replacing bigger engines with smaller ones for the sake of greenness and fuel economy, Acura is heading in the opposite direction. The RDX used to be propelled by a 2.3L turbo four-cylinder, which was a rare sight in the luxury-brand market. The decision to dump it in favour of the company's familiar 3.5L V6 may seem odd, but actually makes sense.

You see, the bigger engine is more powerful (273 hp vs. 240), slightly less torquey (251 lb-ft vs. 280), but noticeably more fuel-efficient. On the highway, its rating drops from 8.7 L/100km to 7.3; logically, a bigger engine spins at a lower RPM than a smaller one, which is the case here. And an extra gear in transmission also helps, as the V6 is bolted to a six-speed automatic. We averaged 10.9 L/100km with a mix of city and highway driving.

Luxury SUV and crossover buyers might also not be too enamoured with the power delivery of a boosted four-pot engine; the old RDX's mill exhibited some turbo lag and an elastic power band, not to mention the noticeable whooshing sound of a turbocharger spooling up; some like that, some don't.

So, the 2013 Acura RDX adds smoothness, muscle and fuel economy, which is all good. It also handles pretty well, although it lost a touch of sportiness because of its new (read: simpler) all-wheel drivetrain. The previous-generation RDX's SH-AWD setup could swap available power between left and right wheels for sharper handling characteristics. Acura figured that more complex hardware was overkill, since the new RDX's setup simply favours the front wheels under normal driving conditions, and sends power to the rear wheels when slippage is detected.

The RDX could also benefit from stickier tires. I usually don't pay much attention to a new vehicle's rubber, because manufacturers generally choose good tires, and the consumer is likely to eventually change brands anyway. In this case, the Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires howled quickly on highway on-ramps, and didn't feel quite in tune with this Acura's sporty pretentions. Otherwise, they are quiet and provide a refined ride.

Hit and miss styling

The previous RDX's dashboard lacked harmony in both style and user-friendliness, but that's been fixed in the new model. The 2013 edition gets a more tasteful appearance, with less silver-painted trim, as well as a more logical switchgear layout.

However, the lower portion of the dash is composed to rough and rugged plastic, which clashes with the execution of the upper half. Rear-seat passengers don't get their own climate controls or even adjustable vents. The result is a cockpit that looks more upscale Honda than luxury-oriented Acura. The new MDX does a much better job at distinguishing itself from the Honda Pilot on which it is based.

On a brighter note, the 2013 Acura RDX is very roomy, both for passengers and cargo. You don't get a flat load floor when folding down the rear seatbacks, but maximum volume is rated at a very respectable 1,736 litres.

The RDX's new duds are also subpar if you consider that luxury vehicle buyers usually like to flaunt the brand's image. In this case, Acura's crossover looks pretty anonymous, and lost some of old model's uniqueness. Don't get me wrong; some people like to travel incognito, and you will in the RDX. It's just that a little more visual punch wouldn't hurt.

Undercuts most of the competition

Starting at $40,990, the 2013 Acura RDX is competitively priced, undercutting luxury crossovers such as the Lexus RX, the Cadillac SRX and the Mercedes-Benz GLK. Our tester, equipped with the Tech package that adds navigation, a 410-watt surround sound system and a power tailgate lists for $43,990.

The RDX is a very competent luxury utility, despite our criticism about its appearance. It's a solid, quiet, refined and quick family hauler that gives a lot and demands little in return. It might not be the most noticeable crossover on the road, but for those prefer not to stick out in a crowd, and who like flying under the radar, that could actually be one of the RDX's advantages.


5/5: Child seats are easily installed on the rear bench of the RDX, while the cargo area effortlessly holds a baby stroller, even transversely.

In collaboration with Canadian Tire.


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