Though we fight it as children, most humans ultimately have to face the inevitable and mature. Our tastes gradually migrate from fun and funky to the smooth and sophisticated. It only makes sense for automobiles to evolve in a similar fashion, and that's just what the 2013 Acura RDX - which makes its first auto show debut at the 2012 North American International Auto Show in Detroit - promises.
Bye-Bye, Boy Racer
The original RDX faced few competitors when it first launched in 2006, but as the segment continued to grow and expand over the years, Acura's stab at a CUV stood out from the pack. While other luxury brands were packing stuffing six-cylinder engines into their small SUV offerings, Acura instead plopped a hairy 240-horsepower, turbocharged 2.3-liter I-4 underhood. Better yet, buyers could also opt for the brand's signature SH-AWD system, which used a mechanical differential to shift power between the rear wheels to aid cornering.
The result - a small luxury crossover with the attitude of a hot hatch - was perhaps endearing to enthusiasts, but a bit of an oddity in the market that's driven on refinement; on comfort; on sophistication. That's no longer the case. Though RDX's primary customers - both young, affluent professionals and older empty nesters - appreciated the power and comfort packed into the RDX's footprint, Vicki Poponi, Acura's assistant vice president of product planning, says they came back asking for something a bit more refined and a little less thirsty at the pump.
Softer, Friendlier Exterior
From a styling standpoint, the new 2013 RDX seems to fit that requirement. Gone are the knife-sharp edges that dominated the exterior of the first-generation model. The new model still sports a pointed nose and headlamps inspired by the ZDX and MDX crossovers, but many surfaces are softer and far less cluttered than before - something aided in part by removing the lower cladding that marred the last model.
The sharp-edged, dark interiors of before are also eschewed in favor for a softer look. The cabin is dominated by softer, more curvaceous shapes, and accented with matte trim and premium leather in an attempt to move upscale. Engineers increased the amount of sound deadening used, while simultaneously employing an active noise cancellation to help insulate the cabin.
Although the MDX-esque styling makes the new RDX seem larger than before, its footprint hasn't grown all that much. At 183.5 inches long, the new RDX has grown only about an inch, although its wheelbase - which comes in at 112.8 inches - is about an inch-and-a-half greater than before. That said, the RDX is about five inches longer than the 2012 Honda CR-V, which shares the same platform.
From Four To Six
Despite sharing roots with Honda's latest small SUV, the RDX again boasts a driveline of its own. For 2013, the turbocharged I-4 is no more, but the RDX isn't adopting the CR-V's 2.4-liter I-4. Instead, the 2013 RDX gains the 3.5-liter V-6 used in the TSX V-6 and base TL models. Acura says this engine cranks out 273 hp, about 33 more than the old turbo-four. A six-speed automatic is the only transmission offered, and a key part in improving fuel economy. Figures for the 2013 RDX are still being finalized, but front-wheel-drive models are expected to return 20 mpg in the city, and 28 in the highway - a mild improvement compared to the 19/24 mpg (city/highway) rating earned by its predecessor.
Another big change lies with the optional all-wheel-drive system. The SH-AWD driveline is no more; instead, it's replaced with a conventional all-wheel-drive driveline that's both lighter and less expensive than the SH-AWD system. We wouldn't be surprised if the drivetrain is similar - if not identical - to that on the CR-V, which uses a new electronically-controlled clutch pack to send power to the rear wheels.
Focus On The Customer
Will enthusiasts and lead-foot journalists miss SH-AWD? Perhaps, especially when diving into corners like there's no tomorrow - but there's a good chance many RDX shoppers won't. Poponi says this is the perfect illustration of Acura's "smart luxury" mantra. "We need to understand what customers' needs are so we can deliver the right product with the right technologies at the right price point. We don't need to simply take an engineering feature and put it on everything we build."
Is the 2013 RDX still a CUV that thinks it's a hot hatch? No. Will it light enthusiasts' hearts on fire? Perhaps not. But it is clearly a much more sophisticated product born from mature decision making - and that may pay dividends in an increasingly mature market segment. Seeing as production begins in East Liberty, Ohio, this spring, we'll find out soon enough.
2013 Acura RDX
On Sale: Late 2012
Engine: 3.5-liter DOHC V-6
Power: 273 hp
Transmission: 6-speed automatic
Drive: front-wheel; all-wheel
Length: 183.7 in
Wheelbase: 105.7 in
Width: 73.8 in
Height: 64.2 in