First Look: 2013 Acura RDX

Acura stripped away most of the mystery surrounding its forthcoming 2013 RDX crossover at last month’s Detroit auto show, but the official, finalized production model officially debuts this week at the 2012 Chicago Auto Show.

A Time To Grow
The premium luxury crossover segment is awash with options, but Acura’s first-generation RDX, which debuted in 2006, always stood a bit apart from the crowd. The RDX didn’t offer a six-cylinder engine, or even a de rigueur hybrid driveline. Instead, it delivered a driving experience that — imagine this — was actually entertaining for the driver. Acura plopped a zesty turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder underhood, and offered it with its signature SH-AWD system, which could shift power between the rear wheels to improve cornering.

The result? The RDX proved to be a small luxury crossover that possessed the attitude of a pocket rocket. Endearing to driving enthusiasts, perhaps, but the recipe was a bit unusual in a segment where refinement, comfort, and sophistication are key selling points. Vicki Poponi, Acura’s assistant vice president of product planning, says RDX owners loved the power of the first iteration, but came back asking for something a little roomier, a little more refined, and a little more fuel efficient.

A Mini MDX?
The new 2013 RDX certainly appears to be a little more grown up. Gone are the razor-sharp edges that dominated the first model; the new RDX still wears a pointed nose and scalloped headlamps inspired by Acura’s larger crossovers, but many panel surfaces are softer and far less cluttered than before — an impression aided in part by scaling back the use of argent body cladding.

The sharp-edged, drab interiors of before also appear to be no more. Shapes within the cabin are softer and more rounded, and are accented with matte trim and premium leather in an attempt to move the RDX a bit more upscale. Acura also increased the amount of sound deadening used along with simultaneously deploying a new active noise cancellation system to further insulate passengers from road noise.

The mature look may trick bystanders into mistaking the RDX for the larger MDX; in reality, the second-generation model hasn’t grown that much. Acura has limited the amount of dimensional data it’s disclosing at this point, but has revealed its wheelbase has increased by about 1.4 inches, while overall length has grown an inch to 183.5 inches. It is a bit larger than the new 2012 Honda CR-V, with which it shares its architecture. Compared to Honda’s crossover, the RDX is about 5.2 inches longer, 2.1 inches wider, and 1.4 inches taller.

Six Instead Of Four
One area where the RDX certainly has grown is in terms of powertrain. The frisky turbo-four is no more; in its place is a DOHC 3.5-liter V-6 shared with the TSX and base TL sedan. In this guise, Acura says the engine produces about 273 hp, about 33 ponies more than the old turbocharged four-cylinder. A six-speed automatic finally makes its way to the RDX lineup, and plays a sizable part in improving fuel economy. Acura says front-wheel-drive models are expected to return EPA test numbers of 20/28 mpg (city/highway), while all-wheel-drive models are estimated to achieve 19/27 mpg. If so, those are sizable improvements over the last RDX, which achieved 19/24 mpg and 17/22 mpg in front- and all-wheel drive forms, respectively.

The increase in the all-wheel-drive RDX’s fuel economy is impressive, but it does potentially come at a cost. The trick SH-AWD driveline is no more; instead, the new RDX makes use of a conventional awd system that’s allegedly both lighter and less expensive to manufacture.

Will we miss the zesty turbocharged I-4, and the quicker cornering afforded by the SH-AWD system? Perhaps, especially when diving into corners like there’s no tomorrow — but there’s a good chance many RDX customers won’t. Poponi says this is the perfect illustration of Acura’s “smart luxury” mantra — an effort to deliver what the customer truly wants feature-wise, instead of just cramming a given engineering feature on every model it builds.

Content Is King
Despite losing the slick all-wheel-drive system, the 2013 RDX will still be offered with a number of features and technologies viewed as Acura hallmarks. Base models will receive active noise cancelling, keyless entry and ignition, a multi-view rear camera, and a new infotainment system that boasts Pandora web-based radio connectivity and text message integration. An available Technology Package will add a newly revised navigation system with a 60-gigabyte hard drive (15 gigabytes of which are free for storing digital music files), and Acura’s signature ELS surround sound system.

Is the 2013 RDX still a CUV that thinks it’s a hot hatch? No. Will it light enthusiasts’ hearts on fire? That remains to be seen. But it is clearly a much more sophisticated product born from mature thinking – 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 sooner than later.


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