Driven: 2012 Acura RDX

The RDX, Acura's compact crossover, was previously an outlier in its category. It seemed to have been developed by a bunch of engineers who were trying to channel the Integra Type R. As intriguing as that sounds, the RDX's buckboard ride and high-strung four-cylinder turbo just didn't work in a compact, premium-brand crossover.

Larger, but lighter

The new RDX takes a much different tack. It looks and drives exactly like the larger MDX -- arguably, Acura's best-realized current product. The new RDX is larger than its predecessor, and looks it. But it's also lighter, and roomier. The latter quality is particularly evident in the rear seat, where occupants sit on a high cushion and where a flat floor facilitates three-abreast seating.

One can imagine that no one at Acura is eager to spend much time thinking about the unloved, oddball ZDX, but it might have been nice if some of that vehicle's inventive, luxurious interior design and materials had found their way into this car. Instead, the RDX serves us the standard Acura fare -- which means this is a design-free zone, wrought in materials that are decent but little more, with controls arranged in a sober, straightforward manner.

The electronics interface, an area where luxury-brand car shoppers might expect to be wowed, looks stuck in the last decade. (Maybe Acura is waiting for its upcoming new RLX flagship sedan to introduce a new interface.) True, Acura's turn-and-push knob controller is safer and easier to use than some carmakers' flashy touch screens, but it contains its own annoyances. It surely gets tiresome, for instance, to have to agree to the lawyer screen every time you start the car (if you don't hit OK, the display goes blank); and once you do, the screen always defaults to the map, no matter what it was set to when the car was shut off. For me, that meant having to hit "audio" to get the radio information to appear, at every start-up. Also, the presets are arranged in two stacks of three, but the preset buttons are arranged in a row of six, so they don't match.

From four to six

The big break with the past is under the hood, where the turbocharged four-cylinder has been jettisoned in favor of Honda's corporate 3.5-liter V-6. Other carmakers are making the opposite move -- replacing V-6 engines for turbocharged fours, in a quest for better fuel economy. Acura, though, achieved better mileage here by adding cylinders. The old 2.3-liter was a heavy drinker among turbo fours, while the new V-6 is pretty efficient thanks in part to cylinder deactivation. It also benefits from being paired with a six-speed automatic, versus the previous five-speed. As a result, EPA ratings jump from 19/24 mpg to 20/28 mpg (FWD), and from 17/22 mpg to 19/27 mpg (AWD).

The V-6's 273 hp beats the turbo four's 240 hp, although its torque figure of 251 pound-feet is just shy of the previous engine's 260 pound-feet. Regardless, the V-6 makes the new RDX plenty quick; the six-speed automatic is unobtrusive; and throttle response is now linear and predictable. Honda's torque vectoring SH-AWD system helped the previous RDX claw its way around corners, but it's been replaced by a more pedestrian system similar to that in the Honda CR-V. Without torque vectoring, it doesn't aid handling, and the RDX is now pretty middle-of-the road in that endeavor. It does ride a lot better than before, however, and the new electrically assisted power steering is well weighted.

Well priced, well equipped

Acura keeps it simple with options, offering none, and only two trim levels. Front-wheel-drive and all-wheel-drive versions are offered with or without the Technology Package, which adds $3700. Its primary elements are navigation and a high-end audio system. Otherwise, everything you'd want is standard, including leather, heated seats, a sunroof, keyless entry and ignition, Bluetooth, power seats, et cetera. Pricing starts at a very reasonable $35,215 and tops out at $40,315

Surprisingly, one item that might not be worth ordering is four-wheel drive. It wasn't the season for snow or ice when I drove the RDX, but when pulling out from even a slight uphill grade onto a busy two-lane, the RDX would often spin its front wheels -- excessively so in the wet. The car is so lazy about reapportioning torque to the rear I thought it must be front-wheel drive. It wasn't, but it might as well have been.

Other than the disappointing all-wheel-drive system, however, the new RDX looks perfectly positioned to meet the wants and needs of its target market. It may be less of an iconoclast, but it's roomier, mellower, more powerful, more comfortable, and more economical. We think buyers will be happy to make that trade.

2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech

Base price (with destination): $40,315
Price as tested: $40,315

Standard Equipment:
3.5-liter V-6
6-speed automatic transmission w/shift paddles
All-wheel drive
4-wheel disc brakes
Leather-trimmed seats
Keyless entry and ignition
Power windows
Power door locks
Power driver's seat (10-way), power passenger's seat (4-way)
Power side mirrors
Bluetooth
Power moonroof
Heated, power mirrors
Navigation system w/voice recognition
Multi-view rear camera
AcuraLink communication system w/traffic and weather
Acura/ELS surround-sound AM/FM/XM/CD/MP3 audio system w/aux and USB inputs and 10 speakers
Hard Disk Drive
Dual-zone automatic climate control
Xenon HID headlights
Power tailgate
Fog lights

Options on this vehicle:
None

Key options not on this vehicle:
None

Fuel economy:
(city/hwy/combined)
19 / 27 / 22 mpg

Engine:
3.5L V-6
Horsepower: 273 hp @ 6200 rpm
Torque: 251 lb-ft @ 5000 rpm

Drive:
4-wheel

Transmission:
6-speed automatic

Curb weight: 3852 lb

Wheels/tires:
18 x 7 inch alloy wheels
235/65R18 Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires

Competitors:
Audi Q5
BMW X3
Cadillac SRX
Infiniti EX35
Lexus RX
Lincoln MKX
Mercedes-Benz GLK
Volvo XC60

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