The first-generation RDX definitely had its fans with its entertaining turbocharged four-cylinder engine. With 260 lb-ft of torque, once the turbo came up to boost, it made for one lively-driving crossover.
But the on-or-off boost response was a turn-off for many potential customers that valued refinement and smoothness over the juvenile thrill of the turbo coming on-boost. As Acura discovered, fun-to-drive isn't always the most valued attribute among entry-premium crossover shoppers. Owners of the previous RDX didn't care much for its sporty dynamics -- they just wanted a handsome, comfortable, fuel-efficient, and practical crossover for their daily commute. And that's essentially what Acura has delivered for 2013.
Gone is the turbo-four, replaced with a 3.5-liter V-6 that makes 273 hp and 251 lb-ft of torque. The five-speed automatic is out too, exchanged for a more fuel-efficient six-speed unit (the paddle shifters remain), and the advanced SH-AWD torque-shifting system is replaced with a standard AWD unit from the RDX's platform-mate, the Honda CR-V. Maximum rear torque bias decreases from 70 percent to 50 percent. Those changes, along with improved aerodynamics and new Michelin Primacy MXM4 tires, have improved fuel economy to 20/28 mpg 19/27 mpg city/highway for the FWD and AWD versions, respectively.
Other changes have made the RDX a little easier to live with. The suspension has been retuned with new amplitude reactive dampers that contain a two-valve design, allowing for softer spring rates and a more relaxed ride. The RDX is the first to receive the new dampers, which will ultimately see duty across much of the Acura lineup, including the new compact ILX sedan. Structural rigidity is also improved with the increased use of high-strength steel, while the overall vehicle size has grown slightly to accommodate the 1.4-inch-longer wheelbase and wider track. This increase has also borne slight improvements in front and rear passenger shoulder and legroom, and Acura says rear cargo space is still among the largest in the CUV class, at 26.1 cu ft with the rear seats up and 61.3 cu ft with them folded down.
From an aesthetic perspective, the RDX has been smoothed some here and there -- the front end in particular appears much cleaner -- but its overall appearance is similar to the previous generation's. We've never found the RDX's styling to be particularly exciting, and that hasn't changed with the 2013 version. Inside, the RDX has gotten more mature-looking; gone is the sporty three-dial instrument cluster, replaced with a single housing for all gauges. The center stack is rounder and a little more cluttered, and the display has been moved higher for improved visibility. Standard equipment includes heated leather seats, a moonroof, iPod compatibility, Bluetooth, and 18-inch alloy wheels.
On the road, although the new RDX is up 33 horsepower on the 2012 version, it's down 9 lb-ft of torque, which leaves the new car feeling about the same in terms of grunt, but lacking pesky turbo lag and gaining smoother, more linear acceleration. The engine is quieter than the old turbo unit (especially with the taller sixth gear), and road and wind noise have also been improved, making for a quiet, relaxed freeway cruiser. New electric power steering is efficient but light and dead-feeling, and the ride is much improved, as the new dampers keep good body control while smoothing out most of the road imperfections you would have felt in your kidneys with the previous RDX.
Much of what made the original RDX feel special -- the firm ride, turbo antics, and crisp handling -- are gone from this 2013 version, but don't despair. The new RDX is more mature for a more mature buyer, and ultimately that will pay dividends in both customer satisfaction and Acura's profit margins.