Mountain Wheels: Completely reinvented Acura RDX is a speedy jewel
August 3, 2012
I can’t be sure if a friend’s offhanded comment that the new Acura RDX looks like a Buick is good for Buick, or bad for Acura. Maybe it’s Acura’s brownish Basque Red Pearl paint job that got her frowning.
Whatever the case, I didn’t particularly agree. RDX’s total makeover for 2013 has certainly given the small crossover SUV a smoothed and streamlined change from the bubble-topped, FX35-looking model of the past (RDX was first introduced in 2007).
And yes, that means it does look a bit like the new Hyundai Santa Fe from the back, and maybe the Buick Enclave I think my friend was referring to – but rest assured the svelte little RDX is much more interesting and exciting than either of those.
It’s also not just a re-badged, upscale version of its sister vehicle, the Honda CR-V, though its now-lengthened proportions (five-passenger hatchback) are quite similar. The most CR-Vish bit might just be the new convex mirror on the driver’s side.
True to Acura form, RDX is beautifully finished inside and out, competently powerful and resplendent with an impressive but still totally useable array of entertainment and information technology.
Unlike its Honda cousin, or the tiny Santa Fe, RDX is also absolutely rock-solid on the road – no bounce, whatsoever – and its 273-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 will leave you feeling like there’s a turbo under the hood, but it’s just a well-built motor with a wonderfully wide band of power, even at the very top of the tunnel.
RDX is also slathered in high-quality, soft-touch leather and it’s got the traditional Acura level of blended angles and sweeping arrows and futuristic overall cabin design – which the non-luxury brands have since incorporated, though I still feel Acura does it best.
If you need to load it up, my Tech-level model featured a remote power liftgate and also has easy-to-use handles on the inside of the cargo cabin to drop the second row seats, providing 76.9 cubic feet of storage (a 16-plus-cubic-foot improvement on the old model).
Driving the RDX was a breeze, especially in regularly busy weekend highway traffic. It’s positioned high enough to be visible and to give you a pretty confident view of the road, but it still car-like enough to be both legitimately fun to drive and a tad sporty, with all that power. The six-speed automatic can also be shifted using small wheel-mounted paddles, which came in handy heading downhill – click it into fourth and you can stay near the speed limit when heading through the tunnel construction zone, yet not ride the brakes like everyone else. The new electric power steering is also very smooth and can, if you really want to do so, help make the RDX a lively performer.
The engine’s got 33 more horsepower than the old model, a small and somewhat thirsty turbocharged four-cylinder, and the new engine also earned me as much as 26 mpg when I headed back to Denver (and, admittedly, about 19 mpg headed uphill).
I was also mostly happy with this AWD model’s confidence on a muddy side-road and a long stretch of chunky railroad gravel; the tires, which provided lots of comfort and quiet on the highway, weren’t quite up to an admittedly challenging dirt chute, though RDX will be good enough for most light off-road adventures.
There’s been plenty of complaining that the last couple years’ worth of Acuras suffered from someone’s decision to plaster gigantic Vulcan battle shields on their noses; you’ll be happy to see that the new RDX’s silvery grille is a little more understated, tying in more comfortably with the car’s expressive nose and streamlined and just-a-little-scoop-sided looks.
Inside, it’s not quite the screaming wall of buttons you used to find on an MDX. Rather, both the instruments and the navigation screen are shaded under deep cowls, and the center stack features a relatively restrained control knob surrounded by some moderately extraneous large buttons.
The center console is also wide and functional, with a power port, USB and iPod connections all hidden in a front cubby with shag carpet inside, for whatever reason; there’s also a toaster oven-sized storage space under the center armrest.
Navigation is set up on a hard disk drive that also provides the ability to record 3,500 songs off audio CDs; the voice-recognition system didn’t quite work for me and asked me to spell out destinations letter by letter, and despite being connected to the AcuraLink satellite system, I got completely bogged in traffic without much advance warning.
Audio in the Tech edition was flawless, however, with 10 speakers and a 410-watt Surround sound system.