By Jim MacPherson
Proving there’s always more than one way to reach a goal has become easier. Just look at the completely redesigned 2013 Acura RDX.
The RDX is Acura’s entry-level crossover utility vehicle, and the 2013 model is on sale now.
While most manufacturers are ditching larger engines and adopting smaller turbocharged motors in pursuit of better fuel economy without sacrificing performance, Acura has done just the opposite with the RDX. It has, in the words of Robert Frost, chosen the road “less traveled by.”
The previous RDX featured a turbocharged 2.3-liter, four-cylinder engine, rated at 240-horsepower. This small-turbocharged-engine path is the road now being followed by any number of automakers, included Ford, with its EcoBoost engine lineup. BMW and Mercedes-Benz are even going from six- to four-cylinder engines in some of their luxury sedans.
The new RDX has gone in the other direction, dropping its turbo four and adopting a 3.5-liter V-6, good for 273 horsepower. It’s even made the vehicle roomier.
The surprise? This larger RDX is not only more powerful, but also more fuel efficient.
“The reaction to the new RDX has been excellent,” says Mark Pedemonti, general manager at Acura of Berlin. “People like that it is larger, more powerful, smoother-riding and more economical with 27 miles per gallon on the highway.”
Achieving this seemingly contradictory goal of boosting both power and fuel economy takes a healthy dose of advanced technology. For example, the 3.5-liter V-6 engine features variable displacement, shutting down two or three of its six cylinders when full power isn’t needed.
Also present in this new-to-the-RDX engine is variable valve timing, which boosts both power and efficiency. Acura has even addressed the alternator’s operation so that its drive belt tension can be lowered. This, in turn, reduces engine friction, which boosts fuel economy.
The bottom line: The new Acura RDX goes farther on a gallon of gasoline than the model it replaced. In the all-wheel drive versions that are most popular in New England (front-wheel drive is standard, but Pedemonti says that virtually all sales in this area are of all-wheel drive models), the previous RDX went 17 miles on each gallon in the EPA’s city test; 22 miles in the highway portion of the test cycle. The new RDX has raised those figures to 19 and 27, respectively. What’s more impressive is how much smoother, refined and responsive the new RDX is compared to the 2012 model.
The 2013 RDX proved to be thoroughly capable over the span of a week in the Greater Hartford area. Acceleration with the six-speed automatic, the only transmission offered, is quick. Sixty miles per-hour arrives in just 6.5 seconds, a 6/10ths of a second improvement over the last RDX we had for review. Fuel economy was also up ten percent in our real-world driving.
Of greater importance, the new RDX combined this performance with noticeably improved refinement. The V-6 proves to be smoother than the four-cylinder engine used last year.
The ride is stable and comfortable, with car-like handling. Steering feel, despite the adoption of the electronic variable power steering assist – another fuel-economy boosting move – is quite good.
The new RDX is comfortable for adults in front and surprisingly roomy for adults in second row seat. There is no third row.
“They did their homework,” Pedemonti says of the redesign, while adding that the optional Technology Package includes Pandora radio access and voice-to-text messaging.
Acura has clearly broken ranks with an industry that is downsizing engines in search of better fuel economy. It has taken the road less traveled, and that has made a difference.
Starts at: $34,320
Engine: 3.5-liter, V-6
Torque (lb/ft): 251
EPA FWD: 20/28
EPA AWD: 19/27
Next Week: 2013 Chevrolet Malibu