2013 Acura RDX Road Test

Gone is the high-tech Chihuahua. Here's Acura's Labrador Retriever.

What It Is
A reimagined take on the compact luxury crossover.
Best Thing
Honda stuck the best V-6 engine it makes under the hood.
Worst Thing
There's more road noise than we'd expect for a crossover in this class.
Snap Judgment
Completely inoffensive and utterly competent, you won't regret picking one over a BMW X3 or Mercedes GLK for the long run.

Honda used to be the company of dreams, a veritable engineer's toy box. Then, as the company matured, so too did its vehicles. Recently, I had a chance to drive a Formula 1-inspired 1970s Honda coupe that was never officially sold in the U.S., bemoaning the fact that the automaker had lost its way with its newer wares. The first-generation Acura RDX, to me, seemed like a return to form, replete with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive-you know it's good if the automaker has enough gumption to call it "super"-and it had a small, turbocharged engine, too, with 240 horsepower.

It was daring. It was everything auto journalists aspire for a Honda to be-on paper at least. From behind the wheel though, it was junk. Over every pothole, your back would brace for the worst. Except that it couldn't possibly be as terrible as that pain you'd feel in your back pocket as this small-displacement four-cylinder would guzzle Premium as if it were a V-8.

It needed to be replaced with something more staid, or at least a little more reasonable. The second-generation RDX does just that. Eschewing its four-banger for a proper V-6, the RDX gained power and fuel efficiency. It lost the super handling for a more conventional system that we're going to dub Reasonably Good Handling All-Wheel Drive (RGH-AWD). And it grew some. In our First Drive of the RDX, we noted that it lost much of its excitement. But with a 700-mile road trip ahead of us this time around, we wondered if that recent incurrence of Honda conservatism would come back to haunt this little crossover with a big price.

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What We Drove

If there's something to be said for Honda, it's that the company is predictable when it comes to options packages. All Acura RDX models come equipped with a 273-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. The front-wheel-drive version starts at $35,215, including $895 for destination and handling. From there, all-wheel drive adds $1,400, and a Technology package can be had with either all-wheel drive or front-wheel drive. Ours came with it, which includes navigation, an ELS sound system, backup camera, HID headlights, and a long list of other options--$40,315 in total. The only other option added was a $152 cargo cover. We can't imagine getting an RDX without all the features; a BMW X3 with its turbocharged 3.0-liter inline-6 would cost at least an additional $10,000 similarly equipped.

On the safety front, the government has not yet tested the 2013 Acura RDX, but the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has named it among its Top Safety Picks. It is equipped with front and side airbags for the first row of seats and curtain airbags for both rows. There are LATCH points for two child seats in the back with plenty of space and an upright cabin for installing them.

The Commute

Does 370 miles one way really count as a "commute?" I digress; it was for a job-related function in Arizona. For the sake of argument, we'll say it was, and the 2013 Acura RDX handled the trip like a champ. With temperatures peaking in the Arizona desert at nearly 100 degrees, signs on my uphill route recommended motorists turn off our air conditioning. Nonsense. This was a good time to test the Acura's grace under pressure, and it performed admirably; its temperature gauge didn't even budge. At speeds hovering between 70 and 80 for the better part of the trip, even under duress, it didn't guzzle gas quite like its predecessor, either. I averaged 25.7 mpg through most of the 700-plus miles, easily topping the RDX's EPA mixed 22 mpg number at nipping at its 27 mpg highway figure.

Not bad for a 273-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6. There were more than a few instances when I tried to get the most out of the engine, with the slick-shifting six-speed automatic doing its best to play along with my madness. Mostly, though, the transmission didn't like me pushing the engine close to 6,500 rpm and shifted well before then in most occasions for the sake of fuel conservation.

Inside, I felt comfortably throughout the whole trek, with a well-bolstered, leather-wrapped bucket doing its job just fine. My only in-car complaints came by way of more road noise than I'd expect of a vehicle of the RDX's caliber and a light buzzing noise coming from a loose panel somewhere in the cabin; in its defense, this particular RDX has had to endure more than 13,000 miles of auto journalist abuse. All I needed to do was crank of the Acura's fantastic ELS audio system and drown it out for the next few hours.

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The Grocery Run

Twenty-six point one cubic feet of cargo space behind the second row isn't a whole lot for a compact crossover. At least not on paper. But having a weekend-size suitcase, a book bag, and a number of assorted baubles, the Acura did a commendable job at holding all of my stuff. And it could have held a lot more. Honda has always been good at fitting an awful lot of usable space in a small package.

Something I found handy was the power liftgate that came equipped on our RDX, always ready for me and my luggage by the time I'd get to it from across a parking lot.

Again, though, the RDX proved a model of practicality throughout, with a rear bench that I'd trust to accommodate most anyone smaller than Ralphie May. Up front, the driver has access to a large, incredibly clear display for the rearview camera, perhaps the best I've seen at any price. It repelled glare at nearly any time of day. Unfortunately the ticker above it that showed what was playing on the radio didn't. It'd be marginally less useful if it were taped over.

The Weekend Fun

An unfortunate Honda-ism is its navigation system that looks as though it were borne from the DOS era. It's hard to fault because of just how well it works. It doesn't look like it belongs in a $40,000 luxury crossover, much less a $20,000 Honda Fit, though.

Aside from it and some equally dated displays like the radio ticker, the Acura RDX was fairly amicable. With its punchy engine, it would get up to speed quickly, and its suspension never felt jittery or bone-crushing, striking a good ride/handling balance. When gunning it at an intersection, its front tires would chirp, but there were few hints of torque steer--a tug at the wheel under heavy load to the front wheels--as RGH-AWD would come to the rescue.

Not the nippy, pugnacious brute its predecessor was, the RDX made driving long distances in mostly straight lines at brisk speeds easy. Luxury should be all about making your life as stress-free as possible. The RDX has this in spades.

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Having settled into the driver's seat of the new RDX for more than 700 miles, I found plenty to nitpick, as I always do, but I couldn't find many glaring imperfections. The RDX's steering is linear and well-weighted. It rides as you'd expect of a luxury crossover competing with the BMW X3 and Audi Q5. It returns decent fuel economy, and has plenty of features. About the only thing I felt I wanted was real aluminum trim or wood in the interior--an option costing a few hundred dollars more. Otherwise, my qualms were few and far between, juxtaposing many of my recent "Good, but not good enough" Honda rants. If I could find more faults, I'd type them.

But I still come back to my opening posit when looking at the RDX: Has Honda lost its way from building technological marvels, vehicles that wow you at every opportunity with this one being just the latest example? Yes and no. The hybrid Acura RLX and NSX should bring back some luster Honda's luxury brand desperately needs to stand out and conquest luxury shoppers from other makes.

But the RDX is utterly conventional. It carves no new ground, yet it's just the vehicle it needs to be to succeed in its class: comfortable, sure-footed, and plenty luxurious. It's as well-rounded as any other Honda, scaling a happy medium that, while it isn't too flashy, ought to utterly satisfy buyers with a quiet, confident poise that shouldn't be overlooked.

Spec Box

Price-as-tested: $40,467
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 19 mpg
EPA Highway: 27 mpg
EPA Combined: 22 mpg
Cargo Space: How many "grocery bags" can we fit behind the rearmost seat or in trunk? Child Seat Fitment, Second Row: How easy is it to install/uninstall seats? Not Applicable (for 2 seaters only)/Poor/Fair/Good/Excellent
Estimated Combined Range: 352 miles
Intellichoice Cost of Ownership: Above Average

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