ANN M. JOB, For The Associated Press
Redesigned for 2013, the Acura RDX compact sport utility vehicle is slightly larger, with a more compliant ride, than its predecessor and has more power than ever while beating the popular Lexus RX 350 in fuel economy ratings.
The new RDX also has more front- and rear-seat legroom than a Mercedes-Benz GLK SUV and much more cargo space.
Better still, the revamped-for-2013 RDX is a recommended buy of Consumer Reports magazine, where it ranks above average in expected reliability.
Pricing is increased an average $1,013 across the four 2013 RDX models from 2012 prices, and the top RDX — with all-wheel drive and technology package — now is just over $40,000.
Specifically, starting manufacturer's suggested retail price, including destination charge, for a base, 2013 RDX is $35,215. This is a front-wheel drive RDX with 273-horsepower V-6 and all the standard amenities, such as leather-covered seats, heated front seats, moonroof, rearview camera, keyless access, push-button start, 360-watt audio system, Pandora Internet radio interface and SMS text messaging system. The lowest starting MSRP, including destination charge, for an all-wheel drive, 2013 RDX is $36,615.
But even with the price increase, the RDX remains one of the most affordable of smaller-sized, five-seat, luxury-branded SUVs.
As an example, the starting retail price for a 2013 Lexus RX 350 with 270-horsepower V-6 and front-wheel drive is $40,205, while an all-wheel drive, 2013 RX 350 starts at $41,605. The RX 350 is the best-selling, smaller-sized, luxury SUV in the United States. Meantime, the 2013 Mercedes-Benz GLK has a starting retail price of $37,995 and comes standard with 302-horsepower V-6.
Some fans of the first-generation RDX, which came to market in 2006 with a turbocharged four cylinder and a firmer ride that lent itself to sporty handling, might grumble over the changes for 2013.
But sales of the RDX peaked at 23,367 in 2007 and totaled just 15,196 in calendar 2011, which indicated that there's not a big market for a sporty-handling, turbo, compact SUV.
And by making the RDX more mainstream — with a smooth-performing V-6 instead of sometimes jerky turbo power and with a comfortable, refined ride that makes everything from city streets to concrete highways more tolerable — Acura is broadly expanding this SUV's appeal.
The pleasing ride was one of the first things noticed in the test RDX AWD Tech model priced at $40,315.
The new RDX suspension, along with slightly wider track and longer wheelbase, managed even potholes with ease, removed the sharpness of speed bump undulations and smoothed out the "whomps" of expansion cracks on bridges.
A three-hour drive on highways and country roads in the quiet RDX interior was fatigue-free on nicely supportive but not overly firm front seats. Driver and passenger remarked the trip could have gone on without a problem.
The suspension —MacPherson struts up front and a multilink design in back — use new dampers that will be put in other new Acuras.
These amplitude-reactive dampers are new to Acura and have a two-valve design that basically acts like two suspension systems. One is "soft" in situations such as small bumps and smooth roads and the other is firm, for big bumps and during aggressive cornering.
The driver, however, does nothing to activate these dampers, which work automatically.
Horsepower is boosted by 33 in the new RDX because of the 3.5-liter, single overhead cam V-6. This is the same engine that's in the Honda Odyssey. Honda is Acura's parent company.
Peak torque of 251 foot-pounds at 5,000 rpm from the V-6 is a bit less than the 260 foot-pounds at 4,500 rpm from last year's 2.3-liter, turbo four cylinder.
But the test 2013 RDX moved forward with spunk and merged well into traffic. Power came on smoothly through the new six-speed automatic transmission that includes paddle shifters on the steering wheel for drivers who want to experience some sporty shifts.
Sounds from the V-6 also were quieter and less frenetic than those that came from the turbo four.
Most impressively, the tester with AWD delivered nearly 24 miles per gallon in combined driving that was some 70 percent at highway speeds and 30 percent on city streets.
This is in part because of a fuel-saving, engine cylinder deactivation system that worked seamlessly in the test RDX to shut down cylinders that weren't needed at times.
Plus, the new RDX is more aerodynamic in its styling and weighs some 600 pounds less than the Lexus RX 350.
No wonder, then, that the federal government's fuel economy rating of 19/27 mpg for a 2013 RDX FWD is better than the 19/24-mpg rating for last year's four-cylinder RDX. And it's higher than the 18/25-mpg rating for the 2013 Lexus RX 350 FWD.
The tester's mileage gave a 380-mile range on a single tank, and while premium gasoline is recommended, it is not required.
Inside, the new RDX instrument gauges are a bit less sporty and more mainstream than before, which fits nicely with the new personality.
Most notable are the sizable buttons and controls on the center part of the dashboard. There's no hunting to find tiny knobs or subtly indented buttons.
The rearview camera comes standard with yellow lines that depict the width of the RDX along its projected, rearward path as the vehicle backs up.
Front and rear legroom of 42 inches and 38.3 inches is better than what's in the Mercedes GLK, especially the GLK's 35.1 inches of back-seat legroom.
The RDX bests the GLK in cargo space, too, offering 76.9 cubic feet behind with rear seats folded vs. just 54.7 cubic feet in the Mercedes.