Mudfest 2013: Tom's Hardware Helps Test 23 SUVs

Acura RDX

Acura’s RDX is completely new for 2013, and it competes in the compact luxury class against a pair of European crossovers. Underpinning the RDX is the same platform at the heart of Honda's CRV. But that's not necessary a bad thing. The RDX trades last year's turbocharged 2.3-liter motor and advanced Super-Handling AWD (SH-AWD) for Honda’s corporate 3.5-liter V6 and Real Time AWD system, again, lifted from the CRV.

The V6 motor features Honda’s latest Earth Dreams technology that improves efficiency by adding direct injection and other tweaks. A six-speed automatic transmission sends power to all four wheels.

Acura renames the Honda Real Time AWD system to All-Wheel Drive with Intelligent Control, but it operates the same. This technology remains front-biased, with 100 percent of power sent to the front wheels during cruising, which allows it to be just as fuel-efficient as standard front-wheel drive vehicles. However, the system has a neat trick: during acceleration or when the wheels slip in dry conditions, it sends 25 percent of the power to the rear wheels to help out. It can also split power 50:50 when slippage occurs on wet surfaces.

While the RDX’s AWD system works the way Acura says it should, its front-wheel drive roots became apparent when we pushed the car around pavement and dirt. This thing still behaves very much like a FWD vehicle, and it understeers noticeably before the rear wheels kick in. I probably pushed the RDX harder than most buyers will, but that's something to think about nevertheless.

The RDX's powertrain is very smooth. Its V6 has enough power to embarrass what were considered sports cars 20 years ago from a stop. The driving dynamics are good, and you get great throttle and steering response. While the RDX isn't as sporty as Mazda's CX5, it's still a pleasure to drive. Steering felt a little light, but it wasn't disengaging by any means.

Our sample came with the Tech Package, which adds the Acura Navigation System, AcuraLink Communication System, integrated hard drive, GPS-linked climate control, and other niceties. The eight-inch navigation display sits high and center on the dash, presenting crisp text and graphics. There are plenty of physical buttons to control standard system functions. Acura employs a knob mounted on the center stack to control the navigation system. Unfortunately, most of its functions are disabled when the vehicle is moving, and they only work with not-so-good voice commands.

This struck us as odd, since we went hands-on with a 2008 Acura MDX that offered full functionality in any situation. So, we asked the Acura rep at Mudfest, and his response was reasonable. Basically, the company wanted to implement this before lawmakers made it mandatory. It's not a response we're happy with, but perhaps a necessary curb of distracted driving.

We didn't get a chance to hook up our iPad or pair the HTC Droid DNA. It was getting late by the time we had a crack at the RDX, and the folks at DirtFish were ready to kick us out.

Acura’s design language is smoother than what we've seen previously. The RDX is not very aggressive, but it still looks clean and bears simple lines. It was definitely built for the Acura demographic, and we find it stylish enough.

Vehicle Specifications
Vehicle
2013 Acura RDX
Trim level
AWD Tech
Engine
3.5 L "Earth Dreams" V6
Transmission
Six-speed automatic with sequential sportshift
Drivetrain
AWD with Intelligent Control
Infotainment
Acura Navigation
Notable features
AcuraLink Communications (Real-time traffic and weather)
ELS Surround Sound System w/ DVD-Audio playback, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic II
Integrated hard drive
GPS-linked climate control
Fuel economy
19 city, 27 highway, 22 combined MPG
MSRP
$40,315
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38 comments
    Your comment
  • Super_Nova
    Very slow newsweek
    4
  • flong777
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.
    3
  • Johnny_C13
    Well, at least the Grand Cherokee can (literally) run (on) Crysis... but I wonder if it starts faster with an SSD?
    0
  • MU_Engineer
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.
    8
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    1
  • ammaross
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.
    -1
  • tuanies
    Anonymous said:
    Interesting but with so little time per vehicle, the results are obviously suspect. I believe the Wrangler is the best off-road vehicle, not sure about the rest. But that conclusion come from more in depth reviews which actually "review" the vehicle.


    Its a great offroad vehicle for the price. The other two are capable vehicles, but the buyer demographic will never take them offroad.

    Anonymous said:
    Anybody find it funny that the vehicle largely based on WWII era technology does the best in the offroad tests while the newer, high-tech "tall wagons with AWD" get stuck in more than a couple inches of snow? Just like tablets, phones, and laptops aren't going to make desktops go away, unit-body transverse-engine four-banger cars aren't going to replace body-on-frame trucks with solid axles and leaf springs when you need to do real work. The even funnier thing is that an "ancient" carbureted pushrod V8 and manual transmission would have made the Wrangler perform *better* in the offroad tests than the 8-speed slushbox and fancy twin-cam V6 car engine.


    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions :D.

    Anonymous said:
    Stopped reading when I saw the Toyota 4Runner wasn't in the mix.


    Toyota didn't submit any vehicles, disappointingly. Was hoping the 5th Gen 4Runner and new RAV4 would be there :(.
    0
  • joe gamer
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.
    1
  • tuanies
    Anonymous said:
    Holy crap these are expensive vehicles, who is buying these monsters? I make $60k a year and live comfortably but there is no way I could afford any of these. The HYUNDAI clocked in at over $35k....The painfully anemic Subaru(with what has to be the worst manual I've ever used) is still over $20K and it's terrible, poor power, poor gas mileage, poor off road performance, ugly styling, shitty electronics, and only moderate interior room...but that's the only one in my price range? How poor am I exactly?

    Seriously the WRX transmission is quite nice, how the hell did all of their others end up to be so godawful?

    Guess I'm stuck with my 1999 Isuzu Rodeo until I can win the lottery...oil burning, gas guzzling eyesore it may be but hey the money I saved will buy me a decades worth of gas.


    Nothing wrong with an old Isuzu, before GM raped and pillaged them :(. Cars are so expensive nowadays, you're about as poor as I am, but add in two kids and a wife. The WRX has a nice manual because its a performance vehicle. Manuals in economy cars are usually sloppy. long throws and not very exciting, which is why I hate to say to get the auto in economy cars. But, the XV Crosstrek could probably be fixed with a short throw shifter, that usually does wonders.
    0
  • JPNpower
    Why are you using SUVs in the mud!!! These things belong in parking lots at the mall!
    3
  • internetlad
    Tom's Carware
    0
  • brenro12
    Mechanical technology has its uses but the WWII Era vehicles are awful for comfort and driving feel. Not going to lie though, the G-wagen is one sexy beast IMO. The Wrangler is only a 6-speed auto iirc, but there's a company that offers HEMI conversions .

    My Wrangler has a 6 speed manual and AEV can only do engine swaps on 2011 and older Jeeps. Not that there were many takers. 20 grand, an extra 500 lbs. in an already porky vehicle, and a peaky engine that doesn't really have the grunt an off roader needs. Even on road a 392 hemi Wrangler is less than a second quicker to 60 than a stock Pentastar due to aerodynamics and that heavy duty drive train. Waste of money.
    0
  • slomo4sho
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?
    2
  • JPNpower
    Anonymous said:
    Since when do people come to Tom's to formulate a decision on which vehicle to purchase?


    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.
    2
  • troyellisonjr
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...
    0
  • slomo4sho
    Anonymous said:

    CPU=Engine
    Cores=cylinders
    Hyperthreading=DOHC
    OC=Turbo
    SLI/CF=4WD/AWD
    Motherboard tech=Gearbox tech

    see it's more related than you think.


    I'll stick to Car & Driver :)
    1
  • tuanies
    Anonymous said:
    Very strange that no Toyotas were in this...


    I was told they changed PR agencies to one that has never done a car company before and don't quite understand what they should do with the auto press.
    0
  • trumpeter1994
    Need a Land Cruiser in the mix.
    2
  • brentsv
    Great article, and very timely considering I just wrapped up 4 months of research on SUVs before purchasing a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee Summit. I test drove about everything out there (Land Rover, Audi, BMW, etc.) and the new Jeep GC just did everything that I wanted from an SUV, and for thousands $$ less then it's competitors. People who down-play the Grand Cherokee should stop comparing the versions earlier to 2011. Remember that Mercedes owned Chrysler/Jeep at that time and put a lot of engineering into the new GC. The Jeep GC even shares the same platform and air-suspension as the Mercedes ML350. The Summit trim level that I bought has the upgraded leather seating, nicer head-liner, and an 825 W Harmon Kardon stereo system that was mentioned as lacking in the article. (BTW, I think the Harmon Kardon system is the same one they offer as an upgrade on the Mercedes M and G class SUVs). I actually think the UConnect is fantastic, and think it is easier to use than most of the systems out there. Besides handling all the entertainment duties, it really cleans up and simplifies managing a lot of the other features in the car (e.g. heated and vented seats, etc). When I test drove a Porsche Cayenne I was just over-whelmed by all the buttons in the car. Just too much to manage and too much to clean!! What initially attracted me to the GC was the new diesel engine option. But after tons of analysis on my part, I actually decided to go with the V6. Matted to the new 8-speed transmission the V6 really has plenty of power for most drivers (and is also several hundred pounds lighter than V8 and diesel). I've achieved 25 mpg on some trips with the V6, which makes the $5k premium for the diesel (and it's 28 mpg) just not worth it. The only reason I'd recommend getting the V8 is if you need the 1 second faster 0-60 and top-end speed (sorry, if I need a sports car I'll buy one) or if you need the towing capacity of the diesel. Since I also drive a 2007 Corvette and previously owned an Infiniti FX (also a great handling SUV), I can tell you the V6 gives you ample power for this vehicle. The biggest drawback of the V6 is that it does not come with the rear electronic limited slip, nor does it have the hill-ascent feature (both these features are limited to V8 and diesel). This car has tons of tech in it for the $$. My only complaint would be that Uconnect is limited to 3G, so downloading aps or using it as a wifi hot-spot will be slow compared to 4G/LTE. It also has integration limitations with iPhones compared to Android. I'm hoping Apple's announcement of better integration with vehicles will be backwards compatible with my 2014 GC. In closing, don't dig on the Grand Cherokees until you have gone out and test drove one of the new 2014s!!

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!

    Comment to those missing the Toyota 4Runner: Have you stepped into one of those lately? That SUV feels incredibly dated! Toyota is long overdue for a complete refresh of that car...
    0
  • tuanies
    Anonymous said:

    Note to Author: Why in the h?!? was the GC Overland not rated for the hard off-road course? With the terrain select, 2-speed gear box and air suspension, it will go everywhere the Range Rover will go. I've done the "Land Rover Experience" at Quail Lodge in a new 2013 Range Rover, and I honestly feel like my GC can go anywhere that car can go, and for half the price!!!


    Because Jeep already had enough firepower to embarass the uber expensive ones with the Wrangler :).

    Its ok though, I took the Jeep for a week and had some fun with it. Impressive car. Here's a preview of what we did with it.

    http://farm9.staticflickr.com/8544/8712408313_ca9eda6313_c.jpg
    P1040212 by tuanies, on Flickr

    That's my buddy's lifted WK with beefy off-road tires. I made it just as far up the remnant snow that he was comfortable going up (it was mostly packed snow and ice). This is with a bone stock 2014 GC with stock tires. I am in love with the air suspension.
    0