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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
Vehicle2013 Acura RDX
Trim levelAWD Tech
Engine3.5 L "Earth Dreams" V6
TransmissionSix-speed automatic with sequential sportshift
DrivetrainAWD with Intelligent Control
InfotainmentAcura Navigation
Notable featuresAcuraLink Communications (Real-time traffic and weather)ELS Surround Sound System w/ DVD-Audio playback, DTS, Dolby Pro Logic IIIntegrated hard driveGPS-linked climate control
Fuel economy19 city, 27 highway, 22 combined MPG