Understudy Overhaul: New Acura RDX earns facelift, techno features to match larger sport-utility sister

Katie Thomas inspects the drivers seat and steering wheel in the new Acura RDX at McDaniels Acura in Charleston (Leroy Burnell/postandcourier.com/4/16/2012).

By JIM PARKER The Post and Courier

The engineers and designers plying their trade for Acura apparently took cues from regular customers in remaking the mid-sized 2013 RDX.

Those buyers are like Rick Bowers’ mother, who owns a version of last year’s well-groomed sport-utility. “She loved the soft ride,” he said.

But she wanted more room, something the new model offers, says Bowers, general sales manager at McDaniels Acura. Plus, he believes she will be excited about the new edition’s power liftgate among other features.

“Once we get a larger supply, even the baby boomers are calling on it,” he said.

The 2013 RDX, a five-passenger model, has been completely redesigned with a new look and bigger engine without sacrificing fuel economy, Bowers said.

It’s styled to resemble a smaller type of Acura’s popular MDX full-sized SUV.

To boost the RDX’s stature, Acura is promoting the model in tandem with the release of The Avengers’ comic book-action film next month. The promotional tag line for the 2013 sport utility plays on its upgrades: “Virtually the only thing that hasn’t changed on the all-new RDX is the nameplate.”

The first of a handful of streamlined models arrived earlier this month at the Savannah Highway store, but Bowers said, “I don’t think we will see a pretty good supply of them until summer.”

The general sales manager expects the new RDX to be well received.

The predecessor sport-utility possessed an inline four-cylinder turbocharged engine, while the remake carries a 3.5-liter six-cylinder V-6 that packs 273 horsepower, up 33 hp from last year. A six-speed automatic transmission is standard this year.

At the same time, the 2013 profile boosts fuel mileage to 23 mpg overall for front-wheel-drive and 22 mpg for an all-wheel-drive version. That’s up from 21 mpg and 19 mpg respectively last year.

Sizewise, the new model wheelbase is stretched 1.2 inches, and the car is 1 inch higher and slightly wider than the 2012 sport-utility. Interior legroom is also a bit more spacious. And the passenger area grew 2.1 cubic feet.

The $34,320 base price, meanwhile, is no more than 5 percent higher than a year ago.

Another update for the 2013 RDX is its technology package, said Keith Drayton, sales associate with McDaniels Acura.

Communications and navigation highlights include a sound system bolstered by a 60 gigabyte hard drive, large enough for most people to download their whole CD collection, he said.

With a compatible smart phone, drivers can have test messages read to them via voice activation — a definite safety factor compared with the driver reading off a phone in the car. The center console, meanwhile, provides such features as up-to-date weather information.

About every kind of high-tech featurein the seven-passenger MDX is found in the new five-passenger model, Drayton said.

The sales associate sees the 2013 edition as attractive for smaller families who like the ease in getting in and out of the car, executives looking for a luxurious commute and older people eying comfort with the all-leather interior and power seats including lumbar support.

Such spotlights showed up in an afternoon trip last Monday in a well-equipped RDX priced at $40,709.

The vehicle is easy to enter and exit, even though its ground clearance is 1.8 inches higher than the 2012 model. The tailgate can be opened electronically via a button in the front and on the lift itself. Cargo space is more than adequate, especially with the second row seats folded down in various configurations.

Handling is excellent. And while the sport-utility won’t be mistaken for a sports car, the six-cylinder engine provides the requisite power boost in traffic or on the highway.

Similar to some new Hondas, the uplevel Acura employs a second, angled mirror silver on the edge of the driver’s side-view guides, making it easier to see vehicles approaching in the blind spot.

If the sport utility has a drawback, it’s the sight lines, which tend to be obscured somewhat by pillars, headrests and a less than broad back window. The sloping roof in back also limits visibility a little.

Taken as a whole, though, the fine-looking RDX is what Acura sorely needed: a “talker” to generate buzz about the brand as well as a fitting option to its larger, best selling sport-utility sister.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or jparker@postandcourier.com.