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2013 Acura RDX (Honda)
2013 Acura RDX (Honda)

2013 Acura RDX

Acura's new crossover at least $6,000 less than German rivals Add to ...

Quality? It has never been an issue for Acura. Design? Now you’re on to something.

Greg, a Globe Drive reader and car connoisseur, put it this way: “The horrid styling. The headliner is the ridiculous chrome beak they’ve bolted on all models. This is backed up by all the nasty diagonal creases and cut lines all over the cars’ butts.”

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Well, Greg, Acura has toned down the styling in recent models, the RDX crossover being one of them. Where Acura had obsessed on going all technical and wacky in the designs, now we’re seeing a move to conservative styling.

All this has occurred while Acura’s quality has remained top-drawer. The most recent J.D. Power and Associates Initial Quality Study (IQS) saw Acura ranked sixth, while in J.D. Power’s long-term Vehicle Dependability Study, Acura was eighth. Consumer Reports ranks Acura seventh for reliability and the RDX itself was the runner-up in the entry premium crossover SUV class, behind the Infiniti EX.

Breakdowns? No, and there’s a similar safety story. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates the RDX a Top Safety Pick because it nails all the crash tests, has “good” headrest protection in rear-enders and it comes with all sorts of useful driving nannies to keep you out of a crash.

For all that, the previous-generation RDX was a disappointment. Most buyers here want comfort, timeless styling and easy-to-use technology; Acura came on with RDX styling that offended the Gregs of the world. On top of that, Acura’s engineers tuned the RDX for quick handling to the point of over-responsiveness. Jittery and jumpy, in fact.

For the 2013 remake of the RDX (which arrived last year), Acura turned things around entirely. This newest rig is conservative in design and comfy in terms of ride comfort. All the technology is modern enough and there’s plenty of it (Bluetooth and SMS text messaging is standard).

And where the old RDX was jeered for the jerkiness of its turbocharged four-banger, the new RDX has a 3.5-litre V-6 engine (273 horsepower) that is pretty darn efficient (10.7 litres/100 km in the city, 7.3 on the highway). Alas, it does slurp down pricier premium fuel. Regular would be better.

Let’s give credit where it’s due, however. This redesigned RDX crossover has a longer wheelbase and wider track than the outgoing 2012 RDX. As a result, the Acura has more headroom, legroom, shoulder room and cargo space than the rival BMW X3 – which also starts at $42,450.

Except you get a lot more in the starter RDX than you do in the base X3. For instance, a garage door transmitter is standard on the Acura, extra on the BMW; leather seats are standard on the RDX, extra on the Bimmer. Parking aid and a power sunroof are all part of the basic RDX package – and extra on the X3. In fact, if you want an X1 equipped like an RDX, you’ll need to spend another $8,000-plus.

You’ll find a similar story when you match the RDX head-to-head against the Mercedes-Benz GLK 350. Equip the Acura and the Merc uniformly and whammo – you’re into the German rig for another $7,000 or so. On the other hand, when matched against the much less powerful Audi Q5 (211 hp from a turbo four), the Audi has about a $600 advantage, uniformly equipped. Ah, but take the Q5 with its V-6 and all of a sudden that net advantage for the German turns into a $6,000 disadvantage.

Acura’s product planners, of course, have done this exercise. They know they can whip their German rivals on pricing and they also have an edge on quality. The Marysville, Ohio, plant where the RDX is built (along with the Acura TL and Honda Accord) is a Silver Award winner in J.D. Power’s quality rankings. Vehicles from that plant suffer an average of just 26 problems per 100 vehicles. In other words, three out of four Marysville vehicles are problem-free in the first 90 days of ownership.

My tester RDX had the standard all-wheel-drive, heated leather seats and, with the Tech Package, was priced at $43,990. The extras included voice-activated navigation, an eight-inch LED display and a 410-watt surround sound with 15 gigabyte music storage and a useful power tailgate. All RDX models get a six-speed automatic transmission geared for quick acceleration in the first five gears, and freeway cruising in sixth.

Greg, our design critic, also should appreciate how Acura’s designers cleaned up and simplified the cabin and its controls. Absurdly redundant controls have been idiot-proofed without any loss of functionality. The instrument panel, too, is smartly laid out. Throughout the cabin, Acura’s designers have focused on installing richer-looking and -feeling materials. The interior is roomy and a handle release in the cargo area sends the seatback down to a flat position.

So with the weirdness of the old RDX is gone, Acura is hoping Greg and his ilk will take another look. They should.

Tech specs

2013 Acura RDX

Type: Entry premium crossover

Price: $40,990 (freight $1,945)

Engine: 3.5-litre V-6

Horsepower/torque: 273 hp/251 lb-ft

Transmission: Six-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 10.7 city/7.3 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Land Rover LR2, Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK 350, BMW X3, Lexus RX, Volvo XC60, Cadillac SRX, Lincoln MKX

Follow on Twitter: @catocarguy

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