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Acura RDX trades looks for power

If you treasure the 2007-2012 RDX for its edgy athleticism, you might be disappointed with the redesigned 2013 model. Its entire demeanor has changed from wild frat boy to bland middle manager.

You would never suspect as much by looking at the new RDX, as it closely resembles the old one.

Thankfully, the pointy chrome proboscis that accents the top of the RDX’s grille opening doesn’t seem as offensive as the old one, and the overall look is a bit more subdued and sublime.

It’s a subtle hint of the bigger changes that welcome you once you climb inside and fire it up.

That’s when you’ll find that the 2012 model’s raucous, turbocharged four-cylinder engine has been replaced by a sweet 273-horsepower 3.5-liter V-6. Like other Honda vehicles with six-cylinder power plants, this one will deactivate two or three cylinders under light loads to conserve fuel. This is why fuel economy hasn’t declined on the new RDX, despite the addition of two cylinders.

It’s hard to argue with the superiority of the V-6 versus the turbo four, with an extra 33 horses and a tad more speed when asked to accelerate to 60 mph. It doesn’t sound dramatic, but the difference in feel is remarkable. There’s no annoying turbo lag, just a smooth, effortless river of power. It feels potent, yet well-mannered, pouring on the power without playing the part of a party boy. Instead, it dispenses its horses with a velvet fury.

This silky-smooth refinement is matched to a ride that yields more readily over the rough stuff, although firm kicks still filter through. Here’s where some may be disappointed: The RDX seems less sporting, as if it traded in sneakers for a pair of work boots. There are some body motions when fractured pavement is encountered or when braking, although handling is about average for the class. Acura also uses a less-sophisticated all-wheel-drive system for 2013; my guess is few drivers will notice.

Braking is very efficient, bringing things to a halt quickly. The RDX is quieter this year as well, although you’ll notice some road and tire noise.

Overall, the RDX’s new feel may surprise longtime Acura buyers, even as it delights others.

But the RDX’s more mature driving demeanor is matched with a plusher interior that feels more like the luxury ride despite the presence of some hard plastic.

And, of course, it’s festooned with every manner of comfort and convenience accessory.

As in most Acuras, the instrument panel still has too many buttons, but at least they’re grouped together with some logic and become familiar with use. The seating position in both rows is high and comfortable, a rarity as too many competitors fit the second row with a low cushion to extract more headroom.

The RDX is no longer an overstuffed CR-V, playing the part of the larger, more comfortable luxury SUV it was meant to be. It is not as plush as some competing makes, but its price is more reasonable as well.

But it’s nowhere near as sporty as the vehicle it replaces. It’s a more effective competitor, but loyal Acura buyers may wonder if it’s a real Acura.

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