2013 Acura RDX AWD Tech vs. 2013 Infiniti EX37 Journey AWD: When price and passenger room are not a big concern.
Price: Acura, $40,315 as tested; Infiniti, $49,200 as tested.
Conventional wisdom: Oooo. Ahhhh.
Marketer's pitch: The Acura is "built for the size of your life." The Infiniti is "the ultimate personal expression."
Reality: Some oooage and ahhage, but not that much.
The challenge: Say you have around 40 grand (more or less) to blow on a nice crossover. You don't need a lot of space and you want a name that's going to make the neighbors at least look up from their iPhones when you drive past on the cul-de-sac.
Acura and Infiniti may not be the competitors one thinks of immediately, but the two luxury brands from longstanding Japanese carmakers (Acura comes from Honda and Infiniti from Nissan) offer crossovers at about the same price point. The vehicles go in dramatically different directions from there.
Inside: Both Acura and Infiniti bathe their owners in understated elegance. Buttons and shifters don't "click"; they glide like fancy silver knifes through gently whipped butter. Soft leather surfaces abound, and I'm sure the cows were honored to sacrifice their lives for such a worthy afterlife.
The Infiniti's simple elegance won me over. The RDX dashboard and door panels suffer from Acura Overdesign Syndrome. The many curved lines inside the RDX intersect so many times that it ends up looking like a Shar-Pei.
Perfect temperature: The always-roasted Mr. Driver's Seat and the lovely-but-chilly Mrs. Passenger Seat are the ideal test couple for dual-zone heating.
The Acura heats like most other vehicles, and I could feel her 81-degree sauna seeping into my 69-degree comfort zone. But the Infiniti's graciously dual-curved dash places the heater vents inside the curves, so they keep the temperatures on their OWN side. (Yes, the seat heater wars can devolve; at one point, Sturgis Kids 1.0 through 4.0 had to say, "Don't make us make you turn this car around.")
Friends and family: Perhaps I exaggerate. Surely, no family would put all four versions of its children together in the back seat, especially when three are adult children like the Sturgis Kids. In fact, even three is kind of brutal, especially in the Infiniti. The EX37 begins life as a rear-wheel-drive vehicle, and thus inflicts Center Humpitis, which is the pain in the ankles and knees one gets from sitting over Mount Driveshaft.
The Acura also offers more headroom and footroom for passengers. Still, even the Acura is surprisingly tight up above, considering how much taller it is than the EX37.
Cargo: The Acura also carries more people's stuff. Behind the rear seat, it offers 26.1 cubic feet of space, while the Infiniti has just 18.6.
Infotainment: The RDX offers Acura's typical setup, with a white-letter stereo readout underneath the LCD display. But the stereo information also shows up on the LCD if desired. Still, it's light-years behind Cadillac's latest offerings -- and even Ford's. It's like the difference between my old LG flip phone with the QWERTY keyboard and the iPhone.
Infiniti should be commended for keeping the best parts of the olden days. Two knobs positioned just underneath the LCD screen at the left and right were instantly recognizable. I knew right away the left one was for volume and the right for tuning the radio (or XM, here in the 21st century). Every stereo system should be this easy.
But the EX37 gets points off for the pretty silver analog clock with hash marks for every five minutes. When your life revolves around traffic, approximate is not close enough.
Premium sound? Both sound systems were well above average. But Infiniti should note, I'm never impressed with a "premium" sound system that doesn't have a midrange adjustment, just bass and treble. It really misses out on the full range of sound without it.
Similar prices, different vehicles: Buy a barebones Acura RDX two-wheel drive and the power comes from the front wheels. A cheaper EX37, however, drives only the rear. So from the bottom up, these two crossovers travel different paths.
Under the hood: The Acura offers 273 horsepower from its 3.5-liter V6. The acceleration is a delight; my notes include the scrawl, "This Acura really kicks."
A larger 3.7-liter V-6 differentiates the 2013 EX37 from the previous EX35 (which had a 3.5-liter engine). The engine produces a rocking 325 horses for speed aficionados. And yet, perhaps because the Infiniti tips the scales at a beefy 4,017 pounds, it's more lethargic than the comparatively lithe 3,852-pound Acura.
Getting in gear: The EX37 power is transferred through a seven-speed automatic gearbox with shift capability, while the RDX has just six gears.
I have to say, though, the shift capability does not translate into shiftability. It's just not all that fun to row through the gears in some vehicles and the EX37 is one of them. And don't get me started on the steering-wheel paddle shifters like those offered in the RDX. Click. Wow. I shifted. Snore.
Sturgis Kid 4.0, age 12, notes the EX37 always sounds like it's going fast, so the hum of the exhaust note is nice. The Acura is a more sedate soundtrack.
On the curves: The handling in the Acura is crisp and has good feedback from the road, but it's not extremely sporty. The EX37 is even a bit more mundane. This surprised me because the RDX stands a full 4 inches taller than the EX37.
Neither had the taut steering of, say, the Mazda CX-5 or the Volkswagen Tiguan crossovers.
Driver's seat: Driver comfort in both vehicles was phenomenal. Gauges are easy to read, while controls are thoughtfully designed and easy to reach.
Night shift: The lighting available to EX37 occupants throughout the vehicle is helpful and not too bright. But people searching for cargo in the rear at night will need a flashlight; the tiny light on the door offers little assistance, and the searcher can eclipse what little illumination is offers.
The RDX lighting did the job for passengers as well as cargo hunters.
Technology: The AroundView Monitor that drew my raves in the review of the Infiniti JX35 comes as part of the $3,050 Infiniti EX37 Premium Package (which also adds navigation, larger LCD monitor, Bose premium sound, advanced climate control and more). The AroundView 's four fish-eye cameras and software almost give drivers a Google Earth view of the vehicle when backing up.
Acura has a backup camera, too.
I spent my time with the EX37 during Hurricane Sandy in eastern Pennsylvania, and I learned that this (and probably every other) camera system needs one more feature added: a dryer/defroster. Water on the camera renders it almost completely ineffective, although Infiniti's little sonar wave drawings that change color depending on an object's distance adds another failsafe. Still, here's a reminder that you still need to learn how to back up using your mirrors (and your eyes and your brain).
Fuel economy: The Acura RDX posted just under 24 mpg. I observed about 22 mpg in the EX37. The mileage was recorded in a mix of highway and suburban driving. Feed both vehicles premium only.
Where they're built: The Acura comes to us from nearby East Liberty, Ohio, while the Infiniti hails from Tochigi, Japan.
How they're built: Both vehicles get above-average marks in Consumer Reports reliability testing.
In the end: Lovers of the tried-and-true who need a real back seat would find the Acura a more rewarding purchase, while people interested in pushing the envelope and not carrying passengers or cargo might find the EX37 a better choice. Me? I don't find enough delight in either not to save almost half my money and get a Mazda CX-5.
But if I HAD to have luxury from these makers, I'd go for the Acura TSX wagon or spring for the Infiniti JX35.
Scott Sturgis, a freelance auto writer, can be reached at email@example.com. First Published February 13, 2013 5:00 AM