Honda Killed Its "Best Performance Engine" Because It Wasn't Very Good
Doing things The Honda Way involves as much blind faith in one’s methods as it does a quantifiable formula for success. While the company has had many successes (the 1973 Civic right up until the most recent Civic), there have been mis-steps, like the first-generation Odyssey and the lack of a V6 in the 1994-1997 Accords. The one common denominator is that no matter what, Honda remains convinced that their way is the best and only way of doing things, and they’re not interested in hearing any other opinions.
As much as the 2012 Civic takes its lumps in the public arena, the first-generation RDX is a great example of “The Honda Way” gone awry. The 2.3L turbocharged engine was hailed by Autoblog in today’s editorial as “Honda’s Best Performance Engine”, but they apparently forgot about the K20, F22C and the B-Series and H-Series VTEC motors of a previous era. The K23A1 was laggy, erratic in its power delivery and mated to an uninspiring 5-speed automatic transmission for most of its life. The 6-speed transmission was improved, but not enough that most consumers would know or care or even use the paddle shifters. A dismal 17/22 mpg rating was the official number, anything that slightly deviated from a perfect EPA test cycle (i.e. sudden lane changes and merging situations, uphill driving, cold climates, snow tires) saw a noticeable drop in fuel economy and a thirst for premium gasoline didn’t help. The RDX later offered front-drive to go along with its SH-AWD system, a lovely feature that was ultimately wasted on the small crossover clientele, and the bespoke platform Acura engineered to accommodate the RDX.
The new RDX has been criticized by the B&B as being little more than a re-badged CR-V with a V6 engine. I haven’t heard confirmation of that, but it wouldn’t be so bad. The new CR-V won’t cause tachycardiya, but it’s a fine car to drive and full of practical features that will make people’s lives easier, like a low load floor and one-touch folding rear seats – the kinds of things that matter in the crossover segment rather than lateral g numbers and 0-60 times. Power is up to 273 horsepower and 20/28 mpg (city/highway) for front-drive models and 19/27. The SH-AWD will be missed by few, and the K23A1 even fewer.
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I happened to like this engine a lot. My dad, who leased three Explorers (a '94 that hit a deer, a great 5.0L V8 '97, and a crap 2000 V8 AWD) and two Honda Pilots (a 2003 and a 2006--I learned to drive on both) leased his first 2009 RDX in July '09 and turned in his lease a few months early on a red 2012 model. I drove the RDX a few times on my own and found it to be a pretty peppy little trucklet, even if the ride was very bouncy. The interior's nice, the AWD system wasn't so bad, and it had plenty of midrange power. I'm not going to disagree that some of the new Acuras this year (the new RDX and ILX) are disappointing. But the K23A1 engine isn't that bad.
The real kicker here is the current gen Civic was delayed an extra year b/c Honda did not like what it saw at that time. Imagine how bad it could have been I guess.