The Acura RDX is a premium crossover SUV designed for sporty driving.
The RDX features a 240-horsepower, turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a five-speed automatic with paddle shifters, a firm independent suspension made for cornering, and Acura's patented SH-AWD system (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive). This last system delivers a higher proportion of power to the outside rear wheel under hard cornering, thus keeping the car in line and enhancing cornering performance.
RDX comes trimmed in leather, no cloth interior is available. Standard equipment includes luxury features such as a power moonroof and dual-zone climate control.
In short, the RDX is designed for drivers who do not want to compromise cornering for a comfortable ride (hence, the firm suspension), but want upscale accommodations. It also needs to be someone who doesn't care about dramatic or distinctive styling, because the RDX resembles the Honda CR-V.
For 2009, RDX gets a four-way power-adjustable front passenger seat as standard equipment. The AcuraLink real-time traffic system includes more coverage, with 77 metro areas. RDX was launched as a 2007 model.
The Acura RDX is about one inch longer in wheelbase than the Honda CR-V, and two inches longer overall. The appearance of the two cars is similar. RDX has sculpting on the sides.
The nose of the RDX is its most distinctive feature. The grille is a wide shallow vee, the Acura theme, but under that is a black air intake with opposing angles, riding on top of the bumper. And under the bumper is another air opening. The intercooled turbo under the hood needs a lot of air.
Behind the C-pillar there's a small window that you can't really discern because the C-pillar is black and the window is tinted so darkly. From the inside, it affords good visibility, with no major blind spots when looking over your shoulder.
Between the taillights, surrounding the large license plate indent, the sheet metal on the liftgate is subtly molded into the shape of the vector, suggesting the Acura symbol or theme.
The Acura RDX dashboard cascades with colors, textures and levels. The top is wide and flat black vinyl, there's a three-inch-tall strip of dark titanium plastic in the center, broken by the display screen and, at the bottom, it turns to smooth vinyl in light gray. The top and the plastic strip are grained with minutely raised crossed diagonal lines, a sort of diamond-like golf-ball effect. So there are three textures and three colors.
On the top center of the dashboard, tucked under the windshield, is a narrow digital display that indicates time of day, radio station, the interior temperature setting on each side of the car, and where the vents are pointed. It's hard to see in sunlight.
The navigation system is controlled by a big ugly knob in the center of the center stack. It pushes in, up, down, left and right. Acura has an excellent reputation for its navigation systems. We've found them among the best and easiest to operate.
We found the rearview monitor fuzzy, and dim at night (which might be from dim backup lights), often too dark to be useful at dusk or on overcast days.
The perforated leather seats are comfortable, and the driver can perch up high to see over the short nose of the car. The driver's seat has eight-way power with power lumbar support, and the passenger's seat has four-way power adjustment. Both front seats have high and low heat settings.
The gauges are nicely lit at night, in blue and white. The tachometer is at left, with the redline at 6800 rpm, and an insert that shows turbocharger boost. A big speedometer is in the center with an information display inside it, and on the right is a spot of similar size which contains a gear-selection indicator and a fuel-level gauge. It would be nice if there was a temperature gauge because, as it is, you can find the engine's temperature only by using the information display inside the speedometer, and scrolling through other information to find it.
The information display can also show which wheels are getting the power with the SH-AWD, or Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. This system sends more power to the outside rear wheel when the car is cornering aggressively, which keeps it on line, but that's exactly the time you'd not want to look down to check the display. There's also an instantaneous fuel mileage display, consisting of a bar ranging from 0 to 50 mpg, but we did not find it to be easily readable.
The EPA-rated mileage is 17/22 mpg City/Highway. We got 17.6 miles per gallon (on premium fuel) at an average of 34 mph running stop-and-go on the freeway and 80 mph when the traffic was less crowded. The fuel mileage didn't change much after that, with mostly around-town driving.
The leather-wrapped steering wheel feels nice in your hands, if busy, with controls for a half-dozen or more things, including paddles for upshifting and downshifting the sequential transmission. It has three spokes, at 3, 9 and 6 o'clock, and they're trimmed in aluminum-look plastic, with a design that makes the wheel look like a scale model of a space station.
There are terrific grab handles for closing the front and rear doors, something we wish all cars had.
There are nice little storage compartments, and a very deep center console compartment, with trays at the bottom that lift out to reveal a hidden spot that's another couple inches deep. It's 16.9 inches from front to back, 12.2 inches deep and 5.5 inches wide, big enough for a laptop or briefcase, and it's lockable.
The parking brake pedal seems too low, as it can interfere with moving your left foot from the rest position to the brake pedal, for those who choose to brake with the left foot. We would sometimes catch the toe of our left shoe on the parking brake when moving our foot into position to use the brake.
There seems to be decent knee room in the rear seat; we had a tall passenger back there who said she had enough room, even though the specification of 37.7 inches seems pretty tight. The rear passengers have cupholders in the folding armrest, door pockets and map pockets in the front seatbacks, and the 60/40 rear seatbacks will fold flat, after the seat cushions are flipped up against the front seatbacks.
Cargo space behind the rear seat is in short supply, with just 27.8 cubic feet, but then this isn't a big SUV. With the rear seats lowered, there's 60.6 cubic feet.
The most fun you can have with an Acura RDX is driving it through corners like a sports car. It does a great job of this. The paddle-shifting transmission shifts smoothly and obeys your input.
This is the first turbocharged car Acura has ever made. Honda has been the technology leader with small engines for a long time and this 2.3-liter turbo is about as high-tech as they come. The turbocharger changes the power characteristics quite a lot from the more peaky Acura TSX, although it doesn't smooth out the engine. It has 260 pound-feet of torque, and no turbo lag, but when the transmission is in Drive, it kicks up and down a lot when you're driving casually uphill. Apparently the turbo confuses it, something we'd seen in the past with Volkswagen's 2.0T turbos. To stop it, you have to use the Sport mode and shift manually.
In the Sport mode, the transmission obeys your manual-shift commands except when you downshift at an engine speed the system thinks is too high, or upshift at one it thinks is too low. Then at least it tells you that it's rejected your input with a flashing light.
In stop-and-go freeway traffic, we found it difficult to accelerate smoothly. It has a drive-by-wire throttle; we have found many other cars with this type of electronic system also to have very sensitive throttles, and we wonder if the technology still has a ways to go. In any case, this does not make the RDX a great commuter car in heavy traffic.
A bigger flaw than a quick throttle or unsettled transmission is the ride. A front-seat passenger said she could feel every bump, especially on the freeway. We could feel them too. It was like a jolt over the freeway ridges.
Of course, this firmness in the suspension enables the RDX to perform like a sports car around the corners. Acura boasts that it will out-corner a BMW X3, which was developed on the Nurburgring circuit in Germany. So, good for the RDX. But is it worth the trade-off, if the suspension can't also offer a comfortable ride on the freeway? Maybe. You decide.
We drove one RDX in California then spent a week in another in the Northwest, just in time for snow and ice. We tested the ABS by slamming on the brakes going down a steep hill with hard-packed snow at 20 miles per hour. The response was beautiful; it took a long time to get stopped, but we were able to steer anywhere we wanted, without sliding, while our foot was mashed to the pedal. We should point out that the P235/55R18 Michelin Pilot tires are considered high-performance all-season, meaning they weren't made for this sort of thing; all-season means three seasons, winter not being one of them.
Then we went to a slushy parking lot, and tried to cut donuts at hard throttle, to test the VSA electronic stability control. The RDX just turned in tight circles, without much sliding; it was pretty amazing.
A couple days later the slush froze into sheer, lumpy ice and we returned to the bottom of our steep hill. The city had put up barriers because the road was considered dangerous. We drove around the barrier and charged uphill, and it was fascinating to feel the all-wheel-drive work, and watch the readout on the instrument panel indicate with bars which of the four tires was getting the torque, based on how slippery it was under each tire at any moment. The all-wheel-drive system, which can send 70 percent of its torque to the rear wheels, struggled for grip, its computer sensors playing the throttle and brakes on and off at four separate wheels at lightning speed, and we made it to the top. This was very impressive, especially with those high-performance, wide-profile, all-season tires that were not intended for dealing with such severe conditions.
In winter conditions like these, you can't beat a high-tech vehicle, with all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, electronic stability control, six airbags and xenon headlamps, not to mention heated seats and heated mirrors.
The Acura RDX is a compact crossover sport-utility built more for sporty performance than comfortable cruising. The 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine is turbocharged to produce 240 horsepower, and it isn't tame. The firm suspension is aimed at cornering, and doesn't make many compromises. The RDX has some desirable touches inside the cabin and quality engineering, but buyers should make sure the ride and throttle response are smooth enough for their daily driving.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Sam Moses test drove Acura RDX models in California and the Pacific Northwest.