02/13/07 — RDX is sports car of crossovers

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RDX is sports car of crossovers

Acura RDX (2007)

If you need a third-row seat and enough towing capacity to pull a recreational vehicle or a boat, you can skip this review.

If you need the security of a sophisticated all-wheel drive system in a high-riding vehicle that goes fast, handles like a sports car and pampers its passengers with luxury appointments, then continue reading.

Acura RDX, 2007

In other words, if you want a small, nimble crossover with luxury intentions and loads of excitement, you have arrived at the right place.

The all-new compact 2007 Acura RDX caught our attention quickly and in a big way.

That’s because we don’t need room for more than four adults, we don’t tow anything and we love to drive.

We were smitten with this Acura more than with its big brother, the new MDX. While the MDX does a lot of things well —including hauling a half dozen people and pulling the family boat — it costs more, it’s more ponderous in its performance and handling and it’s too big for our needs.

The RDX is a new breed of animal, a small luxury crossover vehicle. The only real head-on competitor is the BMW X3.

But the two vehicles derive their relatively potent performance from different avenues.

The RDX is equipped with a 2.3-liter turbocharged 4-cylinder engine generating 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque. The more expensive BMW is powered by a 260-horsepower inline 6.

Perhaps the closest setup to the RDX is the Mazda CX-7, which is also propelled by a turbocharged 4-cylinder. Although it starts at nearly 8 grand less than the RDX, by the time it is equipped close to the level of the RDX, it comes in at almost the same price.

And the RDX offers some things not available on the Mazda as well as superior performance and handling.

After a couple hours on the road we weren’t surprised on reading performance statistics that were startlingly impressive.

Try this on for size in a vehicle that can haul up to 60 cubic feet of stuff — 0 to 60 mph in around 6.5 seconds, a quarter mile time of under 15 seconds and over 92 miles per hour, and skid pad numbers that simply outclass almost everything in the crossover segment regardless of size.

We had a load of fun throwing the RDX through the twists and turns and then accelerating on the straights. We were all smiles at the Acura’s precise and confidence-inspiring steering. We just loved the feel of the thick steering wheel in our hands.

OK, lets drop out of the clouds for a minute and realize that this is a not a sports car, but a high-rider with 6.3 inches of ground clearance.

One of the reasons the small Acura is a handling stalwart in the crossover ranks is an all-wheel drive system that not only moves torque from front to back, but from side to side as well. The torque management system not only helps in bad-weather situations, but in dry-road cornering maneuvers as well.

As much as 70 percent of the torque can be shifted to the rear wheels when accelerating and cornering, and up to 100 percent of that torque can be shifted to either side as conditions dictate.

The downside to the vehicle’s handling prowess is a stiff, giggly ride that may be off-putting to some sensitive behinds. We had no problem with the ride, but we encourage prospective buyers to travel some uneven pavement during the test drive.

Going fast in a hurry means a slight bit of turbolag, but it’s hard to detect and the wonderful urgency displayed at any speed through the five-speed automatic is smile-inducing. The vehicle’s go-fast persona is enhanced with standard paddle shifters on the steering wheel.

Some may be put off by the RDX styling, but we found it aggressive without being overdone. In fact, we prefer its lines to those of the new MDX, and we certainly prefer the more subdued grille treatment in the RDX.

The interior is a great place to live. The leather-trimmed seats are comfortable and supportive, and the gauges are as good as it gets. Three round hooded pods enclose backlit white, red and blue readouts that are as vivid in bright sun as they are at night. In addition to the speedometer, the center pod includes outside temperature, odometer and a display that shows the current torque split.

A wide swath of aluminum trim neatly breaks up the black textures. It can also be found along the edges of the center console and on the door pulls.

We highly recommend the $3,500 technology package, which includes a navigation system with real-time traffic updates, a rearview camera, Bluetooth connectivity for hands-free phoning and a premium 410-watt surround-sound audio system that can play either CDs or DVD audio discs.

In that configuration, the RDX comes with the requisite controller knob just below the navigation screen. But it’s easy to use and most of the climate and audio controls can be accessed independently of the controller.

Storage cubbies are handy and the center console bin is large enough to swallow up a small laptop computer.

Rear-seat passengers —provided there are only two — will find comfortable accommodations with enough head and leg room for long-distance travel.

And when carrying cargo is paramount, the seatbacks can be folded 60-40 to open the rear to 60.6 cubic feet of space. A very usable 27.8 cubic feet of storage resides behind the rear seats.

At first blush you may feel the RDX’s starting price is perhaps too high. The vehicle carries a base price of $33,665, but for that cash outlay virtually everything is provided. The only extra is the aforementioned technology package.

Some of the standard goodies include the all-wheel drive system, 18-inch alloy wheels, xenon headlights, side airbags and side-curtain airbags, stability control, traction control, tire-pressure monitoring system, leather upholstery, dual-zone automatic climate control, power moonroof, power up/down windows and cruise control.

We have already pronounced our love for the technology bundle.

As also noted, the RDX is not a towing machine with a rather meager rating of 1,500 pounds.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the RDX is its meager gas mileage rating of 19 city and 23 highway. Perhaps meager is too strong, but our disappointment was enhanced after reading several reports from auto testers who managed only high teens in mixed driving. And that is on the recommended premium gas.

We would bite the bullet, and perhaps even smile as we pulled up to the 91 octane tank, after a romp in the Acura.

With the RDX, it’s a small price to pay.

Jim Meachen can be contacted at meachen@mac.com.

By Jim Meachen
Published in Car Reviews on February 13, 2007 9:13 AM