October 16, 2006
Montreal, Quebec – The Acura RDX tries to bridge the gap between potential buyers’ emotional desires for a sport sedan – an entertaining driving experience, compact size and high style – with the more practical needs traditionally associated with SUVs, like practicality, cargo space and flexibility.
Its seating position is comfortable and sedan-like, if a bit higher than a usual sport sedan, while with the seats folded the cargo area can accommodate two mountain bikes. All this comes wrapped in tightly formed sheetmetal that gives the impression of tensed muscles. Nice details decorate the sheetmetal, too: there are turn-signal repeaters in the side mirrors, the hood bulges powerfully to suggest the engine’s turbocharged power and the 18-inch wheels are aggressive – though they’d look better if they were a couple of sizes bigger.
One psychological adjustment on my part was getting used to the RDX’s engine. Since I started driving, I’ve associated Acura with high-revving naturally aspirated engines – ones that produced their power way up high in the rev range but which were rewarding to drive aggressively. Still, Acura’s move to turbocharging is certainly logical: it allows the RDX to deliver the power (240 horses) and torque (260 lb-ft, the most of any Acura ever offered) of a larger six-cylinder engine along with the fuel economy of a four-cylinder.
The turbocharger itself is of a variable-flow type. Used for a long time in turbodiesel engines, it reduces turbo lag to almost nil and gives the RDX engine an uncommonly flexible and responsive character. There’s plenty of torque off the line for quick acceleration in the city, lots of passing power and instant kickdown on the highway, and the i-VTEC engine is as smooth and refined as you would expect from an Acura. The sensation, though, is a bit different: the 2.4-litre’s immense flexibility and elastic throttle response give it an almost Germanic character that’s reminiscent of the Volkswagen group’s 2.0-litre turbocharged direct-injection four – you rarely need to venture into high revs to make great progress, and the engine sound is deeper and fuller than other Acura efforts.
In practice, it works a treat in pretty much every driving situation thanks to a five-speed automatic transmission (with manual-shift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel should the mood strike) that seems to be always on the ball. Drive is, of course, delivered to all four wheels and the RDX uses a similar all-wheel drive system (Acura calls it "super handling" with an atypical lack of subtlety) to the RL sedan. In steady state driving, the system diverts 90 per cent of its power to the front axle, but it can adjust the torque split to 30/70 front/rear when needed. The system helps the RDX zip around corners with far less understeer than would be typical of a vehicle of this type. A fairly stiff ride and quick, sharp steering further reinforce the RDX’s sporty nature.
Like other Acuras, the RDX eschews traditional luxury-car design and instead presents a distinctly high-tech appearance to the driver – one that’s in line with Acura’s targeting of young, technically-oriented luxury buyers. While the materials are the same as you would find on other high-end vehicles: some piano-black trim here, a strip of aluminum there and lots and lots of buttons – the overall feel is much more technical, which, given the car’s high technological content, is no illusion.
The dashboard, for instance, is dominated as much by the central screen for the audio and climate controls as it is by the traditional gauges arrayed in front of the driver. There’s a large control knob first used on the RL sedan, and it pages through a series of screens that activate all of the car’s various electronic features. Order the technology package and you get a DVD-based navigation system with a built-in Zagat restaurant guide (perfect for foodies like me), voice control for all major functions, a rear backup camera, 410-watt DVD surround-sound stereo and Bluetooth connectivity for your cell phone. Get everything set up right, and you can leave your phone in your pocket and browse your address book and messages using the car’s built-in controls.
Of course, all of the other trappings of a luxury sport-ute are here too. The seats are very comfortable during highway drives and supportive during cornering; they’re trimmed in soft leather. The rear seats offer decent head- and legroom and you can split and fold them to expand the cargo area. Practical touches abound: there are more cupholders than there are seats, the storage bin in the console is big enough for a laptop (though it can be subdivided) and there are useful little cubbies everywhere, like sunglass holders in each of the doors.
The Acura brand is set to expand a lot in the next little while. It’s entering China this year, and the first Acuras will go on sale in Japan in 2008. As such, the RDX plays an important role in the company’s line-up, fleshing out its product portfolio with an entry in what is becoming a very competitive segment. Acura sees the BMW X3 as its main competition, and against that vehicle, the RDX looks like good value, as a well-equipped X3s can easily top over $50,000. Casting a wider net, Mazda’s hot new CX-7 lists for under $40,000 also pushes many of the same performance buttons and also has a nicely-finished interior. It’s not quite as upscale as the RDX – though its interior is very nice indeed, with a bit more space – but in driving terms, it’s even sportier, with an engine and drivetrain that really encourage aggressive driving.
The RDX enters the market at a good time: its only real premium-brand competitor right now is the X3, but Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Audi and others are set to launch new, smaller sport-utes in the next few years. Packed full of technology, fun to drive and one of the first entries in its market, the RDX should find a good audience in Canada, a country that has traditionally embraced the Acura brand.
At a glance: Acura RDX
Price: $42,000; $45,000 with technology package (estimate)
Engine: 2.3-litre turbocharged inline-four
Power: 240 hp
Torque: 260 lb-ft
Fuel consumption (city/highway): 12.4/9.8 L/100 km
Competition: Mazda CX-7, BMW X3, Infiniti FX35
Manufacturer’s web site