2009 Acura RDX (top); 2009 Kia Sportage LX-V6 Luxury. Click image to enlarge
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By Paul Williams
At the time of this writing, it is minus 27 degrees Celsius on a clear January day in Ottawa (minus 15 on the old Fahrenheit scale). The Acura RDX has been a real trooper so far this winter, but right now it’s in the driveway, exposed to the elements, and frozen through-and-through.
Surprisingly (or not, I suppose), the driver’s door won’t open. Hmmm. The rear door is okay, though, and being a limber fellow, I gain entry through it, and clamber over the centre console into the front seat, which greets me like a lump of ice; hard and just as cold. The key turns as if it’s embedded in molasses, and the battery slowly cranks the engine. It fires willingly on the second crank, and settles into a fast idle.
On the radio, many people are reporting stuck doors, it turns out, and that their power windows are frozen (usually learning this at the Tim Horton’s drive-through), but the RDX windows are fine, and after a short drive, so is the door.
First order of business is to turn the seat warmer to “high,” and after that I get underway. The transmission shifts smoothly into drive, and on the road the RDX is functioning normally. But the steering wheel creaks when you turn it, which is something I’ve noticed with this vehicle when it gets cold. The roads are generally clear, but it’s icy in patches, and slippery at intersections. In places, you can hear the packed snow crunch under the tires.
In severe winter conditions, this is one of the best-handling vehicles I’ve ever driven. Its stability and predictability inspire confidence no matter how deep the snow, or slippery the surface. I can’t say whether you’d have the same experience on all-season tires, but I can say that the combination of Acura’s SH-AWD with the Michelin X-Ice tires is awesome. There has not been an occasion where I’ve felt at all unsure about this vehicle, and we’ve experienced some very challenging conditions.
The climate control is equally adept. Windows remain clear and visibility all around is good. Warm air enters the cabin fairly quickly, but you have to crank up the temperature to feel toasty, as I’ve mentioned in earlier reports in this series. The seats, thankfully, take only a few minutes to warm up.
2009 Acura RDX. Click image to enlarge
And that large centre-console storage box is like having a suitcase between the front seats. You can store a laptop, gloves, wallet, CDs, camera, glasses, pens, notepad, and your lunch in it with room to spare. Very nice! Rear cargo capacity is also generous and useful.
Fuel consumption — city driving for the most recent tank — is 12.8 L/100 km. This is quite acceptable for a Compact SUV in the depths of winter, although the RDX’s turbocharged engine requires premium fuel. On the highway, about 9.0 L/100 km is the norm.
If you’re thinking of a vehicle in the Compact Luxury segment, you won’t be disappointed by the Acura RDX interior fit and finish. It’s impeccable. But the multitude of knobs and switches in front of the driver are something to consider if you like simple and intuitive controls. The RDX does have voice activation, though, so you can say “Rear defrost on,” and it does just that (and you don’t have to use a commanding voice, I’ve learned; you can speak naturally and it obeys just fine). The navigation system is easy to use and its big display requires only a quick glance to get your bearings.
However, I never was able to pair my BlackBerry with the Acura hands-free system, which stubbornly resisted my efforts to the end. In comparison, using the “UConnect” system from Chrysler was a piece of cake, as was my cheapo BlueAnt aftermarket interface, so I think Acura has some refining to do here (something like, “Bluetooth device found; do you want to pair?” would work).
But this series is about winter driving, and in this the Acura excels. Starting, cornering and stopping are all first rate, leading me to conclude that owners will feel confident and secure behind the wheel of an RDX in the most trying conditions. Just take your time, though, and remember that maximizing space around your vehicle is the key to safe winter driving.
By Grant Yoxon
It may have been minus 27 in downtown Ottawa where my colleague Paul Williams lives, but out here in the suburbs, it was minus 31.
2009 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge
But what difference does it really make? Cold is cold and when it is that cold, machinery can be finicky.
Having been away on business, the Kia Sportage hadn’t moved in a couple of days, yet it started right up on the first try, albeit with an odd groan from under the hood (a protest?). I scurried back inside and gave the poor vehicle a chance to warm up a bit.
When we returned five minutes later, we found that the front passenger door was frozen shut and my daughter had to climb over the centre console to get into the passenger seat, a preferable option to sitting in the back (both rear doors worked fine) because of the Kia’s incredible seat heater.
I may have whined about the powerful heat in the seat in the first edition of this series, but on this morning I was eternally grateful for the rump roaster.
While front seat heaters are available only in the Sportage’s top trim level LX-V6 Luxury, Kia is increasingly adding the feature at lower trim levels in new models. In the new Rondo for example, front seat heaters are standard equipment in all trims except the base model.
As we got underway, everything seemed to be working properly with the odd exception of the AM/FM band on the radio. Sirius satellite radio was working fine, but we got only dead air on the AM and FM bands.
By the time we arrived at my daughter’s school, just a ten-minute drive away, the door had thawed and AM/FM was back. In fact, the car had warmed up enough that my hat and gloves were now sitting in the back seat and I’d turned the heater back several notches to keep the interior from becoming too hot!
2009 Kia Sportage. Click image to enlarge
Equipped with winter tires, which arrived the second week of our test, the Kia Sportage became a confident winter driver. With a full chest of winter driving tools including torque-on-demand all wheel drive, a 50/50 locking torque split, traction control, ABS brakes and electronic stability control, we encountered nothing in daily driving – that included heavy snow and bone chilling temperatures – that gave us or the Kia any cause for concern.
Not all winter driving is about staying on slippery roads. In fact for most of us, it is enduring 90-minute commutes on clogged freeways amid breakdowns, accidents and impatient drivers. In this respect, the Kia Sportage LX-V6 Luxury also excelled. Its comfortable and warm leather seats, glove safe switchgear, excellent defroster and diverse audio system made the bumper-to-bumper stop-and-go not only endurable but almost enjoyable.
The standard six-speaker Kia audio system includes AM/FM radio, CD player, auxiliary input for an MP3 player and a USB port. The LX-V6 Luxury adds Sirius satellite radio. If you can’t find something interesting to listen to, there is always silence.
For a compact SUV, there is plenty of cargo space in the back and rear seat passengers have good leg and head room. While the centre console is a bit small and low to hold much stuff or act as an armrest, there is room for two large hot cups of coffee ahead of the gear shift – easy to reach during the frequent stop and go traffic we’ve encountered in Ottawa during the past month.
With the bus strike and heavy traffic in Ottawa, there is no such thing as a highway within city limits. Every road is slow. Fuel consumption for the full test ran about 12.2 L/100 km in 100 per cent city driving, pretty good fuel economy for a V6-powered SUV considering that on some days the temperatures dictated a warm up period.
I didn’t wish for much in the Kia Sportage, though at times I did wish for an engine coolant gauge and an outside temperature gauge, but at -27 or -31 it’s all the same. Cold is cold. What more do you need to know?