April 10, 2007
The other day, I bought a small countertop food processor device which promised to take care of all of my food preparation needs with a single machine. A young lady in a red shirt at the hardware store told me about how it grates cheese, crushes ice, and even makes easy egg-salad, salsa and smoothies.
That’s not quite the way the story unfolded once I brought it home though.
What my new device does do is turn whatever unfortunate food you insert into a thick, lumpy paste – enough to make most realize that sometimes grating cheese, crushing ice, and making coleslaw are best left done by different machines.
The crossover SUV market presents much the same problem. Having tried a half dozen or so of the latest new models, I’ve never so often been left feeling like I was driving around in a great big identity crisis.
You see, if it’s space and capability you’re after, you could get an SUV. But with current fuel prices, you may find it difficult to drive missing an appendage or two. So perhaps a sedan would do the trick, except that it won’t likely hold five people and all of their hockey gear, let alone tow your ATV’s to camp. A minivan then? Nobody with a pulse seems to want one of those anymore, and that leaves us with the station wagon – a breed of machines which died off decades ago despite a few decent models on the market today.
Seems a confounding problem, finding something big but not thirsty, and capable but not brutish. And imagine you were after something fun to drive on top of that. You’d be just about out of luck.
Besides, a performance coupe won’t tow your trailer to camp, and your average SUV isn’t going to help you hunt apexes any more than your average teenager is going to help you cut the lawn.
Not so long ago, someone got the bright idea of creating a machine that combined the benefits of a car, truck, minivan and SUV – and the result was called a Crossover. It’s a vague classification, but the easiest way to identify one is to look for a sort of rounded-off SUV with some form of all-wheel-drive instead of a selectable 4×4 system.
One such example is the Acura RDX Turbo. It starts at $41,000 and is a far less costly alternative to the garage full of machinery it aims to replace. Equal parts luxury sedan, SUV and sports car, it promises room, fun, capability and decent fuel economy. It’s also proved itself worthy of the Automobile Journalists Association of Canada’s pick as Canadian Utility Vehicle of the year – certainly a nice addition to any vehicle’s resume.
The RDX has a tall stance, decent ground clearance, wagon-like body configuration and all-wheel drive. As such, there’s plenty of room for four or five people and their things, and capability to match. It can even pull a decent sized trailer – like an SUV. Exterior styling is nothing like an SUV though. It looks nothing like a big clumsy truck, and its angular and potent looking bodywork is sculpted just like a racy coupe. It’s visually delicious from just about any angle – except the front. Last time I saw a face like the RDX’s, it had a fish-hook through its lip.
Inside, there are power heated leather seats, a stereo system with CD changer and subwoofer, sunroof, power everything and fantastic build quality – like a luxury car. The RDX has more vigour and passion applied to its interior design than most competitors.
The appointments are youthful, energetic and dynamically styled: a plethora of aluminum and chrome against a black background that lights up electric blue at night thanks to the electroluminescent gauges and LED mood-lighting.
But in fairness, all sorts of vehicles nowadays have features like these- even pickup trucks. But not all sorts of vehicles have a turbocharged, intercooled engine and performance-tuned suspension. In fact, such features are almost exclusively reserved for sports cars.
The seats are too comfortable for a sports car though. The visibility is great too, and it’s mostly easy to get into and out of, though perhaps squeezing the legs under the steering wheel is a touch tight. There’s plenty of storage, everywhere, and the centre console even has dividers installed and is large enough for your favourite laptop.
Enough room exists at every outboard seat to make occupants feel encapsulated as if they were in a smaller machine, while giving them each adequate space.
Fire up the engine, and its quiet starter and inaudible idle hum back up the luxurious character carried forward by the interior. But this engine is special – the first engine from the Japanese automaker in North America to carry a turbocharger. The RDX is one of a few new boosted machines on the road to carry a factory boost pressure gauge. It’s a lovely distraction.
First thing that comes to mind when a machine carries a turbocharged engine? Raw performance of course.
This is backed up by the dangerous looking red “TURBO” decal on the tachometer. There’s VTEC too – Honda’s valve-train trickery which makes a stout wail at higher rpm’s as the cam timing is adjusted for maximum performance. Put your foot down though, and it’s a bit of a different story.
Not that it doesn’t scoot: it’s even a few ticks faster than the comparable Mazda CX7 which has virtually the same output and weight. But the turbocharger is so well integrated with the 2.3-litre engine that you barely notice it’s there, except for a touch of lag and the odd surge here and there. You almost never hear it working either – and to some that’s half the fun.
The boost reduces the peaky, high-revving character associated with VTEC mills in favour of a broad, flat, rubbery power band. Additionally, as with most turbocharged engines, it doesn’t sound quite as exciting either.
The aural feedback of a turbocharger or the VTEC system are noises which can be exaggerated or eliminated – and in this case engineers chose the latter – dulling down what might have been a far more exciting marriage of technologies.
A common question is whether or not the smaller boosted engine is better or worse on fuel consumption than a comparably powerful V6. The answer is not an easy one.
Driving very gently, a larger V6 engine won’t be working as hard as a turbo-four, and once the boost is engaged, the four-cylinder mill can easily slurp through fuel as quickly as a V6. It all comes down to your driving habits. I achieved mileage figures of about 15 L/100km in combined city and driving with Toyota’s RAV4 V6 sport. My mileage while driving the RDX Turbo over the course of 2000 kilometres was notably higher, around 16.5 L/100km. It only drinks the expensive stuff, which is about 10 to 15 cents per litre more costly. The turbo-four proved pricier to feed, though plenty more fun to drive.
Of course, a V6 engine could have served up just as much snap, though V6’s are heavier – and in a smaller machine like the RDX, the more compact four-banger is a favourable choice for handling and balance. These are two traits that the RDX presents flawlessly to its drivers.
Truly, when the opportunity presents itself for some high speed cornering, the RDX is pure precision. The ride is very stiff, and the springs have only slightly more flex than your average marble countertop. But if there’s any similar machine on this side of affordability that handles as well, I’d have trouble thinking of what it was.
The steering is direct and precise though a touch heavy at times, especially when making quick manoeuvres. It’s got a great level of feedback, and coupled with the stiff ride and the quick ratio to the rack, it becomes apparent that the RDX doesn’t so much try to pamper performance hungry drivers as it demands their attention and draws them into the experience.
For further exhilaration, there are shift paddles which control the transmission and put the engine’s brunt right at the driver’s fingertips. There isn’t even need to engage a special mode from the stubby gear lever to use them. It’s not a true F1 based system – there is a noticeable delay in reaction time, though it proved plenty of fun.
All in all, with its space, luxuries, performance and unique looks, the RDX comes off less as an SUV and more as a sports sedan wearing a backpack. It’s almost a no-brainer choice if you’re looking for the most entertaining way to spend about $40,000 on a slightly unconventional vehicle with four-season capability.
Driving enthusiasts have families too. That said, few machines make more sense.
Pricing: 2007 Acura RDX
Base price $41,000
AC Tax: $ 100
Freight charge $ 1,430
Price as tested $42,530
Manufacturer’s web site