Brent Romans, Senior Automotive Editor
Were the 2007 Acura RDX given a Chinese zodiac sign, its birth would fall under the year of the Fire Dog. Astrological traits include loyalty, passion, intelligence and, with a bit of speculation on our part, the ability to shoot flames out of one's mouth while barking.
No doubt Acura would be very happy if people see the Fire Dog's qualities in its new RDX. This is a new compact luxury SUV and represents the latest trend in the SUV segment. As a counter to your neighbor's hulking 'Slade, the RDX's auto-zodiac traits have it being smaller, less conspicuous and more fuel-efficient, but with enough toys to keep the bourgeoisie happy. Vive la résistance!
All-new platform Alas, it was not the French who came up with the RDX but those crafty Honda/Acura engineers from Japan and America. The RDX, which will be priced in the mid-$30Ks, is built at the same Marysville, Ohio, plant as the TL sedan. It features an all-new unibody structure and doesn't have much similarity to the TL or any other Acura or Honda product.
Direct competition includes the BMW X3 and some non luxury-branded small SUVs, such as the Mazda CX-7 and Toyota RAV4. Compared to BMW's X3, the RDX is almost identical in length, width and height. The main variation on the spec sheet is that the RDX has about a 6-inch-shorter wheelbase and wider front and rear tracks.
The suspension is fully independent, with MacPherson struts in front and a multilink design for the rear. But with only 6.3 inches of ground clearance, standard 18-inch wheels and low-profile tires, the RDX is as comfortable in the backwoods as Shakira in Jimmy Choos.
Instead, Acura envisions its latest baby as an SUV version of the TSX sedan. Design goals included a sporty drive, contemporary styling and, like all Acuras, plenty of features and value. The hope is that it will appeal to younger urbanites looking to trade up out of a regular sedan or small SUV.
Boosted performance The styling is certainly contemporary but does little to elicit emotion. For that, one needs to check out what's underneath the hood. Here lies an all-new 2.3-liter double-overhead-cam turbocharged inline four with i-VTEC. It produces wait. Turbocharged? What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?
For the Honda faithful, this must come across as a dramatic shock. Acura's engineers say they went this route because new technologies became available that made a turbo four a better design choice than a normally aspirated V6.
Developed in conjunction with Mitsubishi, this variable-flow turbo is meant to combine the best qualities of small and large turbos. Electronically controlled, a special valve increases exhaust gas velocity into the turbo housing at low speeds by restricting the inlet area, enabling the impeller to speed up more quickly. At higher engine speeds where gas flow is abundant, the valve opens progressively to maintain optimum flow.
Variable-flow turbos aren't new, but Acura says its patented design, in which the exhaust gases are regulated before they enter the turbocharger rather than within, significantly improves long-term durability. Air exiting the turbo is cooled via an air-to-air intercooler before making its way to the engine's combustion chambers.
Superhero AWD The result is 240 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4,500 rpm. Power is sent through a five-speed automatic transmission to a standard all-wheel-drive system. Unlike the 4WD system fitted to the Honda CR-V, the RDX has an all-wheel-drive system (SH-AWD) similar to the one used for the RL luxury sedan.
The SH of SH-AWD stands for Super Handling. The system is able to not only distribute torque between the front and rear axles but also between the left and right wheels. The result is a claimed improvement in steering and power response during cornering, as extra drive torque can be supplied to the outside rear tire.
On our drive with the RDX around San Francisco, we found that Acura has put together some pretty sweet running gear. Acceleration isn't life-changing — the RDX's 2-ton curb weight and AWD see to that — but this crossover SUV is certainly quick. The engine seems to have been tuned to be torque-friendly down low but still somewhat "revvy" like other Acura engines. Power comes on strong after about 2,000 and stays there until the 6,800 rpm redline.
Transmission gearchanges are prompt and Acura has fitted F1-style paddles on the steering wheel for drivers who want to do manual sequential shifts. Thanks to the well-tuned suspension, SH-AWD, quick steering and 235/55-series tires, the RDX can be driven hard on a canyon road with a minimum of drama and plenty of fun. On regular city streets, the ride quality is well within the limits for comfortable driving and commuting.
Not much U in this SUV This means that the RDX is designed to be best at what people typically use SUVs for — general daily use. The interior is classy and upscale in appearance. Two adults in the back should be pretty comfortable, as there's more rear headroom and legroom than in the TSX.
More reassuring is that just about everything comes standard. Main features include HID headlights, a moonroof, leather seating, dual-zone automatic climate control, a power driver seat, a six-CD changer audio system with an aux jack, and a 6.5-inch LCD display.
Antilock brakes, stability control, front side airbags and full-length side curtain airbags are also standard. Opting for the RDX's Technology package adds an 8-inch LCD screen, navigation with real-time traffic information in 31 metro areas, a premium Acura/ELS surround sound audio system, Bluetooth connectivity and additional display and control features.
Seeing an Acura RDX in your future The 2007 Acura RDX represents the latest morph of the SUV. It looks like an SUV and it's called an SUV, but it drives and functions pretty much like a premium four-door hatchback. No matter what description is used, this new Acura should appeal to those looking for a vehicle that's fun to drive and possesses more utility than the average sedan.
Will it find success? Perhaps its zodiac is indeed favorable. After all, it's from the year of the Fire Dog, not the Metal Pig.
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