Acura RDX: Putting the Sport in SUV

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For many years we have scoffed at the acronym SUV as almost without exception such a designation has been given an overweight, underpowered, gas swilling insult to the environment and common sense. Indeed SUV was an oxymoron. How could a utility vehicle, one meant for hauling heavy loads, going off-road, and still be able to carry a family be sporty? They weren’t. Of course, there was the ultra expensive and troubled Porsche Cayenne and the BMW X5, which had little interior space that were fast and handled well. But for $50,000 and up who is really going to take these insurance agent’s dream comes true anywhere but the local mall.

Along comes the $34,000 Acura RDX and changes the equation in terms of sportiness, although still lacking in interior room. It is a corner clinger and can get to 60 mph in about seven seconds. It is a tidy ride with a lot more hot rod than luxury vehicle feel. The wide tires generate a lot of interior noise and the turbocharged 2.3 engine that divulges 240 horsepower has a raspy note, but all this is forgiven when the RDX is pushed. The 260 pound-feet of torque are ready to play most anywhere on the RPM dial and the five-speed automatic can be manipulated with steering wheel paddles to keep everything on boil. In other words, this is truly a sporty utility vehicle if you are willing to put up with a smaller cargo capacity and gas mileage in the 18-mpg range on premium.

Mom’s view: Good brakes, small and easy to maneuver in traffic and crowded parking lots, the Acura RDX is a nice combination for a small family with a husband who was forced to give up his sports car.  There are some expensive options that can push the price into the $38,000 range, but might be worth it if this is your only car. Otherwise you get a leather trimmed interior, heated seats, satellite radio, alloy wheels, xenon headlights, ABS, heated front seats, ABS, and stability control as standard. There are also six airbags. Not my favorite, but at least it is more fun to drive than the BMW SUVs and those from the Japanese competition. However, that Subaru Forester isn’t a slouch.

Dad’s view: It takes more courage than I have to get the most out of the RDX. It is capable of outstanding skidpad times, but the nature of all SUVs is one of being top heavy and it is difficult to rid your mind of this when entering any corner. After a while the competence of this Acura starts to win you over and you become less intimidated by the past and more inclined to stretch this SUVs sidewalls. I really liked the RDX in many regards such as build quality, braking, and of course handling. The engine needs to be kept busy to get the most out as, although small, the RDX weights 3900 pounds. The only element that gave me pause was the gas usage. The best I could manage was 20 mpg and the more powerful, but not nearly as fun six cylinder Toyota RAV4 got 25 on regular fuel.

Driving the RDX is a study in restraint. It is ever so tempting to crush the turbo boast gauge only to see what is left in the 18 gallon fuel tank quickly disappear. In heavy traffic too much accelerator input can fool the automatic transmission, but this really isn’t a car for daily crowded commutes. This is a car for those who love to drive and don’t mind a bit of turbo lag. A perfect skimobile, this Acura has a driving feel that is nearly identical to the TL sedan, albeit a bit less refined.

Young working woman’s view: The seats are comfortable, the interior easy to master, the GPS workable, but the rear cargo area was quite small and the second row of seats doesn’t have a lot of foot room. I cute SUV with plenty of character and very willing to please, this is one SUV that I wouldn’t mind owning if it got better gas mileage.

College going male’s view: Easily the sexist of the SUVs, the Acura RDX is capable of being whatever you want it to be. The 18-inch alloy rims look good and the grip is outstanding. You have Acura’s all wheel drive system that can send torque to the front or back or right or left side and clings to every type of surface better than any SUV I have ever tested. Very appealing, but the price is too dear for those of my ilk. If you need less sport and more room try the Acura MDX which supplies 300 horsepower, an optional third row of seats, and gets nearly the same fuel mileage.

Family conference: The only SUV that we have tested that is sporty. The downsides are its initial cost, poor fuel economy on premium, and interior cargo space. It is clearly capable of playing tag with the BMW and Porsche and is much easier to live with for a small family.

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