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Acura RDX is an SUV that can act sporty

June 23, 2006|by MALCOLM GUNN / Wheelbase Communications

If the new Acura RDX has a lesson up its sleeve, it's that just because it looks like a sport-utility vehicle doesn't mean it can't act a little more sporty when it has to.

Good thing.

The kid driving a tricked-out Mazda RX-7 had cut in front of our 2007 RDX a few miles earlier and appeared bent on impressing us with his skills behind the wheel.

We were nose to tail along a road located deep in the heart of rural Marin County, about an hour north of the Golden Gate Bridge. A steady drizzle made this twisty two-lane as slick as a frozen Popsicle. Fortunately, the weather didn't upset the sure-footed Acura as it carved every sharp bend in the asphalt.

In a heartbeat, the RDX's anti-lock brakes received a real-world workout as the RX-7 lost grip and performed a perfect 180-degree pirouette ... to face us in the opposite lane.

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Fortunately, no harm was done, but the RX-7 pilot likely has some new-found respect for the RDX, a vehicle that, despite its benign wagon-like shape, possesses the soul of a sports car along with the tenacious grip of an all-weather sport-ute.

The California-designed RDX is Acura's first small sport-utility vehicle and joins the larger MDX that shares its platform with the Honda Pilot. (Acura is Honda's upscale division.)

The RDX is aimed at young professionals who seek a well-appointed commuter that can comfortably transport five passengers and tote a variety of recreational gear to out-of-the-way venues on the weekend.

Like its target audience, the RDX is also athletically oriented. It displays a sinew-and-bones appearance with tightly drawn lines and muscular bulging fenders.

Acura clearly placed the BMW X3 in its sights when the RDX was originally contemplated. Differences in overall length, width, height and curb weight are almost too close to call, although the Bimmer enjoys about a 6-inch advantage in wheelbase.

What makes the RDX such a breakthrough model can be found under the hood. For the first time, Acura has chosen to use a turbocharged engine in one of its vehicles. The 2.3-liter powerplant makes a whopping 240 horsepower and 260 lb.-ft. of torque. The X3's six-cylinder engine makes 225 horsepower/214 lb.-ft. of torque.

The RDX's turbocharger, which pressurizes the incoming air/fuel mixture for more power, has been specially designed to shorten the time (referred to as "lag") between when the gas pedal is touched and the moment there's boost pressure. The idea is to improve low-speed throttle response, which has traditionally been a knock against turbocharged engines.

A five-speed automatic transmission with steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles is part of the package.

The standard all-wheel-drive system is similar to that of the Acura RL luxury sedan in that it can direct power to the front and rear axles as well as the left-and right-side rear wheels, providing added traction in the turns.

The RDX arrives as a complete package that includes dual-zone climate control, power moonroof, perforated-leather-trimmed interior, eight-way power driver's seat, heated front seats, tilt/telescoping steering wheel, keyless remote entry, 18-inch wheels, six air bags and a full range of power-operated accessories. In fact, the sole option is a Technology Package that features DVD-based navigation, rear-view camera, hands-free telephone connection, premium 10-speaker audio system and satellite-linked climate control that adjusts temperature settings, fan speed and fresh-air vents, based on the vehicle's relative position to the sun.

At an estimated $35,000, the RDX presents a logical alternative to numerous large and lumbering sport-utility vehicles. On its side are lithe handling, an enjoyable interior and punchy powerplant.

We know of at least one youthful RX-7 owner out there who would readily agree.

Copyright 2006, Wheelbase Communications

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