SAN FRANCISCO The hip, urban environment of one of Californias coolest cities was an ideal place for Acura to unveil the compact RDX to automotive writers.
Preliminary driving impressions, gleaned from a drive on the twisting ribbons of road in Sonoma County, are that Acuras newest crossover SUV drives like a sports sedan, hauls like an SUV and coddles like a luxury car.
The RDX is Acuras first compact luxury SUV, and at the moment its primary competitor, according to company executives, is the BMW X3. Buyers may also shop vehicles such as the Mazda CX-7 and Toyota RAV4, although both fall outside the luxury category.
The RDX rides on a light-truck chassis that will also be under the upcoming 2007 Honda CR-V. It goes on sale in August. Prices start at $32,995, and vehicles with the Technology Package list for $36,495. Destination charges are $615. Acura is the American luxury division of Honda.
Acura hopes its compact SUV will carve a solid niche in the entry premium SUV segment before the rush hits. Other car companies are readying similar vehicles, and Acura expects this segment to grow by as much as 500 percent.
The RDX is an ideal combination of SUV function and sports-sedan performance, thanks to a turbocharged, 240-horsepower engine and Acuras nifty Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system that speeds up or slows down the outside rear wheel to help the vehicle pivot around turns or mitigate skids.
The mechanical bits are topped by the kind of luxury accommodations that most upscale buyers expect. The optional Technology Package contains a voice-recognition navigation system, XM satellite radio with real-time traffic information, a rearview camera, a dual-zone climate control system and Acuras fabulous 10-speaker ELS surround-sound system that can play CDs or audio DVDs.
The stereo system is among the best Ive heard in any car. Engineered by Grammy Award-winning recording engineer and producer Elliot Scheiner, Panasonic and Acura, the 410-watt surround system is so sweet that you can hear six discrete channels when listening to a DVD-A audio disc. The stereo is so good that I can imagine sitting in the garage and listening to the car stereo instead of a home unit.
The clean lines of the RDX are purposely understated and they bear a familial resemblance to the larger MDX. The large top grille is actually a fresh-air intake for the turbochargers intercooler.
Acura turned to a turbocharged four-cylinder to get the power of a V-6 and the economy of a four. The solution works beautifully, although the estimated mileage rating of 19 miles per gallon in the city and 24 on the highway is nothing to shout about. If you dip your toe into the throttle a lot, the turbos boost is sure to erode those figures.
That said, this engine is a sweetheart. Acura developed an elegantly simple valve that effectively makes the turbo operate as if it were two units, one small and one large. The benefit of that approach is strong acceleration from low speeds and plenty of power at high speeds.
The five-speed automatic transmission has a sport-shift function that allows the driver to make manual shifts at any time with paddles on the steering wheel. Most sport-shift transmissions require the driver shift into sport or manual mode before making manual shifts, but not this one. A quick flick of a paddle gives an instant downshift for passing. Ditto for downshifting on turns and hills.
The RDX is built around the front-seat passengers. The 104.3-inch wheelbase is fairly short, but there is adequate rear-seat legroom and cargo space. Two bicycles will fit inside with their front wheels off.
The rear roof and tailgate has a sedan-like taper that enhances styling and aerodynamics, but it cuts down on the cargo space slightly. Just how much is hard to say based on my brief drive.
Besides the turbocharged engine and ear-wilting stereo, the RDXs Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive may be the cars most useful yet unseen feature. This is a simplified version of the same unit used on Acuras top RL sedan, and it is beneficial in everyday driving, not just when the road is slippery.
In normal conditions, roughly 90 percent of the drive torque goes to the front wheels for optimum fuel economy. When the front wheels slip, up to 70 percent of the drive can be transferred to the back.
The all-wheel-drive system does not have a transfer case for the extra-low gear that off-road use requires.
The cabin is cozy and warm. The combination of materials and textures feels luxurious. Neat details, such as tiny LEDs that shine barely perceptible beams of light on the console at night, are first rate.
Folding the rear seat requires the seat bottoms to be moved forward and down. The cargo area appears to be longer, but not quite as tall, as the one in the 2006 CR-V. The tailgate is hinged at the top, and the spare is carried under the cargo floor instead of on the tailgate.
Once the RDX is on sale, well get a regular production model for a weeklong test drive. That will help clarify first impressions, which are most impressive.
Dual zone climate controls - driver and front passenger
Power glass sunroof
Ventilated front disc / solid rear disc brakes with ABS
Dual front side-mounted airbags
Front and rear head airbags
Xenon high intensity discharge headlamps
Front fog/driving lights
AM/FM in-dash 6 CD player with CD MP3 Playback stereo with 7 speakers
XM satellite radio
Major Available Options
Technology Package includes: DVD navigation system w/voice activation, AcuraLink(TM) satellite communication system with real-time traffic, HandsFreeLink(TM) wireless telephone interface, 410-watt Acura/ELS Surround(TM) Premium 10-speaker Sound System with 6-disc CD, DVD-Audio, DTS(R) and Dolby(R) Pro Logic(R) II, GPS-linked, solar-sensing, dual-zone automatic climate control system, Auxiliary information display, Acura personalized settings.
For more information on the 2007 Acura RDX, visit acura.com
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