In 2006, the first RDX launched Acura into the luxury compact crossover segment. Comfortable and luxurious with a hint of sportiness, this vehicle was very successful. The RDX also happened to be equipped with one of Honda's only turbocharged engines, a 2.3-litre four-cylinder. It delivered speed and a ride reminiscent of the small sport coupes of my youth. (And how many other crossovers have a turbo boost gauge and reward you with the sound of a blow-off valve every time you change gears using the wheel-mounted paddle shifters?).
When it was modernized last year, the RDX lost this sweet engine along with its SH-AWD system (which was replaced by a simpler all-wheel drive). In its place, there’s a new six-speed automatic gearbox and the well-known 3.5-litre V6 that is found in most Honda/Acura products. But has it lost that special something?
A more mature style
Style-wise, the RDX is more subdued than its predecessor, but it’s no less easy on the eyes. It’s clearly an SUV, but its dimensions are closer to those of a full-size sedan. Acura’s signature bird’s beak grille is front and centre, but, unlike on other vehicles from the brand, it completes the front end handsomely. The RDX comes factory standard with 18-inch aluminum wheels. Since there’s just one equipment level (and only one options package), the vast majority of RDXs on the road will be fitted with these wheels. Of course, the accessories list includes other rims, but at a cool $2,900, they’re not likely to be very popular. I especially liked the passenger compartment. Sure, some of the controls and screens are a little dated (the small screen in the centre of the console that displays the cabin temperature comes to mind) and the button for the infotainment system can sometimes be counter-intuitive to use, but most of the buttons are in the right places, the style of the dashboard is dynamic and the construction quality is worthy of the Acura name. Visibility is in keeping with the class average and the driving position is closer to that of a sport sedan than an SUV. The front seats hug you in turns and prove comfortable on long trips. All passengers, both in front and in back, will benefit from the RDX’s factory-standard leather upholstery.
The NSX, Integra and Odyssey in its family tree
Driving an RDX is a puzzling experience, since many of the features make you think you’re in a sports car. Press the accelerator even moderately and the engine’s 273 horsepower swiftly propel you forward. The automatic transmission shifts quickly and the gear ratios maximize the engine’s power range. As long as you drive in a straight line, the RDX is a lot faster than it looks. As soon as you come to the first turn, however, things change significantly. While the power steering is lively and very direct, it’s a bit over-assisted, and once the vehicle starts to turn, the reality of the situation hits you: although the RDX tries very hard to be a sports car, you can’t defy the laws of physics. There’s pronounced roll and the suspension emphasizes comfort over stability. The all-wheel drive works well behind the scenes to gleefully complete the task at hand regardless of the surface or effort required. One thing really surprised me after a week of driving Acura’s SUV: Honda’s cylinder deactivation system, which forces the vehicle to use just three cylinders when less power is required in a bid to help moderate fuel consumption. According to the manufacturer, fuel consumption is 12.1 litres per 100 km city, 8.7 highway, and 10.6 combined. Seduced by the RDX’s enthusiastic acceleration, I couldn’t do any better than 11.6 litres per 100 km.
Seeing beyond the first impression
Though not exactly a household name, the Acura RDX tries to appear sporty. Unfortunately, there are very few ways to combine the size of an SUV with an inviting ride. Then again, its comfortable and agreeable nature are qualities that it would be wise to accentuate, since that’s what potential buyers are seeking. What’s more, Acura still doesn’t attract as much attention as BMW or Mercedes-Benz, which is a good thing for some. And remember that a lot of RDX components come from Honda, meaning excellent reliability is guaranteed.