- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

It’s tall but not too tall. Powerful, but not too powerful. Big, but not too big. Luxurious, but not too luxurious. Expensive, but not too expensive. Like an SUV, but not too SUV-like.

That about sums up Acura’s new foray into the burgeoning crossover sport utility niche in the automotive marketplace. It is the 2007 RDX, which is intended to define the so-called entry-premium crossover utility vehicle (CUV) segment.

These vehicles, which are arriving at an opportune time in view of rising fuel prices, are essentially jacked-up, car-based four-door wagons or hatchbacks, though the latter term is never used because of the stigma that has been attached to hatchbacks for many years.

Acura has been developing the RDX for four years and, while it is not unique, it is fairly lonesome because there aren’t many entry-premium CUVs out there — at least not yet.

Acura expects this chunk of the vehicle universe to grow from about 0,000 now to nearly 400,000 a year five years from now, and it wants the RDX to grab a choice parking spot with about 40,000 sales annually.

In defining its competition, Acura cites only one vehicle — the BMW X3 — and, perhaps, the Infiniti FX35. But the vehicle most similar to it is the new Mazda CX-7, which is almost a fraternal twin despite the different parentage.

Consider: The Acura is powered by a 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder engine of 240 horsepower, with a five-speed automatic transmission and all-wheel drive. It is 15 feet 1 inch long, has passenger space of 101 cubic feet and cargo space of 28 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Weight is 3,935 pounds and the EPA city/highway fuel economy rating is 19/24 miles per gallon. It runs on premium fuel.

The Mazda has a 2.3-liter turbo four-cylinder engine with 244 horsepower, a six-speed automatic transmission and optional all-wheel drive. It is 15 feet 4 inches long, has passenger space of 99 cubic feet and cargo space of 30 cubic feet behind the rear seat. Weight is 3,929 pounds and the EPA city/highway fuel economy rating is 18/24. Premium fuel is required. It doesn’t get much closer than that. But Acura officials insist that their buyers would never consider a Mazda, although a Mazda buyer might look to step up to an RDX.

A loaded all-wheel-drive Mazda CX-7 has a sticker price of about $32,500. The Acura starts at $33,610, which also is for a well-equipped vehicle. An optional technology package bumps the sticker to $37,110. It includes a navigation system with voice recognition, a rear-view camera and a 10-speaker premium audio system designed by famed recording engineer Elliot Scheiner.

The RDX is aimed primarily at single males who are distinguished as “urban achievers,” along with young double-income couples (or DINKS). It was designed to exhibit sports-sedan performance and handling like Acura’s TSX sports sedan, in a luxury package, along with the utility to carry a couple of mountain bikes on a weekend jaunt.

The RDX’s is the first turbo engine ever offered in this country by either Honda or Acura and was chosen, the Acura folks say, to offer solid performance with good fuel economy. On both counts, it is neither outstanding nor mediocre. Acura’s tests put the zero-to-60 acceleration time at seven to eight seconds.

The RDX does stand apart in one respect. It uses Acura’s SH-AWD, which stands for super-handling all-wheel drive. It was derived from the system on Acura’s flagship RL sedan, and combines vehicle stability control with computerized allocation of power between the front and rear wheels, as well as side to side.

As a result, this fairly tall and somewhat bulky CUV handles twisting roads as well as most sport sedans. In tight corners at speed, it neither plows ahead nor tries to wag its tail. The ride is supple rather than cushy, and harsh on some surfaces.

The five-speed automatic transmission has a manual-shift mode that is controlled by paddles on the steering wheel. Unfortunately, the designers chose not to allow manual shifting with the console-mounted shift lever, so if you don’t like the paddles you’re out of luck.

Inside, the RDX displays typical Acura attention to design and detail. Instruments are large and easily read, controls are ergonomically designed, and materials, textures and workmanship have a high-quality look and feel. A laptop or briefcase easily fits into the console.The front seats deserve special mention. They are settle-into big and multiadjustable, with good support in all dimensions and covered in comfortable perforated leather.

Backseat passengers do not fare as well, though the outboard passengers have ample head, knee and foot room. Even the center position, which is hopeless on most vehicles, is almost reasonable.

Unfathomable, however, is the fact that the rear seatbacks do not recline. You can find reclining rear seatbacks on a host of economy wagons and SUVs, but not on this luxury vehicle. The seatbacks, however, do fold nearly flat to expand the cargo area to 61 cubic feet for mountain bikes and other weekend stuff.

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