- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don’t expect too many surprises with Acura’s all-new RDX SUV. First of all, it’s really a crossover and not an SUV. But that’s not surprising because as a luxury brand, Acura is expected to deliver vehicles with an emphasis on comfort. A car-based crossover by its genetics is going to be more comfortable than a truck-based SUV.

Despite featuring an advanced all-wheel-drive system that not only intuitively varies the power between the front and rear axles but also between the right and left wheels, the RDX is ill-suited for off-road adventures. This is also not a surprise because crossovers typically aren’t engineered for veering off pavement.

The standard features list is all-inclusive. The only features not offered as standard equipment on the entry-level RDX are bundled into a package that represents the only difference separating the more expensive ($3,500 more) RDX Tech from the $33,665 regular RDX. Although not always the case, it’s not unusual for a luxury vehicle to be loaded with standard equipment — no surprise here either.

What you may not expect, however, is the RDX’s sporty, fun-to-drive quality. Handling is such a key ingredient in the RDX experience, it nearly overshadows the very competent performance of the 240-horsepower 2.3-liter turbocharged four. Representing Acura’s initial foray into turbo charging, this four-banger delivers sufficient giddy-up for determined sprints between traffic lights in town, as well as effortless open-road touring.

Utilizing the steering wheel-mounted paddles, the driver can manually choose the shift points of the five-speed automatic transmission or simply stay in automatic mode and let the transmission shift itself.

BorgWarner did most of the noodling required to come up with the revolutionary and quite transparent AWD system. Acura calls it SH-AWD for “super handling.” Under normal, dry conditions, 30 percent of the engine’s power goes to the rear wheels and 70 percent to the front. As the wheels encounter some slippage, as much as 70 percent of engine power can be shifted to the rear wheels.

Where this new system really shines is in cornering when extra power is transferred to the rear outside wheel for a little extra stability. Although the AWD scrubs off some of the fuel economy gained by using the turbocharged four rather than a normally aspirated six-or eight-cylinder, the efficiency is still decent enough to earn the RDX an Environmental Protection Agency mpg rating of 19 mpg in the city and 23 mpg on the open highway. It does require premium fuel.

The car-based fully independent suspension delivers sedanlike comfort. Firm enough to negotiate curves with a minimum of body roll, the suspension still manages to soak up the lion’s share of pavement imperfections.

The 18-inch alloy wheels hide disc brakes on all four corners, with electronic brake distribution, brake assist and stability control of the four-wheel anti-lock brake system. Other safety perks include seat-mounted front side-impact air bags and side-curtain air bags with rollover sensor.

There is also a tire monitoring system with patient safety indicator.

Once inside the RDX, there is no denying it’s a luxury vehicle. Clean lines and a symmetrical design give the cabin an ultra-modern look.

The care with which the interior was screwed together is obvious in its level of fit and finish. There is just enough variety in the colors and textures to keep things interesting without appearing gaudy.

A dynamic three-pod cluster houses the critical gauges. The seats are leather covered and supportive.

Both levels of RDX have heated front seats, dual-zone automatic climate control, and eight-way power driver’s seat. Four adults fit comfortably, and a fifth can be squeezed into the rear seat in a pinch. Cargo capacity takes a backseat to passenger space. With the rear seat upright, there is about 28 cubic feet of luggage room. This swells to about 61 cubic feet with the rear seat folded — not a lot by segment standards, but probably enough to meet the luggage needs of a young family on a week’s vacation.

The RDX provided for this evaluation was the up-level RDX Tech. In addition to featuring an enhanced audio system that adds three speakers and surround sound to the standard RDX’s seven speakers. Both systems have a six-disc in-dash CD changer, satellite radio capability and an input jack for a personal audio device. The Tech version also includes Bluetooth capability, AcuraLink communication system with real-time traffic, and one of the better and easier-to-use GPS-based navigation systems available.

Nope, there aren’t many surprises to be found in the RDX. It brings together forward styling, a fuel-friendly yet peppy engine, a high-tech AWD system, a luxurious cabin and superior handling. Anyone familiar with Acura won’t find any of these features startling. Bottom line: It lives up to the Acura image, and that means no surprises of the nasty sort, either.

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