Acura RDX Road Test Review
by Martha Hindes
Those who watch classic TV comedy reruns late at night might remember Ed Asner's role as the hard-nosed television news producer Lou Grant, saying “I hate spunk.” If a potential SUV buyer out there hates spunk, we might suggest a vehicle to avoid. We, at Road & Travel, won't avoid it however, since we think the 2012 Acura RDX sport utility vehicle is a welcomed winner. And you bet it has spunk.
The five-passenger RDX was introduced to the SUV market a half-dozen years ago when there seemed room for a smaller, premium SUV that could put some buzz into driving a luxury utility vehicle. As a 2012 version that wraps up Acura's first generation run of the vehicle, it still exudes buzz in addition to class, and the kind of driving fun that some contemporary and softer sport utilities lack.
RDX is what Acura terms a “personal sized” SUV, stating that today small is big in the eyes of the American consumer. To boost the pep aspect when it started out, it was the first ever turbo-charged, intercooled vehicle from Acura, Honda's luxury division. Unlike the all-wheel-drive only system of the original, for 2012 -- as gasoline prices inch above the $4 a gallon mark -- consumers can opt for front drive as well for a leaner price tag and better fuel economy. It seems reality has even crept into the entry luxury lineup.
Those realities fit well with the expected RDX driver, according to Acura. That's a young, upwardly mobile professional who works hard and plays hard, is an urbanite that plays sports and takes weekend getaways. It's someone who prefers classy, premium autos such as sports sedans that are fun and challenging to drive but also ones that are flexible when needed to carry gear and offer good visibility on the road. And, it adds, the RDX is a utility vehicle designed to fulfill all those wish list items.
During our initial test drives of the RDX way back when, we found it handsome, fun, sporty, responsive, and charismatic, qualities that haven't changed during the intervening time. The 2012 version is powered by Acura's 2.3-liter I-VTEC inline four cylinder engine. That's code for the intelligent valve timing system that boosts small engine performance. Horsepower is 240 and torque 260 lb-ft for those who track such numbers. Those offer lively response at slower or faster speeds and improve passing or hill climbing ability, despite some complaints about a bit of initial lag when the turbo-charger kicks in. The sequential five-speed SportShift automatic transmission has steering wheel paddle shifters so one can play like it's a manual. (Remember we mentioned the fun part of the equation earlier.)
High tech is evident in Acura's Drive-by-Wire throttle system, Super Handling All-Wheel Drive for vehicles so equipped, and super safety systems. Fuel economy rates at 19 city/24 highway with front drive, or 17/22 with All-Wheel Drive. If someone really wants to put it to the test, it's rated to tow as much as 1,500 pounds. That's sufficient for a small trailer if someone is moving up -- say to a new, center city loft space.
With its luxury marque background, one would expect some of the finer things in cars. The RDX has them: Outside are 18-inch, 10-spoke aluminum wheels and heated outside mirrors with integrated turn indicators that tip curbward on the passenger side to ease parking. Inside there's a performance driving inspired cockpit with perforated leather trimmed seating and heated front seats, power moonroof, locking center front console with two storage levels and seven speaker premium sound. The requisite Bluetooth communications capability and entertainment jacks are there. Among options is a voice recognition navigation system, eight inch rear view camera screen and solar-sensing, two-zone automatic climate control system that's GPS-linked.
The main stated targets on the RDX's screen are such premium competitors as Audi with the Q5, BMW X3, Volkswagen Tiguan, Infiniti EX 35 and Mercedes-Benz GLK350. Others include the Cadillac SRX. That gives an indication of how the RDX will evolve in future generations, as Acura expects that segment to grow exponentially. (The RDX already has gone softer and plusher for 2013. Watch for our take on the transition.)
With starting prices in the low to high $30K range, we think the 2012 RDX throws down the gauntlet in the competitive luxury arena.
So if keeping the driving buzz intact is a keeper for you, we're giving you the heads-up here. And for those who think driving something too soft and cushy can actually be boring, we suggest one might want to grab a littler spunk while they can. And, oh, Road & Travel reviewers also disagree with Lou Grant. We definitely like spunk.
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