We just began our review period for the Acura RDX, a car that should make any tech-nut drool. Beyond its place in the new class of crossovers, the most notable thing about the RDX is the option to get a similar technology package to that of the Acura RL. This package includes a navigation system that shows traffic flow, voice recognition, and Bluetooth cell phone integration. It also includes one of the best car stereo systems available, with 10 speakers, surround sound, a six-disc changer, and an auxiliary input.
The car itself is a peppy little thing with a 240 horsepower, 2.3-liter turbocharged, four-cylinder engine. Its five-speed automatic includes paddle shifters behind the steering wheel and a sport mode. This car jumps off the line smartly and holds power all the way up to freeway speeds. Its handling is also something special, as it has Acura's Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, which can route power to front or to back, or to individual rear wheels. A neat real-time animation on the instrument cluster shows exactly how the power is being distributed.
The sound system produces incredible clarity and is worth getting a bunch of your favorite CDs and spending the day in the car just to listen to them. When I first heard this system, I thought it tended to emphasize the highs too much, without producing a rich, bass note. But some tweaks to the settings, such as boosting the subwoofer and pushing the fade toward the rear of the car, made the sound come through strong at all levels.
The navigation system includes a complete points-of-interest database, with restaurants, ATMs, and retail stores. Destination entry is easy, and route guidance works well. But the really cool thing about this navigation system is it will indicate traffic flow on freeways and other major roads, with a red overlay meaning traffic is running less that 20mph, yellow meaning 20 to 40mph, and green meaning more than 40mph. An icon will appear on the map wherever there's a reported traffic incident, so you can see what's obstructing traffic and decide whether to detour.
Voice recognition works for all systems in the car, from the phone to the stereo to the navigation system. You can ask the car "What time is it?", and it will tell you the time. I've seen this voice recognition system on other Acuras and Hondas and have generally been impressed. It does an excellent job recognizing speech and has a large list of commands that can be used.
While I like having all this tech available in the car, Acura hasn't done a very good job in building an interface for it. Oh, the multifunction knob/joystick below the LCD works well enough, but there are 13 buttons on the steering wheel, not including the paddle shifters. To use voice recognition with a cell phone, you press a button below the left spoke of the steering wheel. But to use the voice recognition for navigation and other car systems, you have to press a button that sits behind the cell phone button. This sort of problem occurs because the phone and navigation are disparate systems that Acura built into the car. Automotive parts suppliers haven't gotten very good at incorporating all these types of systems into a single module yet, making the RDX seem like a Frankenstein built of gadgets.
Look for our full review of the 2007 Acura RDX next week on CNET Car Tech.