2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD review:

2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD

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Power delivery is good with just a bit of turbo lag, though the 2.3-liter engine still delivers pretty good torque on its own, allowing the RDX to make off-boost passes at highway speed with little noticeable strain. Floor the pedal and build the revs and RDX will respond with the full 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet of torque that it has to give. That power flows through a five-speed automatic transmission with sport and manual shift programs. Performance is good in sport mode and the gears are well-spaced for the sort of "spirited driving" you'll be doing from behind the wheel of an almost 4,000-pound crossover--freeway blasts and stoplight drag races. However, even with the standard shift program short-shifting the hell out of every ratio in a race to top gear, the RDX could probably benefit from an extra cog to boost fuel efficiency.

As power exits the gearbox, it either transfers to the front axle where it is distributed with an open differential on front-wheel-drive models, or it is split between the front and rear axles by the SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) system with which our tester was equipped. We've tested versions of this system already on the Acura RL, TL, and MDX. After seeing the way this system, which is able to vector torque across the rear axle for improved handling, was able to make the portly MDX dance on a mountain road, I wasn't surprised when the lighter and shorter RDX came alive when bombing off-ramps and snaking along the back roads of Napa Valley.

In the RDX SH-AWD, power delivery defaults to a 90/10 front-to-rear torque split, but can shift up to 70 percent of torque to the outside wheel on the rear axle during hard cornering for enhanced driving dynamics. Drivers can monitor the torque split in real time on a small SH-AWD monitor located in the instrument cluster, but I'd advise against looking anywhere but the road while cornering hard enough to trigger a major torque shift, lest you test a few of the RDX's six airbags.

However, the RDX builds this power in a fairly inefficient manner. At its best, Acura and the EPA reckon this smallish crossover only manages 17 mpg in the city and 22 mpg on the highway. During our testing, the trip computer hovered around the estimated 19-mpg-combined mark. Those looking to gain a few more miles per gallon should either look at the front-wheel-drive version for a 2-mpg bump across the board or the Volkswagen Tiguan 2.0T 4Motion, which sacrifices a bit of space and quite a bit of power but manages 19 city and 25 highway mpg. Both vehicles are turbocharged, all-wheel-drive crossovers and--if the FWD Tiguan we tested some time ago is any indicator--the two should be equally fun to drive.

In sum
It's got good power and good tech, and if you don't mind the styling of the Acura corporate beak, the 2012 Acura RSX SH-AWD with Technology package is a pretty swell ride. But it's not a perfect one. Fuel economy is frankly nothing to brag about, particularly when it's equipped with the SH-AWD system. Likewise, the price is nothing to cheer at either. The 2012 Acura RDX starts at $32,895 for a front-wheel-drive model, but add the Technology package, SH-AWD system, and a destination charge and you'll reach our as-tested price of $38,880.

Sure, compared with an almost $43,000 Infiniti EX35 Journey AWD with Premium package, the RDX seems like a pretty good deal, but the EX also gets more power with its 3.5-liter V-6 engine while still besting the RDX's fuel economy thanks in no small part to its seven-speed (yes, seven of 'em) automatic gearbox. Likewise, the Infiniti features much nicer cabin trim and a slicker cabin tech package, so one could argue that the extra dough is well spent there.

As a brand, Acura straddles the luxury delineation, and the RDX is a perfect example of this. Whether the Acura RDX SH-AWD is worth your bucks depends on what side of that line you place it on. If you're a luxury buyer looking for simply the best car in this class, see the above statements about the Infiniti EX. However, I also struggle to recommend the RDX to the value-minded buyer when cars like the Mazda CX-7 s Grand Touring and Kia Sportage SX offer seven-tenths the driving experience for thousands of dollars less. For some, the 2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD may be the "right-sized" combination of price, luxury, and performance, but I think many will find it to be ill-fitting.

Tech specs
Model 2012 Acura RDX
Trim SH-AWD with Technology package
Power train 2.3-liter turbocharged engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, AWD
EPA fuel economy 17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Observed fuel economy N/A
Navigation HDD-based navigation with traffic and weather
Bluetooth phone support voice command, phonebook sync, audio streaming
Disc player CD/DVD/DVD-Audio/MP3/WMA
MP3 player support analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection
Other digital audio Bluetooth audio streaming, XM Satellite Radio
Audio system 410-watt ELS, 10-speaker, 8-inch subwoofer
Driver aids N/A
Base price $32,895
Price as tested $38,880

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