2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD review:

2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD

Starting at $37,995
  • Available Engine Gas
  • Body style SUV

Roadshow Editors' Rating

6.8 Overall
  • Design 6
  • Features 7
  • Performance 7

The Good The 2012 Acura RDX SH-AWD's turbocharged engine offers good, flat power delivery while its all-wheel-drive system makes this small crossover quite nimble. The Technology package brings the creature comforts we like as well as a great-sounding ELS premium audio rig.

The Bad There's advanced driver aid tech available. Fuel economy is merely okay.

The Bottom Line The 2012 Acura RDX's turbocharged engine delivers good performance, but also causes this pricey crossover to fall flat on its promise of efficiency.

In its press materials, Acura calls the 2012 RDX the "right 'right-sized' SUV for today's world." Were I a nitpicker, I could imply that this means the larger Acura MDX is effectively "wrong-sized," but I'm pretty sure that Acura doesn't mean for us to draw such a conclusion.

More importantly, I can't help but wonder if Acura means that the RDX is literally "right-sized" as in the crossover's not-too-big,-but-not-too-small stature, or if the automaker was making a larger statement about the vehicle's position in the market. The RDX is priced lower than many of the luxury crossovers in its class (the Audi Q5 or Infiniti EX35, for example) with a smaller engine that makes an attempt at increased efficiency. And when compared with the subpremium brands, the RDX shows a performance and comfort boost over the RAV-4s and CX-7s of the world.

But can this "right-sized" SUV be the jack of both of these trades or is it a master of none?

Cabin technology
Since we've just mentioned the Acura MDX, let's discuss a few of the similarities between the 2012 RDX SH-AWD that recently graced the Car Tech garage and its larger sibling.

We'll start in the cabin, specifically at the dashboard. When equipped with Acura's Technology package, the RDX features the same 8-inch display with rearview camera system and Acura Satellite-Linked Navigation System that we've seen in the latest versions of the RDX, TSX, and TL SH-AWD. It features the same voice recognition system and traffic and weather systems with active rerouting and is powered by a similar 10-speaker ELS premium audio system with support for DVD-Audio, Bluetooth hands-free calling and audio streaming, USB and iPod connectivity, and XM Satellite Radio. If you've already read a CNET Acura vehicle review this year, you'll know what to expect here.

If you haven't read a CNET Acura review this year, then you should know that the Acura Technology package checks almost all of the right boxes for features that we look for in a tech car. The ELS audio rig sounds fantastic with most audio sources and types of music, the hands-free calling system is clear, and the navigation system (while not the prettiest in this segment) is nothing to complain about.

However, the voice command system, while rather comprehensive in its functionality for navigation, requires a bit too much visual attention from the driver. For simple tasks like "Call Fat Jon," it's fine. However, as I started digging into the navigation options, I found that I had to do quite a bit of looking at the screen to know what to say next. It's not what I'd call a cabin-tech dealbreaker, but I found that it was often faster to just pull over and use the dashboard-mounted, knob-based interface instead--which, by the way, is fantastically intuitive.

Moving farther back in the cabin, the smaller RDX seats only five passengers in its two rows of seats (as opposed to the MDX's seven-passenger, three-row setup). Although, I wouldn't want to be the poor schmuck stuck in the second row's center position--the RDX has rear hip, shoulder, and legroom on par with the TSX, Acura's smaller sedan. The most important seat in the house, the driver's seat, was comfortable in our Technology-package-equipped example, with eight-way power adjustment and two memory settings.

Choosing the smaller RDX over the MDX doesn't just cost you a row of seats and a bit of elbow room. You also lose the ability to spec Acura's Advance and Entertainment package of safety and convenience technology. Adaptive cruise control, the collision-mitigation braking system, blind-spot monitoring, and Acura's active-damper sport suspension are all unavailable on the 2012 RDX, as is the rear-seat entertainment system, but I doubt you'll miss that last bit.

Performance
On the bright side, you do get a very cool boost meter in the RDX's attractively designed instrument cluster. That readout corresponds to the positive intake pressure generated by the crossover's 2.3-liter, turbocharged i-VTEC engine.

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
Model2012 Acura RDX
TrimSH-AWD with Technology package
Power train2.3-liter turbocharged engine, 5-speed automatic transmission, AWD
EPA fuel economy17 mpg city, 22 mpg highway
Observed fuel economyN/A
NavigationHDD-based navigation with traffic and weather
Bluetooth phone supportvoice command, phonebook sync, audio streaming
Disc playerCD/DVD/DVD-Audio/MP3/WMA
MP3 player supportanalog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection
Other digital audioBluetooth audio streaming, XM Satellite Radio
Audio system410-watt ELS, 10-speaker, 8-inch subwoofer
Driver aidsN/A
Base price$32,895
Price as tested$38,880

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