We zipped around the city and flogged the 2008 Acura RDX through the hills, and in all areas found it an enjoyable ride. Its compact SUV-style body offers practical interior space while giving it carlike maneuverability. With the tech package, Acura throws in just about every cabin gadget imaginable, from an excellent-sounding stereo to its full-featured navigation system. However, while the RDX maneuvers like a car, it drinks gas like a large SUV. We also eagerly await the day that Acura redesigns its dashboard and reduces the ridiculous number of buttons.
Test the tech: Ambulance chaser
The navigation system on the 2008 Acura RDX includes live traffic reporting, fed to the system by XM NavTraffic. This system shows traffic flow on freeways and major roads by highlighting in red for traffic moving less than 20 mph, yellow for traffic between 20 mph and 40 mph, and green for average speeds more than 40 mph. Icons also appear on the map indicating incidents that could cause slow traffic, such as accidents and road construction. For our tech test, we spent a day investigating incidents that showed up on the navigation system.
As we set out, we saw an icon on the map just south of CNET headquarters, so we moved the cursor over it and clicked. The system reported an object on the road, on Interstate 280 South at Mariposa Street. We raced through San Francisco to the freeway entrance and were soon cruising down I-280. There wasn't much traffic around us, and as we passed the Mariposa exit, we didn't see any likely traffic-stopping objects around. That icon stayed on the map throughout the day.
You can click traffic icons on the RDX's map to get brief information on the incident.
Our next closest incident was an orange construction icon, and the map called it out as Construction I-80 East, Between Bay Bridge San Francisco and Oakland. We quickly found an entrance to I-80, which was reasonably close to our first incident, and headed east over the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. The height of the RDX gave us a good vantage point from which to observe. We saw that the right lane was closed on the freeway, although the closure started well before the spot where the construction icon had appeared on the map.
Getting back to San Francisco after our trip over the bridge, we found another icon at the beginning of the Golden Gate Bridge. This one reported out as US-101 North at Golden Gate Bridge Toll Plaza, Disabled Vehicle. Eager to see a disabled vehicle, we started across town toward the bridge. However, this time the city traffic was too slow, and the icon disappeared when we were just halfway there. At least it was nice to see the system update its information.
We had no icon in the immediate vicinity, so we got on US 101 heading south, down the peninsula below San Francisco, a route that usually has some kind of disturbance. We lucked out quickly, as an icon appeared with the report, US 101 South at Airport Boulevard and Broadway, Disabled vehicle. On the highway, traffic slowed to a crawl, comporting with the yellow line highlighting the road on the map. We continued on, looking for confirmation of the incident. Sure enough, right at the Airport Boulevard exit, there was a man refilling the radiator of an old beater on the side of the road. We were happy to see the incident confirmed, but also noticed that the actual icon on the map indicated a spot a mile further down the road.
The traffic cleared up for a bit, and we saw another icon ahead of us on US 101. For this one, the system reported US 101 South at Holly Street/Redwood Shores Parkway, Accident. The report jazzed us up for this one, and kept traveling south as the traffic grew heavy around us again. As we approached the Holly Street exit, we could see three highway patrol cars on the right shoulder along with a couple of passenger cars, one of them a new Ford Mustang with the hood neatly bent upward and the front end crushed. Yes, here was our accident, although again the icon on the map was located further down the road.
We verified several incidents using the traffic reporting system in the RDX's navigation, but found that the system often misplaced the icon indicating the incident on the map. We would wish the car would proactively warn us about trouble ahead.
In the cabin
As Honda's luxury make, the interiors of Acuras have never impressed us. While the cabin of the 2008 Acura RDX is nice and feels well built, on the materials side it falls short of offerings from Lexus, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. Much of the switchgear has a plasticky feel, and the RDX is missing some tech options common in luxury cars, such as automatic headlights and a power-adjustable passenger seat.
Then there's the interface issue. We've mentioned in reviews of other Acuras how they litter the dashboard with buttons. There is no relief on the 2008 Acura RDX. The steering wheel alone has 13 buttons, with two sets of buttons for two different voice-command systems. The stack is similarly covered, with a whole set of audio controls at the base, topped by the navigation system controls that also have some redundant audio functions. Some day, we hope, Acura will redesign this interface.
You can enter destinations with the RDX's multifunction dial, or use voice commands to speak an address.
As for the actual systems, though, the RDX does very well. The navigation system, while a bit dated, still has some useful features. We mentioned the live traffic above. Although the current system isn't perfect, Acura will come out with automatic traffic rerouting in the new TSX, so that feature should find its way into the RDX. The Zagat ratings are a nice addition, letting you actually find good restaurants in unfamiliar areas. We are still impressed with the voice-command capabilities of this navigation system. We chose to enter a street address and were able to speak the city and street names, and the street number, with the navigation system getting each one right.
Selecting music from MP3 CDs or from XM satellite radio stations isn't particularly easy with the car's interface. For XM, we found it initially difficult to get out of the saved preset stations. To select any station, you have to push the big center knob down and turn it to the tuning option. Similarly, the MP3 CD interface always defaults to selecting the first song on the CD--whenever you push the knob to see folders on a CD, it will immediately select and start playing the first song. The RDX comes with an auxiliary input jack, but no iPod integration.
The audio quality from the stereo is excellent. The RDX uses an ELS-designed system with hardware by Panasonic; the speaker set includes a subwoofer and a center fill. The system impressed us with how much you can tweak the audio quality. We played some bass heavy tracks and appreciated how well the system handled it--instead of rattling the doors the bass came through with a palpable feeling, but always in control. Likewise, the highs and mids were crystal clear as we listened to a modern symphonic piece. We initially found the center fill speaker dominating the cabin, but turned its level down to achieve a more balanced surround effect.
The interface for XM radio is a bit difficult to figure out, as you have to push the multifunction dial down to move out of the preset channels.
Of course, the RDX also has Bluetooth cell phone integration, with a service called AcuraLink. We paired up our test phone, a Samsung SGH-D807, to the system easily. We generally used voice dialing to make calls, and the voice-recognition system accurately interpreted the numbers about 95 percent of the time. The LCD interface also has a feature that lets you dial phone numbers using the big center knob. Unfortunately, this Bluetooth system doesn't read the phone's address book, so you can't dial people by name.
The RDX also comes with a rearview camera. The image doesn't have any guideline overlays, as we've seen in cars from Infiniti and Audi, but the image is nice and clear, and useful even in a small SUV.
Under the hood
Despite a little turbo lag, the 2008 Acura RDX offers a very responsive driving experience. It gets Acura's super handling all-wheel-drive system, which moves the torque between the front and rear axles as well as from side to side on the rear wheels. If you want to track how the system is working, there is a graphic display on the speedometer showing the torque distribution. The RDX also uses a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with a variable flow turbocharger, designed to reduce turbo lag. All told, this powerplant generates 240 horsepower.
This graphic on the speedometer shows the torque distribution between the wheels.
In practice, we found the car's acceleration starts out a bit slow, but rapidly increases as the turbo winds up, resulting in an exhilarating boost. The transmission can be set to normal Drive mode, Sport mode, or manually shifted with paddles mounted on the steering wheel. We didn't feel a huge difference between Drive and Sport, but the paddles work well. We ran the car through some winding mountain roads, putting acceleration, shifting, and the SH-AWD system to the test. In Sport or Drive, we found the car did not aggressively downshift on the approach to a corner, leaving us with little power as we pushed the accelerator into the turn. Using the paddles, we could do much better, with a downshift to second on the approach and a hard foot on the gas into the turn. Under these circumstances, we could feel the SH-AWD doing its part to keep torque distributed, the only drawback being the RDX's center of gravity, higher than with a sports car.
The weakest part of the RDX's performance is its fuel economy. The EPA gives it 17 mpg city and 22 mpg highway, but we found those numbers optimistic and not even that good for a compact SUV. For our testing period, we balanced out our driving around the city, freeway, and mountain roads. In the city, we saw the average fuel economy drop down to 14.5 mpg, and our average for our test period came in at 16.1 mpg. Seeing these disastrous numbers while we drove, we concluded that the turbo in the RDX was the culprit. We wouldn't be surprised if the RDX would get better mileage using Acura's 3.5-liter V-6. Of course, having only five gears in the automatic transmission is a problem, as a sixth gear would at least increase the freeway economy. On the plus side, the Acura RDX gets a ULEV II rating from the California Air Resources Board for its emissions.
Acura keeps its car pricing simple. You can get the 2008 Acura RDX with the technology package for $36,695. There are no significant options, only a number of dealer accessories, so, with the $715 destination charge, the total for out test car was $37,410. The RDX is available without the technology package for $33,195, but that version is a much less interesting car.
There is a lot to like about the RDX. Its stereo produces excellent audio and its navigation system offers a points-of-interest database that will help in unfamiliar areas, or even out on impromptu errands. The low-end acceleration isn't marred much by turbo lag, and at the high end the car really moves. And we like the car's compact design. But we start docking it points in our ratings for some of the quirks in its cabin tech, such as the lack of access to cell phone address books, and for its atrocious mileage. We also dock it points for its switchgear interface, which litters the dashboard and steering wheel with buttons, and its software interface, which isn't particularly intuitive.