Acura heats up the new crossover utility-vehicle segment with its 2007 Acura RDX, a tech powerhouse with Acura's first turbocharger. I spent a day driving the RDX at a launch event here in San Francisco and found a lot to like about this darty little car, plus a few oddities. The RDX is a whole new car for Acura, small and SUV-like but never intended for off-road. It's for city dwellers who spend weekends skiing or bicycling, and it offers enough cargo space for two bicycles.
The RDX will be offered with a similar tech package that came with our Editors' Choice-winning. That means Bluetooth, voice command, premium stereo with DVD audio, and navigation with real-time traffic. We've reviewed the nav and voice-command system on Acuras and Hondas, and we give them a thumbs-up. The traffic reporting is a nice addition. Bluetooth integration works well but doesn't copy contacts into the car's database.
The stereo system in the RDX is big news, as the premium system was tuned by Elliot Scheiner, producer of hit songs such as the Eagles' "Hotel California." This surround-sound audio system uses 10 speakers, including a center channel and subwoofer, along with two amps, 310 watts for the main speakers and a separate 100-watt amp for the subwoofer. According to Elliot, Acura was surprisingly accommodating in adjusting interior pieces for his preferred speaker placement. The hardware in the system is by Panasonic, and the head unit has a six-disc changer that plays MP3 and WMA CDs. It's set up for XM radio and has an auxiliary input.
The sound quality is very crisp and immersive, with excellent definition in the front seats. In the backseat, the rear-mounted tweeters came on a bit strong, but an adjustment to the fader took care of it. Although there are equalizer controls available, I found the audio almost perfect at the default settings. I just made the aforementioned fader adjustment and gave the bass a slight boost. I didn't feel the audio was as deep as in other systems I've heard, but the range of music Acura had available was limited to adult easy listening--Seal, Elton John, Dire Straits, and the like. When we get this car into our offices, I'll want to test it with classical and some real rock.
The power train in this car is intriguing and a bit quirky. Its four-cylinder, 2.3-liter i-VTEC engine is complemented by a two-stage turbocharger. This is the first two-stage turbo used on a gasoline engine. It opens one valve at lower engine speeds, then has a flap that opens at higher engine speeds to force more air through. The idea is that it works well through the entire range of engine speeds, as opposed to most turbos, which give their boost at lower engine speeds. I would say it's mostly successful, adding to acceleration from a stop and while running at 70mph down the freeway. But the acceleration from a stop doesn't feel all that dramatic (we don't have 0-to-60mph numbers yet). Also, the acceleration isn't smooth, something common to most turbocharged engines. I felt a few power pulses on the car's way up to speed, something that doesn't happen with a six-cylinder.
This engine power is run through a five-speed automatic transmission that includes a Sport mode and paddle shifters. The paddle shifters work in either Drive or Sport mode, although most of their effect is in the latter. In Drive mode, the car quickly reverts to full automatic, but in Sport, the paddles hold the gear until the car tach gets into danger territory. The paddles are fun and let drivers pretend they are F1 racers, but they're difficult to operate when the wheel is cranked way around on a hard turn.
The RDX gets a trimmed-down version of the RL's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. This system can run 70 percent of power to the rear wheels and shift 100 percent of that rear-wheel power to either the left or right rear wheels. I pushed it around a couple of tight corners, and the handling felt very good, without much understeer.
In fact--and this is one of the car's quirks--it does offer a sports-car-like driving experience, but I couldn't get over the upright seating position. The car felt like it could be worked hard into the corners, but I'm used to having my rear much closer to the ground for that type of driving. Sitting upright created a psychological barrier to attacking a corner at speed. Toward the end of the drive, I could tell I was overcoming that feeling and wanted to find some more twisty roads.
One other criticism is that the interior of the car doesn't have a strong luxury feel. It does have great fit and finish, and the materials all look solid, but it lacks that old-world heaviness characteristic of European luxury cars. All the controls click precisely into place, which is good, but they lack a certain refinement.
Overall, I like the 2007 Acura RDX. Its interior space and utility are decent, and the tech package comes with truly useful gadgets that work well. It's fun to drive, beyond the turbo quirkiness. Acura chose to crease the sides--I would have preferred a smooth look, like on the. Although the RDX's exterior may not generate a lot of excitement (what other Acura has?), the driving experience and the utility seem likely to make the car a success.