You once could get upscale sports sedans, but not premium compact crossover vehicles that offered lots of sportiness and utility.
No longer. Explosive growth is forecast for the new breed of compact upscale crossover vehicles with sports sedan performance and above-average utility. Sales are expected to grow fivefold in the next few years.
The newest example of such a vehicle is the RDX -- the first premium entry crossover from Honda's Acura division. The RDX combines sports sedan performance with the roominess of the new car-based crossover vehicles that have SUV attributes without truck-based SUV drawbacks. It's loosely based on Honda's redesigned compact CR-V SUV.
Acura says the RDX is aimed mainly at high-energy urbanites -- "young, upwardly mobile city-dwelling professionals who work and play hard." In other words, quite a dream audience for an automaker.
The RDX is the first Acura with a turbocharged engine. It also has the first adaptation of the Super Handling All Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system from Acura's top-line RL flagship sedan. That system provides above-average grip on wet or dry roads, compared with many conventional AWD systems.
The system distributes torque not only between the front axles, but also between the left and right rear wheels for better handling in curves and during quick lane changes. And the RDX has enough ground clearance to use the system to tackle deeply rutted roads.
The RDX was designed to compete primarily with BMW's similar-size X3 crossover. The X3 is smaller than BMW's redesigned 2007 X5 SUV and the RDX is smaller than Acura's redone 2007 MDX SUV.
Besides the X3, the RDX is up against a small but growing number of sporty premium crossovers, including the Infiniti FX35.
The new Acura's styling breaks no new ground, but it is sleek. The RDX is priced at $32,995 but costs $36,495 with its optional Technology Package.
That package contains features including a navigation system, rearview camera for help with parking, premium 10-speaker sound system and solar-sensing dual-zone automatic climate control system.
The standard RDX is loaded with comfort, convenience and safety features. They include air conditioning with automatic dual-zone climate controls, leather upholstery with heated front seats and cruise control.
There's also a premium seven-speaker sound system with an in-dash six-disc CD changer, split/folding rear seats, an eight-way power driver's seat and power windows, mirrors and locks with remote keyless entry. A dashboard screen displays audio and climate information.
Safety items include anti-lock brakes with brake assist for surer emergency stops, front- and side-curtain air bags and traction/anti-skid control.
A potent V-6 engine reportedly wouldn't fit in the RDX, so Acura did the next best thing and gave the RDX a turbocharged, intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine with 240 horsepower and an impressive 260 pound-feet of torque.
The sophisticated dual-overhead-camshaft, 16-valve engine propels the RDX from a standing start to 60 mph in 6.3 to 7.5 seconds, depending on how hard you stand on the throttle, and it allows quick merges and highway passes. Power delivery is linear, with virtually no turbocharger lag (a slight delay between the time you press the accelerator and the engine responds.)
The RDX is quick, despite weighing 3,924 pounds. Acura wanted V-6 performance and four-cylinder fuel economy with the turbocharged four-cylinder. But the RDX weight results in so-so fuel economy: an estimated 19 mpg in the city and 23 on the highway. Premium fuel is required.
The smooth engine is linked to a responsive five-speed automatic transmission with an easily used manual shift feature.
Steering is quick but rather heavy. Handling is sharp, enhanced by large 18-inch wheels. Although firm, the ride is supple and more comfortable than that of the BMW X3. The brakes provide powerful stopping power.
Four tall adults fit comfortably in the quiet, upscale, futuristic-looking interior, which has supportive front bucket seats and easily read backlit gauges. Controls are handy, although some are undersized. A large central knob and dashboard screen are used for audio and other functions, complicating tasks. The front console has a large, covered storage bin.
Five tall occupants could fit because there is especially good rear-seat room, but the center of the back seat is too hard for comfort. It's best to fold down the wide rear armrest, which contains dual cupholders.
The spacious cargo area has a low, wide opening and a unique rear hatch with a replaceable panel to reduce the cost of accident repair. Rear seatbacks fold flat to enlarge that area without the need to remove their headrests.
Few vehicle owners look under the hood, but the RDX has a heavy one held open by a prop rod instead of a more convenient hydraulic strut.
The RDX is a good blend of technology, performance and function. You need not be a high-energy urbanite to appreciate it.
2007 ACURA RDX
LIKES: Handsome new model. Fast. Sharp handling. Roomy. Standard all-wheel drive.
DISLIKES: Some overly complicated controls. Marginal fuel economy.