Road Review: 2009 Acura RDXPosted: August 16, 2011
Back in 2009, my dad’s lease on his Honda Pilot was up, and he needed a new car. After driving the GMC Acadia and the new Pilot, he realized how sick he was of the three-row SUVs, as he no longer needed the extra space, and wanted better gas mileage. He drove the little Honda CR-V, and regretted it. Then, he drove a new RDX, and without a second thought, signed some lease papers. I’ve lived with it as my dad’s daily driver for two years now, and he’s never had more respect for a car than this one, so I decided to find out why.
Acura launched the RDX in 2007 as a response to the growing premium small-SUV segment. While a lot of the market used six-cylinder engines, Acura decided to use a turbocharged inline-4–the first of its kind for the company. It was, at launch, the sole four-cylinder offering in its segment, but this did little to hurt sales. It takes a lot of styling inspiration from the rest of Acura’s lineup–the jury’s of course still out on whether or not this is a good thing, but the styling change for 2010 had little effect on the RDX–it still looks good. On the inside, the RDX has a very sporty feel to it, with everything centered around the driver. The dials are nice and big, with the gas gauge and temperature gauge to the right, and the tachometer to the left, with a little (but still readable) boost gauge set within the face. The radio and temperature controls are located right in the center stack, with all buttons very well-marked. The only issue with the interior is the center console, which is hinged on the side (to open so the cover swings away from the driver)–if a passenger need something, it’s not the greatest solution. Rear seat room is generally serviceable for anyone under 6 feet tall, and cargo space is comparable with an older Ford Explorer. Visibility is good from most directions, but the thick rear pillars can cause issues.
Acura put a lot of money under the hood on this little trucklet, and it shows on the move. The turbo is eager to please, spooling up even at half-throttle in lower gears–the whistle, with the windows up or down, adds a tasty little overtone, in the sound and the speed sense. The engine itself pulls impressively well up pretty much any grade. Even off the line, turbo lag isn’t really evident, a testament to Honda’s engineers. At high RPMs, the engine sound, combined with that whistle from the turbo, is impressive but not at all tiring or unbearable. It’s evident that Honda was intent on using a turbocharged I4 instead of a V6 for gas mileage, and the turbo certainly fixes whatever acceleration issue it would have had.
The five-speed automatic isn’t bad, but it does let the truck down a bit. In D or in S(port), it’s refined and smooth, but the paddle shifters on the steering wheel could be better-integrated. For the most part, flicking a paddle to upshift results in a longer delay between changes than if the car is left in Sport. The four-wheel disc brakes bring it all to a halt with some nosedive but otherwise little drama. Ride quality is good on smooth roads, and only moderately jarring on rougher terrain–it’s not at all that bad.
The RDX, thanks to its sh-AWD (Super-Handling All Wheel Drive), is a seriously fun vehicle to drive in corners for what it is. The system is intelligent enough to transfer as much as 90% of the power to the front wheels or 70% to the rear based on various conditions (elevation, speed, throttle position, weather, or road straightness). In hard corners, it can send nearly 100% of the power to the rear outside wheel thanks to an intelligent rear differential. The effect is that the RDX makes mincemeat of winding roads around the local lake; even with the traction control switched off, it’s quite controllable. This being a crossover SUV, I expected body lean, but it’s not at all excessive. Tire noise, unfortunately, is a bit excessive, and it gets worse at higher speeds. Wind noise is much lower.
The Acura’s standard equipment list covers pretty much all of the bases. This one is the base model, which gets heated (front only, dual-stage) leather seats, excellent interior trimmings, power everything, a memory system, keyless entry, a sunroof, satellite radio, automatic climate control, and Xenon headlights. The Tech adds such things as radar-guided cruise control, GPS navigation, and an upgraded audio system. Acura added a USB port to the RDX since my father leased this car, so they are keeping with the times.
We’ve had a degree of minor issues with the RDX as a family, but it’s nothing major. The memory system only seems to work with one key, and it has had one or two other minor electrical issues, but otherwise, it’s been fine. Fuel economy isn’t excellent, with the RDX rarely reaching over 25MPG–it takes premium, but at this point, if you’re in a luxury vehicle, that’s the norm. While the RDX isn’t the sort of SUV I’d usually buy, it makes for a compelling choice, thanks to its relatively low entry price (under 35K for a basic FWD model), lower repair costs (compared to the Europeans), stellar reliability ratings, and reputation.