2008 Acura RDX review

If you’ve read pretty much any other entries in this blog, you can tell that my tastes tend to run towards, well, let’s say the sportier side of things. In general, anything low, sleek, too powerful, too expensive, and too impractical is - in my book - a good beginning. At the same time, I understand that there are real world demands that are placed on us all. In this largely cruel and unfair world, not everybody can have a Ferrari for everyday transportation. There are a thousand different reasons, but it usually boils down to having too many people to shuttle around or having to pack too much stuff for said people. For that reason, I’m interested in trying out a great many things to see which vehicles can provide an entertaining experience for auto enthusiasts of more modest means.

What that does NOT mean, however, is that you will EVER find a review of a minivan on this website. They’re not fun, no one likes to be seen in them (not even the people who buy them), and NO ONE is entertained by reading about a minivan test drive. Besides, the folks at Consumer Reports still need something to do.

Rarely too will you ever see reviews of SUV’s. Even what they now call crossovers (aka SUV but SUV has negative connotations in these days of high gas prices) rarely make my radar. Yes I’ve driven them, and yes you’ll find a review here and there about them, but mainly to satisfy my curiosity and maybe yours too. None have ever got my blood pumping.

Until now.

In 2007 Acura released its SUV crossover thing called the RDX. I was about to delete the email announcement of this new arrival but a couple of things caught my eye. 1) Honda’s first use of a turbo engine in a production vehicle. My eyebrow went up. And 2) it includes Honda’s well-regarded SH-AWD system that will shuttle any amount of power to any wheel that requires it to keep the car stabilized. My other eyebrow went up. Curiosity had me. So I took a closer look at the pictures. Outside was ok; attractive in an Acura sort of way. Classy, but not overdone. Inside was slick. It showed all the right things – lots of cool toys, bolstered seats, an interior that looked cool in all black (but really, what doesn’t look good in all black?) so I added it to my mental list of things to try. Someday.

One afternoon my best friend called and said he had his TSX in for service and they had given him an RDX as a loaner. I apologized. Then he asked if I wanted to try it. And he actually sounded excited at the prospect of letting me try this SUV out. “Yeah bring it by” I said.

Yep, the outside looks like it looks in the pictures. Classy, presents well, looks upscale; at least people will see that you spent a little extra money on it. Inside is good as almost all Acura’s are. The seats are very well bolstered (hinting that it might actually hold up well to enthusiastic driving). The all black scheme is sharp. All the luxury and safety toys are there. For a complete list see the brochure – it’s VERY extensive and misses nothing. The interior is well put together and doesn’t look mashed together of Rubbermaid bits like perhaps a typical GM interior. Given that it has a premium badge, you expect this too. Oh and you can also talk to it and tell it what you want to do, and it listens and does it. How very HAL 9000.

As for performance Acura tosses a turbo 4 cylinder motor in the RDX and a 5 speed manumatic trans – with bonus paddle shifters for that faux Formula 1 feel. Good start. The seats are snug and sitting in them you can tell that Acura really wants you to believe that this thing will perform. Utility doesn’t appear to have suffered for the sake of performance either. The rear seat is comfortable; not spacious but adequate even for adults. The cargo area will hold a decent amount of stuff as well. Brakes are disc all around, helped of course by ABS and a stability system just in case you outdo the limits of the AWD system.

Starting it reveals just a tiny bit of shake in the steering column reminding you that only 4 cylinders are banging away under the hood. Revving it gives a pleasant growl from the exhaust. Going down the road you can tell Acura REALLY has the suspension buttoned down. Road feel is great; you can tell exactly what the chassis is doing. It’s stiffer than your normal family hauler but within acceptable limits for all.

Time for fun! Move the shifter to Sport mode then take control of the transmission with the paddles. Bending the chassis into a turn reveals VERY little body roll. It feels quite composed; begging for more. So you oblige. Push harder and the RDX honors your request – routing power seamlessly to where it’s needed most to give you a confident driving feel.

Power is never wanting either. Turbo lag is almost non-existent. Drop the transmission a gear or two, watch the boost gauge swing to the top, and traffic is passed with little thought. The engine only gets a little raucous near redline, again reminding you that there are only four cylinders zooming you along.

At first you can’t believe it. You really can’t. You go back and run your test drive again even harder and faster to make sure you weren’t dreaming. It’s hard to imagine that a crossover, SUV, whatever you want to call it this week, could in fact be fun. But this one is. Acura nailed the formula and came up with a people hauler that will actually hold people and stuff, AND still entertain driving enthusiasts to within a point of losing their license. The RDX is truly a sport-utility vehicle in perfect balance. No it’s not a raised up M3, but it’s a lot more fun than it has any right to be. Chances are it'll outrun your daily driver, if not in a straight line most definitely through curves. Plus with typically terrific Acura resale, it’s a smart purchase too.

Of course there is a negative or two. Gas mileage will suffer if it’s driven like you want to and like it wants you to. No matter what the sticker says you will likely be closer to 20mpg in mixed driving. Hey, if you can afford a mid-$30k’s price tag, you can afford to fill up a few extra times per year. Also this is Honda’s first production turbo engine and it’s strong. Both Honda and Acura have been ironing out the kinks in some of their more powerful cars (namely V6 Accords and the 2nd gen TL Type S) and transmissions have been a rare black eye for them. Long term durability of both the engine and trans is unknown right now. But I’m sure your dealer will happily sell you some peace of mind to cover that for most if not all of the time you’ll own it.

This is a vehicle that I would happily park in my garage to take care of all the daily chores, not to mention still give some smiles and grins on my daily slog. Acura hit a home run with this one. Give it a try – I’m sure you’ll agree.


Burch said...

Normally when I read the review’s Chris and Boz post I find I tend to agree with them and see their points. But on this I must beg to differ. I also have a friend that has an RDX and had quit a different experience. Driving the car only produced sighs of frustration and I found myself constantly asking "why did Honda put this combination together!?" Here's why. One of the biggest frustrations was why didn't Honda put this engine in a CAR!? There’s no pressing reason for this SUV to have a turbo charged engine. Acura used to have a few attention grabbing cars, the Integra and most of all the NSX. But now with them dropping the RSX, what's left? It seems to me that they're becoming more and more an old man's car. Then as was looking over the (I'll give it this) cool interior, my gaze fell to the "S" on the gear selector.....and then I noticed it had paddle shifters.....Again, why does this SUV have this!? Firstly, paddle shifters are utterly useless because you’re definitely not driving a race car and secondly there for fat lazy old men or possers that think their Jenson Button and lack the leg strength to push in a clutch. Anyway, I decided to try the “Sport” mode and was again met with nothing but frustration. I found that instead of the turbo spooling up quickly, you're met with a lag that then turns into a force slamming you back in the seat but by the time that happens your already almost to the speed that you wanted, so then you have to let of the gas be thrown forward and lose all of your boost from the turbo. And the whole process has to be repeated when passing or accelerating though the corner. Also the “paddle” shifters are ridiculous. Don’t buy an automatic to drive as a manual, buy a MANUAL. The transmission will not always give you the gear you want when you want it. If I say I want 2nd gear while I’m doing 60mph then I want second gear. But instead it’ll just show you the gear you wanted and blink, like a hand coming out of the dash to slap you in the face telling you “NO!” In my opinion if you’re looking for something sporty but with lots of cargo room, don’t go for a SUV (honestly, when are you gonna go off roading and need the ground clearance), instead I’d look at the WRX wagon. Its 4-wheel drive, turbo charged, has a 5-speed manual transmission. A whole lot of awesome without the draw backs of the SUV.

Chris said...

Hi Burch, welcome to Melted Rubber.

I would be very hesitant to lump the RDX in a full SUV category. For starters, it operates in FWD mode until the AWD system decides to route power elsewhere. Also it's blatantly obvious that this vehicle is not up for true SUV off roading, and only a fool would try it.

However, I do agree that the 4 cyl motor belongs in a car. In fact, I would go as far to say that this powerplant should've ended up in the current uplevel TSX instead of the V6. The V6 seems to throw off the wonderful balance of that car.

I will say too that the wagon WRX is an alternative, but if you want any real features in your car then the RDX makes a lot of sense. For a tuning car though, the WRX is tough to beat.

And finally, if you were disappointed with the turbo lag in the RDX, I really don't know why you would prefer the WRX. If you've spent any time in one, you know why.

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