As the hot summer days of August start to wane, getting the kids back to school becomes the focus of many families, at least that's true in our house. And for those of us with college-age kids, moving them back into the dorms becomes just another in a series of end-of-summer challenges.

Depending on what kind of kid you have will determine what type of vehicle you'll need to use. I have no doubt that when my 15-year-old eventually goes away to college (and believe me, she's going away), we'll need a 1-ton diesel and a good-sized U-Haul trailer. She makes the Reese Witherspoon character in Legally Blonde look like a rookie. On the flip side, our oldest is just getting ready to start her last year of college in the Bay Area and we knew our choices were wide open. I must say having your pick from the Motor Trend motor pool makes moving a kidlet relatively easy. I had originally planned on cruising the family in style in a Cadillac ESV, where all four of us could have made the long trek from Los Angeles to San Fran in style and pimp-daddy luxury, with all the gear the college student could want; however, that didn't work out because the photographers needed the vehicle to shoot a stunning Calloway Corvette cruising back from Pebble Beach. Plan B meant we'd have the opportunity to take something smaller to go on this up-the-spine-of-California jaunt for the move-in.

To understand the complexities of this decision, you have to know a little bit about my oldest daughter. The term "low maintenance" doesn't do her justice. Her idea of packing is keeping a few extra pair of jeans in a carry sack, and maybe a windbreaker if it snows. If garbage bags were a name brand, she'd be a rep. She likes to travel light and never wants much fuss about big or little events, which makes for interesting "discussions" when we try to attend formal events. This was true when she left for England to study last year, and this was true when she left for Kindergarten fifteen years ago. In fact, she made it quite clear there was no real need to get anything big to take her back to school because she just wanted me to take her up. She figured it was a four or five garbage bag trip.

Well, that left pretty much everything in our Motor Trend headquarters garage open for the trip, with the exception of our new Mini. What I settled on was the Acura RDX, a new addition that seems to have the best of both worlds--an economical four-cylinder engine (good for the MT fuel budget), and a fast-ratcheting turbo (good for spirited passing).

From the beginning, the RDX worked for our needs. Creating a flat-floored cargo area in back is pretty easy: we pulled the foam-molded seat bottoms in the second row out and flipped them forward, then laid the back row seatbacks flat to the floor. Presto! We have a good-sized cave to lie in bags, luggage, and a few boxes of food and "essentials" that mom just had to send off with her little girl. Turns out it was a good thing there was a good amount of room in RDX, because with the addition of the "mom boxes", we barely fit everything in. I even got it all packed without obstructing the rear view. I should note, in addition to all of her college gear there was enough space for me to bring a few things.

For a trip where I planned to put almost 1000 miles underneath the tires, I brought a trusty Motor Trend tire gauge (even though the RDX has a digital readout, sometimes I like to have a backup checker), a Leatherman-type tool I got from Jeep (compact multi-tool that basically eliminates the need to bring a small toolbox), and a bottle of Mobil 1 oil, just in case we go a little dry on the trip. Not every gas station carries synthetic oil and the RDX, with all its heat-generated turbo power, requires the good stuff. Those three things provide a small measure of insurance that makes me feel much better about a long trip like this.

The 450-mile trip North went without a hitch and we saw wide-open farmlands, beautiful mountain lakes, grassy rolling hills, lazy grazing cattle, and all sorts of good and bad drivers (if I see another oblivious driver on a cell phone....). Outside of Los Angeles, we the remnants of a fire sending tons of soot and ash into the sky. The wind from the ocean was blowing the Zaca Lake (North of Buelton above Santa Barbara) fire smoke east the day we left so the sky was blanketed with an eerie orangish glow as we made it from the Tajon Pass on the 5 Freeway into the San Joaquin Valley. Was nice that we ran with the A/C on, full recirc so we never did smell a thing. Passing on the 5 is tricky and challenging because much of the road that runs up the middle of the Sunshine State is two lanes, and one is almost always (and I mean 24 hours a day) filled with big rigs hauling payload back and forth from north to south, south to north. That means you have to be very careful about choosing your moments to pass and get around people.

It's amazing to me how many people aren't comfortable running at the speed limit (70 mph). The power of the RDX is both fun and impressive, but in a situation where you're locked in an endless line of long-haul commuters it's frustrating. We like that the turbo ramp-up is quick. We like that a quick shift from "D" to "S" on the stick increases it responsiveness by a factor of two as it drops a gear or two as needed. A turbo gauge on the dash lets you know how it's spinning and the speedometer lets you know pretty quick how fast it works. In addition, I'm a huge fan of having all sorts of gauges to scroll through on the center readout: oil temp, tire pressures, cooling, tire traction, fuel econ, average speed, range, just to name a few. Really like the SH AWD (super handling all wheel drive) system that is a blast to use on curvy mountain roads.

As I understand it, it's able to read the individual traction of each wheel and send a proportional amount of additional power to the outside wheels during cornering--those are typically the wheels on a curve that get pushed and do more "skidding" than the inside tires. The result is more grip to rip around corners, which means better handling and more control, which allowed us to have fun drive on the up and downhill portions of Highway 152 around the San Luis Reservoir right around sunset. All I know is that it works pretty dang well.

Would love to see how it does on sand and ice (didn't get any of that on this trip). Only gripe about the performance handling is that the suspension seems a bit stiff. Expansion joints and small irregularities in the road surfaces really translated hard into the chassis and floor. I know Acura wants this to be an X3 fighter, but it seems like here they went a little overboard. This little sport-lux wants a little more comfort with the control. I'd even like to have some type of suspension settings that allow me to decide based on my need and circumstances. What I don't need to decide on is whether or not I like the paddle shifter response and feel. I like that you're allowed to make a quick downshift in Drive (although it does revert back after two seconds). And in Sport mode, expect the electronic shifting is quick and sharp.

Almost as impressive, the center storage console swallowed not just my laptop computer, but my whole computer bag and all the crap I keep inside: back issues, phone charger, wallet, files, maps, various charging cords, the latest Automotive News, etc. All vehicles should have a hole this large between the two front seats. Back to the gauges...visibility is pretty good over the hood and with my daughter's iPod plugged into the RDX's Aux jack, we were able to (had to more like) listen to all her favorite songs--on an amazing sound system I might add. Even though we had the rear subwoofer blocked by a large book-filled suitcase, we could hear it thumping. Likewise, I can't tell you how much I appreciated the fact that just about every control inside the car has a backup controller on the steering wheel. I especially enjoyed turning down the volume when some Kelly Clarkson song got turned up.

Once we got off the main freeway and headed over some chaparral range mountains to get closer to San Jose, the instant power and nimble size of the RDX was a huge asset. Unfamiliar city streets and impatient locals were both dealt with swiftly and easily with a blip of the throttle. We found quick access to our dorm building on campus thanks in large part to the wide-screen Nav system and were able to avoid one traffic accident and one construction zone, thanks to the real-time traffic reporting right on the screen. Again, this is something that every vehicle needed in a city should have.

Unloading went smoothly--in less than a half-hour her new room was set up and ready for decorating. No roommates when we got there meant she could settle in and get use to her surroundings at her pace. No need for dad to stick around, as she kept pushing me toward the door. "I could help you unpack, and maybe hangout when the flatmates get home," I said. She didn't laugh.

Once we found the right building, dodging a traffic jam and construction tie-ups, we prepped for unloading and the haul of the stairs. With all the stuff in her room, the she's ready to push dad out the door for the drive home.

On my way back, now nighttime, the lighted blues and use of soft colors are not at all distracting, and almost made for comfortable late-night driving. Must admit to a few uncomfortable moments (found out its difficult to laugh and stomp your foot while driving) when the wrong comedian came over the XM radio comedy channel.

In the end we drove 900 miles in our test unit from garage to car wash, and averaged 22.3 mpg, with occasional dips into the single digits during some winding road mountain pass running. Have to say the RDX came out the winner here, but then again as one of the top players in the luxury compact SUV segment at $37,895 (we have the Tech Package), it better be pretty good. Now if I could only be as sure about getting as much value from all that college tuition we're spending.

  • «
  • |
  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
  • |
  • View Full Article