To Sunbelt residents, all-wheel drive is essentially useless. It presents little more than a complex mixture of driveshafts and differentials that bleed energy from the drivetrain. The safety net it provides comes with a cost, straining wallet and gas pedal. And since 2007, it has been the only choice for the Acura RDX. This year, along with a host of other upgrades, Acura's adding to the model line a front-drive RDX, which, in an oddly Colin Chapman-esque move, offers less, but gives more.

Unsaddled by Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, the front-drive RDX is more fuel efficient, faster, and less expensive. It's not decontented, mind you: Standard goodies new for 2010 include a rearview camera, electronic compass, auto-headlights, ambient footwell lighting, USB-connectivity, and Bluetooth with audio capabilities.

Other updates consist of a slight exterior restyling, including new 18-inch wheels, front and rear lights, exhaust tips, and the grafting of the infamous Acura corporate grille to the nose. Acura has also revised the brakes, changing the booster and servo to remove "grabbiness." A result, says the automaker, is less drag and longer pad life. There's also a new, large center console for storage, a feature notoriously absent from our 2007 AWD long-termer.

Our RDX was no slouch even with the added drivetrain mass --- we likened it to the Evo of crossovers when we said goodbye. Acura's SH-AWD is impressive; through planetary gearsets and electromagnetic clutch packs, it's capable of overdriving the outside rear wheel to create yaw, which reduces understeer. The downside is the roughly 200 pounds it adds to the curb weight. Without it, the RDX's fuel economy rises 2 mpg, up to 19/24 mpg city/highway. It's livelier on its MacPherson front and multilink rear suspension too.