The Acura RDX was designed to be among the sportiest in its segment, and except for a couple issues, the driving experience of the 2011 model is engaging as with our 2007 RDX long-termer. And that long-termer didn't benefit from the changes Acura made for the 2010 model year.
Yes, the RDX now wears Acura's polarizing power plenum grille, but the changes are far more significant than a restyled exterior and attractive new 18-inch wheels. A rear-view camera, changes to the leather seating surfaces, more ambient lighting, and USB-port connectivity now come standard.
When the RDX was introduced, it was available only with Honda's super-handling all-wheel drive. That strategy was rethought and now there's the front-drive model we sampled. It boasts a cheaper entry-level price and better fuel economy with the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine making 240 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 260 pound-feet of torque at 4500 rpm. The engine is plenty powerful, and the turbo surge makes the RDX feel quicker than it really is at times.
Back when we tested our long-term RDX, it sprinted from 0-60 mph at 7.0 seconds. Now that the front-wheel-drive crossover is 200 pounds lighter, expect a slightly improved time. RDX drivers will need to develop a lighter touch with the throttle or else fuel economy will suffer.
The brakes, too, were improved for the refreshed RDX. Acura says the upgrades result in more feel and less grabbiness to the binders, although they still are a touch on the sensitive side. Regardless, there's no arguing with revised rear brake pad actuation that translates to less drag and longer pad life.
The RDX's turbo makes it more responsive and engaging to drive than others in the segment, but if there's a second generation of this vehicle, fuel economy must be a higher priority. The front-drive RDX's fuel economy is rated at 19/24 mpg city/highway. For comparison, the turbocharged four-cylinder version of the all-wheel-drive 2011 Audi Q5 is rated 20/27 mpg, and the front- drive 2011 Volvo XC60 nets 18/25 mpg. The all-wheel-drive RDX does match the all-wheel-drive turbo XC60 in fuel economy, but the Volvo does it with two additional cylinders and more power and torque.
But the RDX's turbo engine is part of its charm, and we would be disappointed if Acura offered a naturally aspirated four in its place. Steering feel is the 2011 RDX's other drawback. More feedback and far more heft from the RDX's high-quality leather-wrapped steering wheel would be welcome. Steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifters are standard and a five-speed automatic is the only available transmission.
That's as negative as our review gets for the RDX. MacPherson struts at the front and a multi-link setup in the rear help the RDX corner far better than you would expect for a crossover, and that's at the heart of this Acura's appeal. Curving highway onramps become fun tests of the RDX's abilities, followed by a burst of acceleration from the turbo engine. Around town, it's not difficult to get wheelspin if you slam on the gas pedal. Spending the extra money on the all-wheel-drive system is worth it if you live in an area where it snows, or if you'll push the RDX to 9/10 or all of its capabilities on back roads.
The RDX's cabin is premium in a modern way -- wood trim has no place in this Acura. The functions of the countless buttons on the center stack aren't immediately clear, but become easier to use over the course of a couple days. At the front of the dash, a digital display shows temperature and sound system information. If you can afford it, go for the excellent 10-speaker Acura/ELS sound system, part of a technology package that includes a navigation system that is simple to use, but some information menus on the 8-inch screen look primitive. Electroluminescent gauges with blue accents feature a huge speedometer and smaller boost gauge. The sizable, lockable center console storage area can hold a computer.
Good outward visibility is one of the RDX's strengths, especially because many SUVs sacrifice sightlines for bold styling and blind spot-monitoring systems. The Acura RDX's dimensions allow for cargo space of 27.8 cubic feet with the rear seats in use and 60.6 cubic feet with those seats folded down. That compares to 30.8 and 67.4 cubic feet for the Volvo XC60 or 29.1 and 57.3 cubic feet for the Audi Q5.
Don't forget about the upcoming TSX wagon, which is really the front-wheel-drive RDX's first competitor. The similarly priced TSX isn't likely to be as sporty as the RDX, but the wagon does have a cargo area capable of swallowing 31.5 cubic feet of stuff with the rear seats up and 60.5 cubic feet with the seats folded down. Those who want a sporty drive and are willing to accept a stiff ride should stick with the RDX.
Value is still a great reason to consider an Acura, but the RDX goes further by adding a sporty driving experience. In a crowded field of SUVs, sales of the front- and all-wheel-drive RDX lag behind every Acura except the RL and ZDX. Despite its faults, the 2011 RDX has a sense of purpose and should be able to maintain its niche in the luxury crossover market. Whether Acura continues to commit to the sporting nature of the RDX in its next generation is another question.
| 2011 Acura RDX FWD |
| Base price || $33,480 |
| Price as tested || $36,580 |
| Engine || Front-engine, FWD, 5-pass, 5-door CUV |
| Transmission || 5-speed automatic |
| Curb weight || 3752 lb (mfr) |
| Wheelbase || 104.3 in. |
| Length x width x height || 180.7 x 73.6 x 65.2 in. |
| EPA city/hwy fuel econ || 19/24 mpg |
| On Sale || Currently |