What Was Tested: 2008 Acura RDX with Technology Package ($36,695).
Price as tested (including $670 destination charge): $37,365
When sport utility vehicles came onto the scene, they were anything but sporty.
Yes, the word "sport" was part of the SUV moniker, but it referred to things the vehicle could help you do -- kayaking, camping, off-roading, boating -- not the vehicle itself. Surely no one has ever uttered the sentence, "I can't wait to take my Explorer to Road America for a few hot laps."
But that's changing.
As more manufacturers are producing small SUVs based on car platforms, like the Ford Escape, Honda CRV and Toyota RAV4, they're starting to tune them for performance just like they would a small car. Pioneers like the Porsche Cayenne and BMW's X5 and X3 first brought sportiness to luxury SUVs a few years back, while the Mazda CX-7, Toyota RAV4 Sport and Pontiac Torrent GXP are low-priced newcomers to this game.
Now Acura is joining the mix, too.
As usual for Acura's products, the RDX slots neatly between the cheap and the exclusive.
At its heart is a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine that makes 240 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque.
You could say affordable SUVs from Honda, Toyota, Ford and Chevy are at the Wal-Mart level -- cheap, practical and not the least bit snobby; BMW, Lexus and Mercedes occupy the Neiman-Marcus stratus -- sinfully luxurious and very pricey; while Acura is perfectly happy to be Sears or J.C. Penney -- a nice step up from Wal-Mart but not to the point of feeling guilty.
When you sit in an RDX, you don't get the impression that it's a run-of-the-mill SUV. It has soft, neatly trimmed leather seats, a big multi-function display in the center of the dash and buttons all over the place for operating its luxury gizmos. It's a technological feast, sure enough, but it also doesn't inspire the awe and serenity of an expensive luxury car. It's just nice enough.
Where the RDX excels, though, is its sporty performance. Like the X3 -- its most direct competitor -- it's designed to mimic a sports car, accelerating with ghusto, stopping with brute strength and turning with precision.
At its heart is a 2.3-liter turbocharged engine that makes 240 horsepower and 260 foot-pounds of torque. It's the first turbocharged and intercooled engine Acura has ever made, and it really feels like it belongs in a sports car, offering a quick response and plenty of kick when you step on the accelerator.
Unfortunately, the RDX's body doesn't match its inspiring performance.
It's not an ugly vehicle, as far as SUVs go, but its styling seems to lack the panache you'd expect from a luxury brand. It looks much like other nondescript SUVs from American, Japanese and even Korean brands, which says as much about all the handsome, low-priced SUVs on the market as it does about Acura's decidedly conservative styling on the RDX.
Starting around $33,000, the RDX is priced right at the J.C. Penney level. As you'd expect, it's several thousand more than comparably equipped Hondas and Toyotas and around $5,000 less than its chief competitor, the X3.
Pros: It's a luxury SUV with sporty sensibility, priced around $5,000 less than the BMW X3.
Cons: Its body looks like most ordinary crossovers, including some cheap Korean ones, which doesn't help its luxury aspirations.