Acura RDX crossover aimed at young buyers, empty-nest boomers

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2015 Acura RDX

The package: Premium, compact, five-passenger, five-door, V-6 powered, front- or all-wheel-drive crossover utility vehicle.

Highlights: The RDX, based on the slightly stretched underpinnings of the newest Honda CR-V, was completely redesigned for 2013. It comes with a V-6 engine instead of the four-cylinder found in the Honda.

Negatives: No four-cylinder engine offered to boost fuel economy.

Engines: 3.5-liter V-6.

Transmission: Six-speed automatic.

Power/torque: 273 HP./251 foot-pounds.

Brakes, front/rear: Disc/disc, antilock.

Length: 183.5 inches.

Curb weight (range): 3,717-3,852 pounds.

Cargo volume: 26.1 cubic feet (rear seat in place).

Towing capacity: 1,500 pounds.

Electronic stability control: Standard, with traction control.

Side air bags: Front seat-mounted; roof-mounted side-curtain for both rows.

Fuel capacity/type: 16 gallons/premium recommended (but not required).

EPA fuel economy: 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined (front drive); 19/27/22 (all-wheel drive).

Base price range: $34,895-$39,995, plus $895 freight.

Price as tested: $40,890, including freight (all-wheel drive model with Technology Package).

Major competitors: Audi Q5, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50 (formerly EX35), Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Volkswagen Tiguan, Lincoln MKC, Buick Encore, Land Rover LR2 and Volvo XC60.

On the Road rating: 9.2 (of a possible 10).

Prices shown are manufacturer's suggested retail; actual selling price may vary.

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After a complete redesign a couple of years ago, the sporty but functional Acura RDX compact crossover is back for 2015, with prices starting at $34,895 (plus $895 freight) for the base front-drive model.

They range as high as $39,995 for the all-wheel-drive model with the Technology Package, which is the vehicle we tested for this report. There are two other trim levels: the front-drive model with the Technology Package ($38,595); and the all-wheel-drive version without that package ($36,295).

Acura aimed the RDX at young professional couples with no kids, and also at empty-nester baby boomers looking to downsize from the bigger SUVs they needed in the past.

It competes in the entry-premium SUV segment, against vehicles such as the Audi Q5, BMW X3, Infiniti QX50, Mercedes-Benz GLK350, Volkswagen Tiguan, the new Lincoln MKC and the Volvo XC60.

This vehicle has a lot to offer both target groups of consumers. We made extensive use of ours to chauffeur some visiting grandkids around town and for some state park jaunts. The ample cargo area was able to handle their luggage, lots of groceries, and even some Home Depot do-it-yourself purchases.

Sales of these compact crossovers – even the premium models – are soaring as consumers look for smaller vehicles with better fuel economy. Buyers in this class are looking for more of everything, including fuel economy, luxury and performance -- but in smaller packages.

First introduced for 2007, the five-passenger RDX is essentially a fancier version of Honda’s popular CR-V compact crossover.

This newest RDX is based on the current 3-year-old CR-V design, but the chassis has been stretched a bit. It’s about five inches longer than the CR-V, two inches wider, and an inch taller. The RDX’s wheelbase is about two inches longer, as well, which helps give it a smoother ride.

Exterior styling is sportier-looking than before, especially in the front. The rear hasn’t changed much, and looks quite a bit like the CR-V. Overall, the vehicle still is easily recognizable as an RDX, but side by side with a CR-V, you can see the similarities.

The RDX’s biggest difference from the CR-V is under the hood. While the Honda comes with a four-cylinder engine, the RDX is offered only with a pleasingly peppy 3.5-liter V-6. Gone is the previous model’s turbocharged four-cylinder, but fuel economy has been increased, even with a boost of 33 horsepower over the 2012 RDX.

It’s rated at 273 horsepower and 251 foot-pounds of torque, and is paired with a six-speed automatic transmission with manual-shift feature, activated by paddles behind each side of the steering wheel.

For 2015, the front-drive RDX has EPA ratings of 20 mpg city/28 highway/23 combined; with all-wheel drive, the numbers are 19/27/22. We averaged about 22.3 mpg in our tester, with a mostly 50-50 mix of city and highway driving.

Our tester had the optional all-wheel-drive system, which is borrowed from the CR-V. It’s not the nicer Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive from the previous RDX, which is still found on more-expensive Acura models, including the MDX.

Four-wheel-drive mode operates automatically, with no input needed from the driver. Power normally is directed to the front wheels until wheel-slippage is detected. Then, as needed, up to half of the torque can be transferred to the rear wheels. There is no low-range gearing, though, nor is there a locking differential to allow the driver to force the power to the rear.

We took the RDX on some unpaved state park roads, where the all-wheel drive helped maintain traction on the loose surfaces. But with ground clearance of just eight inches, and no low-range mode, the RDX isn’t suitable for serious trail driving.

The RDX has a more-luxurious interior than that of the CR-V, with standard leather upholstery and other amenities that clearly put the vehicle in the premium class. The cabin also is very quiet, thanks to better insulation and Active Noise Control technology – similar to that of noise-cancelling headphones.

Other nice features include large door openings and an optional power-operated tailgate, which comes with the Technology Package. That makes it much easier to open and close when your hands are full.

The Technology Package also brings the AcuraLink satellite communication system with real-time traffic and weather information; a voice-activated navigation system with a 60-gigabyte hard drive for music storage; GPS-linked solar-sensing for the climate control system; a multi-view backup camera system; Xenon HID headlights; fog lights; and the Acura/ELS Surround Sound audio system with 10 speakers, DVD-Audio, multi-format CD player, and XM radio.

There are lots of interior conveniences that make trips easy on everyone. I particularly enjoyed all the storage cubbies, especially the compartment at the front of the center console, with a sliding cover, perfect for tucking away phones and iPods. It even includes two 12-volt power outlets and a USB port, keeping charging cords and such tucked away. The lid can be closed to keep the devices out of view when the car is parked.

RDX safety features include Honda’s Advanced Compatibility Engineering – ACE – body and frame structure, which helps protect occupants and other motorists (and even pedestrians) involved in an accident with the vehicle.

Also standard are front seat-mounted side air bags, front and rear roof-mounted side-curtain air bags, driver and front-passenger knee bolsters, four-wheel antilock disc brakes, and electronic stability control with traction control.

Both front bucket seats are heated and have perforated leather surfaces. The leather-wrapped steering wheel has tilt and telescopic adjustments.

Dash gauges are backlit with LEDs, and there is a driver-information display in the instrument panel. A rearview camera system is standard, with three viewing modes.

Other standard amenities include dual-zone automatic climate control; a power tilt-and-slide moon roof; a seven-speaker premium audio system with CD player and XM satellite radio, as well as an auxiliary input jack and USB port (supporting iPods and iPhones); and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, with iPod support.

The power door locks include keyless access, and pushbutton start is standard. The rear seatback has a 60/40 split-folding feature to allow for expansion of the cargo area, which has 26.1 cubic feet of space with the rear seat in place.

The front seats are quite comfortable, and even the rear seat has ample legroom, although the center position, as in most vehicles, should be left to smaller children (in a child safety seat). A fold-down armrest is provided in the middle of the rear seat for use when no one is sitting there, and it has two cupholders.

The RDX’s ride is soft, which takes away some of the crisp handling of the previous generation. But this is still a good-handling vehicle, and it’s very good at what it’s intended to do: haul people and kids around in comfort, in a smaller, more-fuel-efficient package that’s easy to negotiate through traffic and parking lots.

Our fully-equipped tester – with all-wheel drive and the Technology Package – had a total sticker price of $40,890, including freight.

The automotive columns of G. Chambers Williams III have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1994. Contact him at chambers@star-telegram.com .

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