2008 Acura RDX Review – The Ballad of Mr. Sensible vs. That Guy

Sunday November 4th, 2007 at 11:1111 PM
Posted by: John G.

Consumer Reviews of RDX Acura RDX Photo Gallery

by John G.

2008 Acura RDX

Up and Down

Up:

  • Handles like a tall sports car: tight and responsive
  • Sneaky fast motor
  • Paddle shifters are a hoot
  • Seating and driving positions work for both very short and very tall people
  • A crossover SUV that’s fun to drive? OMG THE SUN JUST EXPLODED!

Down:

  • Computerized audio, climate, and navigation system nearly impossible to learn and use
  • No full size spare tire, no engine temperature gauge
  • Cargo space, like most compact SUVs, not quite big enough for bicycles

Driving Impressions

There’s something about VTEC that makes you drive like That Guy.

It’s not just the variable valve timing: Toyotas have it, but they don’t make you want to dice freeway merges like you’re on your final qualifying lap. Nissan uses it, but no one feels the urge to drift a Sentra through a yellow light like they’re playing Grand Theft Auto. Ever since the Integra GSR, “VTEC” has been basically synonymous with “Drive it like you stole it.”

Somehow Acura has managed to build a little crossover SUV that tempts you to do the same. Taut handling, quick steering, and supportive seats with big side bolsters mean you can get away with the sort of maneuvers typically reserved for mirrorshade-wearing midlife crises in a 911 Cabriolet, or teenage sons of Silicon Valley executives with $15K of tuner parts bolted to their Eclipse.

In short, while the RDX is a sensible vehicle with decent gas mileage and lots of cargo space, it’s also a hoot to drive, and will sorely tempt you to hit the paddle shifters, floor it, and become That Guy.

2008 Acura RDX 2008 Acura RDX - welcome Acura RDX - interior

Build

Most luxury vehicles are fortunately devoid of the confusing thicket of options available on the low end, and the Acura RDX is no exception. Everyone gets a nice big set of 18” alloy wheels, a full leather interior with heated seats, and HID headlamps so bright that they make the incandescent high beams irrelevant. There is only one way to spend more than $33,865 on an RDX: the technology package, which pushed the retail on our test vehicle up to $37,365. For that extra $3,500, you get a very nice 10-speaker Elliot Scheiner audio system with satellite radio, and the full computerized navigation package with backup camera.

It’s impossible to find fault with Acura’s fit and finish on the RDX, and I didn’t detect a single rattle or squeak, even with the impressive stereo cranked up to “pain”. However, the doors don’t slam with quite the same authority as a Lexus, and the switchgear, while solid, doesn’t quite have the same buttery feel. Is that difference worth $10K and tippy handling? If you’re in the target market for the RDX, probably not.

Interior Comfort and Ergonomics

Here the RDX illustrates the essential duality of life: black and white, good and evil, heaven and hell, the best and most adjustable driving ergonomics I’ve tested and the worst user interface disaster since BMW’s I-Drive.

First, the good news. The driver’s seat is firm yet comfortable, the substantial side bolsters are pleasantly supportive during high-speed cornering, and you could easily believe you were driving a sports coupe if you were a couple feet closer to the ground. In addition to the tilting/telescoping wheel and standard power and memory hijinks, the seat has several inches of up-and-down adjustability, meaning that both very short and very tall people can drive the RDX without compromising comfort or visibility. Well done.

Interior trim is clean and modernish, with lots of brushed aluminum and silver-gray plastic complementing the black leather seats and door trim. The immense center console provides a comfortable leather-topped armrest, and can swallow a briefcase (!) if you deploy the internal trapdoors. The excellent 10-speaker audio system remained crisp and clean up to ear-bleeding levels, which is important, because while both engine and wind noise were well controlled and barely audible, pavement noise was relatively pronounced by the standards of a luxury vehicle.

Acura RDX - navigation system Acura RDX - navigation system

And now, the bad news: the computerized console that controls the navigation system, plus part of the climate control and stereo, requires a degree in aeronautical engineering to operate. In addition to over 40 tiny buttons on the radio and center console, you get a big gearshift-like joystick that also pushes and twists, meaning you will probably rear-end a cement truck long before you figure out how to change the CD. The audio and temperature readouts are randomly split between the LCD screen and a small display way up near the windshield, and in a design decision that values button symmetry over sanity, half of the climate controls are on the passenger side. I am an engineer, and I didn’t successfully turn on the radio until my second drive.

The big, clunky joystick makes using the navigation system while driving like trying to play Gran Turismo and Q*Bert at the same time. After parking and fiddling with it for fifteen minutes, I did find one great feature: real-time traffic information, like you get from 511.org in the Bay Area, on top of the map. This is so awesome that you immediately wonder why every navigation system doesn’t have it. Too bad most people will never figure out how to turn it on.

Acura RDX - turbo boost gaugePerformance

Honda usually builds practical, conservative vehicles — but every so often they like to show off their engineering department, usually by taking some complicated technology that others never quite get right and bringing it to market in a perfectly tuned, emissions-compliant package, as if to say “OK, kids, here’s how you build a motor.” In the case of the RDX, that would be the variable-flow turbo 2.2L VTEC four, which pumps out 240 horsepower, a ridiculous 260 ft-lbs of torque, and meets California ULEV standards. Honda’s stated reason for building it was that the twin turbo saves weight over a six-cylinder engine, thus improving handling, but personally I think they’re just showing off.

2008 Acura RDX - 240 hp turbocharged intercoolsed engineIt’s a sneaky-fast engine: the turbo has no obvious lag, and makes no noise beyond a barely-audible hiss at low revs, but it makes the on-throttle transition very soft. I thought the acceleration somewhat anemic at low revs until I noticed how quickly I was passing traffic. But what you really need to do is give the RDX enough boot to downshift, or just hit the conveniently placed paddle shifters: the VTEC kicks in with the throaty roar instantly familiar to anyone who’s ever driven one, and Mr. Sensible puts on his Oakleys and turns into That Guy. You will seriously floor it up every freeway on-ramp just to hear that noise. Unfortunately, by doing so, you will also fail to achieve the advertised 17/22 EPA mileage rating.

Did I mention how much fun the paddle shifters are? They work in either Regular or Sport mode, the difference being that in Sport mode, your gear selection lasts until you either hit redline or come to a stop, whereas in Regular mode they’re just a temporary override. Most manumatics are useless, but these actually do what you need — which is to let you bang a couple upshifts in preparation for a pass without having to reach down and mess with the gear lever.

I have nothing to say about the brakes except that they caused me no drama, even after a long workout on a twisty backroad.

Handling

Running too hot into a turn, I expected a vehicle this tall to dig in and flip over, quickly ending my short career as an automotive reviewer — but the RDX’s wide track and stiff suspension simply railed it around like a slot car. (Acura claims it beats the BMW X3 on the skid pad.) Even using too much accelerator on wet roads doesn’t make it push the front end out of turns: the AWD spins the outer rear tire to keep things in line. Couple this with a high seating position that makes you think you’re cornering much faster than you are, and the RDX will make you feel like Michael Schumacher.

The suspension flirts with harshness, but never commits to dinner with it. Acura has kept the RDX safely in the “firm yet comfortable” zone by not overdamping the shocks like most manufacturers, and though you feel all the bumps in the road, they don’t hurt. Well done.

The small steering wheel is only 2.8 turns lock to lock, so you can do just about anything without taking your hands off the ergonomic bumps at 10 and 2 (or, for that matter, the paddle shifters). All in all, Acura makes it damnably easy to drive like That Guy, and in the class of “vehicles that can take home a 50 inch plasma TV without using bungie cords”, the RDX is the clear handling winner.

2008 Acura RDX

Styling

The RDX looks bigger than it actually is, and like many movie stars, you don’t notice the small size until you get up close. The stock 18” wheels are pushed way out to the corners, and combine with the no-overhang front and rear bumper to give it a mildly muscular stance – a surprising departure for Acura, which is usually known for its aggressively bland styling. No one will mistake it for a CR-V, and while the RDX doesn’t squirt testosterone like a Hummer, no one will call it a “cute-ute” either.

I’m not sure which of the several shades of metallic gray our test vehicle was painted, but it looked good.

Value

Assigning value to a luxury vehicle is usually a tricky proposition, but in this case, it’s fairly simple. For $5500 more than a loaded CR-V, you get a grin-inducing motor, tack-sharp handling, nuclear HID headlights, and styling that won’t make people expect you to unload a stroller every time you get out.

Conclusion

No one actually wants to buy a compact SUV. They come to realize that they need to regularly haul around more stuff than fits in a car, but don’t have the room to park a truck or real SUV, and don’t want to pay to fill it up either. So Mr. Sensible resigns himself to buying a “cute-ute”, sacrificing both good handling and his testicles on the altar of practicality, while looking longingly at the Corvette or F350 he really wanted.

This is where the RDX saves the day for Mr. Sensible. He can haul around a wife, two kids, and all their sports gear, or take three buddies and their backpacks on a wilderness hike – but, like a werewolf, he can also crank up the stereo, hit the paddle shifters, floor it, and to the hordes of honking commuters he’s left behind him, suddenly morph into That Guy.

2008 Acura RDX 2008 Acura RDX

  • Build 4.5 Flawless execution but still room for improvement
  • Interior 3.5 Driving ergos get a 5, stereo/climate/navigation get a 2
  • Performance 4.5 Turbo + VTEC = $$$
  • Handling 5 Exceptional for an SUV and solid by any standard
  • Styling 4 The big wheels make it work, but it’s still a compact SUV
  • Value 4.5 It’s easy to understand where the extra money went
  • Overall 26/30=B+ Fix the stereo/climate/navigation and it easily earns an A-

Build

Interior

Performance

Handling

Styling

Value

Overall

Rating

4.5

3.5

4.5

5.0

4

4.5

4.33/B+

 

Who should buy it?

If you enjoy the acceleration and taut handling of a sports car, but you can’t give up AWD, cargo room, and easy urban parking to get it, the Acura RDX is your vehicle.


 

>> See all of the Acura RDX photos in our photo gallery

>> Read more Acura RDX reviews submitted by the CarReview.com community

>> www.Acura.com – official website for Acura cars and SUVs

10 Responses to 2008 Acura RDX Review – The Ballad of Mr. Sensible vs. That Guy

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  2. gnger says:

    My 2008 RDX makes me feel like .. THAT GIRL. I love it. great review as well.

  3. Venus says:

    I absolutely LOVE this review. It was both comical and educational! You had me sold when you said I could be hat guy or in this case hat girl. I currently drive an RSX and need to upsize it appears by your review that the RDX would be an awesome selection! Thanks for your help!

  4. Colin says:

    The driver was never meant to use the center controls while driving. The voice controls are the recommended interface for the driver. The joystick and buttons are for the passenger. Spend 15 minutes looking over the voice command menu and you’ll find it’s actually very easy to use.

  5. Phil says:

    Just bought a 2008 RDX w/19K. Had never even considered one until my local Honda/Acura mechanic suggested I look at one. He was right on with this SUV. It’s sporty, comfortable has some performance yet my wife drives it work and gets 22MPG (if she’s easy on the throttle). This is our 5th Honda product and it’s a good one!

  6. Rich says:

    Good review…and you got a Turner Flux, too. Nice choice on the car and a better choice on the bike!

  7. mmac says:

    We just bought one. The review is DEAD ON! The joystick is at worst unpractical. But the RDX’s handling is superb! Having test drove an X3 and numerous others, the RDX was a no brainer. We LOVE it! You will not be disappointed.

    M

  8. Mikki M says:

    RDX or GLK350 that the question, i like them both for different reasons, but still unable to make a move.

  9. Derek says:

    The RDX has always been a favorite for me because of its sharp driving dynamics and its ability to haul the bikes/cargo. The only downside was the weak fuel economy. I suppose if I used the accelerator less, there would be fewer trips to the gas pump. But where is the fun with that?

  10. Anly Ha says:

    Thanks! This was a very valuable review. We are seriously thinking about the 2008 RDX. We have a dealer offering less thank 35K for a used 2008 with 14K. It was being driven by an Acura employee. I’m still not sure what I want, whether to stick with Japanese or go with with what I love, German cars. The price just looks so good for a car targeted to drivers. The interior is beautiful and there is no navigation system which we don’t want or need.

    If we buy one it will be because of this review.





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