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2014 Acura RDX AWD Tech: Luxury compact crossover maintains high standards

by: AMERICAN HONDA MOTOR COMPANY, INC. - Acura is so confident about the appeal of the RDX, it hasn't made any changes since last year.The 2014 Acura RDX is facing the kind of competition it used to give German-made compact luxury crossovers. The RDX made a name for itself as a less expensive but still well made and fun to drive alternative to compact BMW and Mercedes crossovers.

But now companies like Ford, Hyundai, Kia, and Toyota are offering even cheaper compact crossovers that feature surprising levels of comfort, performance and technology, even if they are not as refined as the RDX. Even funky Subaru has significantly upgraded its compact Forester this year.

Acura has responded by trying to broaden the RDX's appeal. It was completely redesigned to be a little larger last year. At that time, the torquey turbocharged four cylinder engine was replaced by the company's venerable 3.5-liter V6. And the sophisticated Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system was replaced by the less expensive Intelligent All-Wheel Drive system.

The result was a more mainstream compact crossover that was not quite as much fun to drive, but easier to live with.

And apparently Acura thought that was good enough because the 2014 RDX is unchanged. Company officials must figure not many consumers will not be tempted by the significantly improved Ford Escape, Kia Sportage, Hyundai Santa Fe Sport, and Rav4, even though all can be loaded with leather and technology options for thousands less than the RDX. And now Jeep is knocking on the door with its all-new Cherokee compact.

But they may be right. Although the Escape, Sportage, Santa Fe Sport, and Rav4 have come a long way since their humble origins, they are simply not as refined as the RDX. The styling is more tasteful, the interior materials are high quality, and the ride is quieter and more confidence inspiring.

And Jeep is just beginning to reintroduce the Cherokee name to the American market.

Besides, what more can Aura do to improve the RDX? They've already decided consumer will prefer the smoothness and relatively good fuel economy of the V6 to a high strung turbo four. The quick shifting six-speed automatic transmission really does't need another gear or (in Chrysler's case) three.

In a week of mixed driving, the RDX was always rewarding, whether it was cruising through neighborhood streets, speeding up to freeway speeds, or passing semi-trucks on the open road. The 3.5-liter V6 may not be turbocharged or supercharged, but its 273 horsepower was more than enough in every situation we encountered. And it was even quicker in the Sport mode.

Although the RDX is too small for a third row of seats, it has a lot of cargo space behind the back seats, even more when they are folded down. And rear seat room is reasonable, considering its size. It can carry five adults in relative comfort, at least on short trips.

The lengthy list of standard features includes such things as 18-inch wheels, heated mirrors, rear privacy glass, automatic headlights, a rearview camera, a sunroof, keyless ignition/entry, dual-zone automatic climate control, heated power leather front seats, and leather upholstery. The entertainment and connectivity features include Bluetooth and a seven-speaker sound system with a CD player, satellite radio, Pandora radio interface, an iPod/USB audio interface and an auxiliary audio jack.

Out test RDX came with the Technology package that adds such goodies as xenon headlights, foglights, a power liftgate, a navigation system (with real-time traffic and weather), voice controls, GPS-linked and solar-sensing automatic climate control, and an Acura/ELS surround-sound audio system with 10 speakers and 15GB of music storage. Although it pushed the price to a little over $40,000, that's not unreasonable for such a well equipped luxury compact crossover.

Facts and figures (all models)

• Model tested: 2014 RDX.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Compact luxury crossover.

• Layout: Front engine, front and all-wheel-drive.

• Style: Five-door SUV.

• Engines: 3.5-liter V6 (273 hp, 251 lbs-ft).

• Transmissions: Six-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway/mileage: 20/28/23 (FWD); 19/27/22 (AWD).

• Price: Beginning at approximately $35,000 ($40,515 as tested).