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First Drive – 2015 Acura RDX Built for Couples Without Kids

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RDX is Gateway Utility to Acura Brand

Let’s be honest: Acura has struggled during the past few years. Critics blasted the grille design of the Acura TL enough that Acura released a new and improved version last year that helped boost sales.

While the TL is a volume-selling sedan, the RDX is a lower-selling gateway utility vehicle to the Acura brand that never quite connected with Acura’s presumed buyers–young “urban achievers” or 30-year-old men with “high annual incomes who live in downtown lofts and know how to work hard and play hard.”

Instead, the original RDX appealed to dual-income buyers with a high household income but no kids (known as DINKS in marketing-speak) and empty nesters whose kids had either gone off to college or flown the coop entirely. The median age of RDX buyers in 2010 was 53 years old. That’s a big leap from the original buyer projections.

Acura has tweaked the buyer equations based on the new design and expects that 2015 RDX purchasers will be pre- and post-family couples.

On the one hand that translates to young, upwardly mobile couples with household incomes of about $125,000 annually. On the other hand, Acura hopes the RDX persuades older couples with one or less children at home to trade in their three-row minivan, SUV or crossover (perhaps a Honda Odyssey, Honda Pilot or Acura MDX) for a sporty and functional small crossover.

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RDX Competes with BMW X3 and Audi Q5

The compact crossover space is crowded and it’s difficult to stand out. Direct RDX competitors include the Audi Q5 and BMW X3. Acura had comparable models of each on hand for us to demo and upfront we’ll say that the new RDX holds its own against these worthy competitors, though we’ll hold back from saying any one of the three vehicles is superior in every way.

One feature you won’t find on the RDX that is available on the X3 and Q5 is a panoramic sunroof. The RDX only offers a standard sunroof above the front cabin. Is that a big deal to Acura buyers? Acura spokesperson John Kiewicz says no.

“Our data shows that a panoramic sunroof is not a must-have feature for our buyers,” says Kiewicz. “Plus, a panoramic roof adds a bunch of weight at the top of the car and we felt the new RDX is better without it.”

We can’t disagree with the logic. A panoramic sunroof looks cool and is a nice feature. But the lack of one is far from a deal-breaker for most buyers.

Acura also brought a current-generation RDX to Arizona for a direct comparison. Driven side by side, the new RDX is obviously improved. The body is more rigid while the suspension is less firm and more comfortable, the shifts are smoother and the interior layout is better—particularly in the center console. Plus, the new RDX simply looks better than the old one with its muted beak.

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More Horses and Better Fuel Economy

Savvy readers know that the old RDX sported a turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine that made 240 horsepower and generated 260 pound-feet of torque. The turbo-4 engine is history and was replaced by a 3.5-liter V6 engine that generates 273 ponies and 251 pound-feet of torque. It’s the same engine you’ll find in Honda’s well-regarded Odyssey minivan.

So horsepower is up 33 ponies while 9 pound-feet of torque were removed from the RDX’s “giddy-up-and-go” department. Driving the two models of RDX one after the other, we’ll admit we prefer the sound and performance of the V6. But what we prefer even more is that the new engine results in a 2-mpg increase in overall fuel economy compared to the front-wheel-drive outgoing model and a 3-mpg improvement over the outgoing all-wheel-drive model.

More power + better fuel economy? We think DINKS and empty nesters can easily warm to that equation.

The FWD RDX is expected to return 20 mpg in city driving and 28 mpg on the highway for a combined average of 23 mpg. Meanwhile, the AWD model loses one mile-per-gallon in each setting as it returns 19 mpg around town and 27 mpg on the open road for a combined average of 22 mpg.

And because you asked, those fuel-economy figures best the BMW X3 and Audi Q5 in highway and city driving.

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Shhh…It’s Quiet in Here

The RDX’s cabin is quiet and attractive. Acura paid serious attention to dampening both road and engine noise with more sound-absorbing lining just about anywhere it would fit. The results are impressive.

Interior space is improved as well. Front- and rear-seat passengers may not notice less than a half-inch more legroom in each seating position, but compared to the BMW X3, legroom is spacious. Passenger volume also tops both the Q5 and X3. The result is a cabin that feels roomy but not huge. It’s comfortable but not massive like the three-row vehicles that empty-nesters are abandoning nearly as fast as their HCG diets.

Those same empty-nesters will appreciate the heated leather seats alongside now-standard luxury features like Bluetooth, multi-view rear camera, Pandora and satellite radio capability, and even the ability to compose text messages using your voice only.

Acura offers a single Technology package that adds a navigation system, Acuralink weather and traffic, an enhanced audio system, power tailgate, high-intensity headlights and foglights.

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Center Console Is No Longer Button Happy

One common complaint about past-generation Honda and Acura vehicles is the over-abundance of buttons in the center console. They never felt intuitive and visually, all those buttons and dials could become overwhelming.

Acura has ratcheted back their button allocation and while I instinctively (and incorrectly) reached for the large center button often in my attempts to turn up or down the music or adjust the temperature, you won’t get lost in this center console.

Of the three small crossovers, the BMW X3 offers the cleanest and most attractive center-console execution. The Acura RDX lands in second place with the Audi Q5’s combination of buttons in the center console and on both sides of the shifter feeling the most complex and least intuitive.

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RDX More Affordable than BMW X3 and Audi Q5

One feature that may prove compelling for buyers is the indisputable fact that you’ll spend less money to get into a well-equipped Acura RDX than either a comparably equipped Audi Q5 or BMW X3. For instance, an AWD RDX without the tech package costs just under $36,000. A comparably equipped Audi Q5 2.0T runs just over $38,000 while a BMW X3 28i tops $40,000.

Bottom line: if you’re looking to save, choose the Acura. Though it doesn’t come loaded with the ascribed prestige of the Audi or BMW crossovers, its lower payment allows you to spend your money on other prestige-creating items like designer watches or clothes. Better yet, you could forgo the stylish clothes and invest the savings and hopefully grow your money while you still drive around town in a comfortable, capable and good-looking Acura RDX. We’re confident our financial advisor would prefer that strategy.

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