Turbo power increases the fun factor
by: JONATHAN HOUSE, With its turbocharged engine, the 2010 Acura RDX is the antidote to  
boring two-wheel-drive SUVs.

I have to confess that I don't understand why anyone would buy a two-wheel-drive sports utility vehicle.

What is the point of owning something that looks off-road ready, but isn't? All I can think is, most buyers are fathers with young children who just can't stand to be seen in a minivan.

The 2010 Acura RDX changed my mind, however. Adding a powerful engine to the mix transforms the compact luxury crossover into a fun-to-drive sports car - one with five doors, plenty of luggage room, and good ride height and visibility.

The power in the RDX comes from a turbocharged and inter-cooled 2.3-liter dual overhead cam four cylinder engine. Especially compared to the first mass produced turbocharged engines introduced in the 1980s, the performance is stunning. There is virtually no turbo lag, meaning the power comes on instantly and smoothly. And it continues building up the red line, making even steep hills a breeze.

Although the automatic transmission only has five speeds, they are well-matched to the torque curve. Quick manual shifts are possible from the steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters in the sport mode. The result is zero-to-60 times in the sub-seven second range, despite the RDX's upright stance and 3,746-pound curb weight.

The engine is not the only sporty feature, however. The suspension is also firmer than most crossovers. Some potential buyers might even find it a little harsh over rough surfaces, although others are likely to appreciate the road feel. The four-wheel-disc brakes are well-matched to the other performance parts, producing reported stops from 70 miles per hour reported at around 180 feet.

The sports car-like feel is enhanced by the angular styling, beginning with the sharp grill, flowing past the bulging fenders and ending at the sharply sloping rear hatch. The 18-inch alloy multi-spoke wheels on our test model looked both attractive and functional. The overall look is aggressive, even when parked at the curb.

The theme is continued through the interior, which included leather sports seats and a leather-wrapped steering wheel and shifter. The rear seats were surprisingly ample for a compact SUV, which sometimes seem to designed to only hold children.

Despite its many strong features, there were some problems. Vital information including internal temperatures and fan speed is only displayed in a small slit at the top of the dash. Not only does reading it require strong eyes, but the electronic figures are be obscured by sun glare.

Out test model was equipped with every conceivable high tech options, including Blue Tooth, XM Satellite Radio and a Tech Package that added an upgraded stereo and navigation system. Although techies might appreciate the features, using them all requires a dizzying array of console and steering-wheel-mounted buttons - resulting in an overly complicated forward cabin. Drivers should be able to sort them all out with repeated use, but the initial impression is a little confusing.

Those issues aside, the 2010 Acura RDX proves that two-wheel-drive crossovers can be more than a better-looking minivan. It puts the sport back in SUV.

Facts and figures

• Model: 2010 RDX.

• Manufacturer: Acura.

• Class: Compact luxury crossover SUV.

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

• Style: Five-door, five passenger hatchback.

• Engines: 2.3-liter turbocharged and intercooled DOHC inline 4 cylinder (240 hp, 260 ft.lbs.).

• Transmissions: 5-speed automatic.

• EPA estimated city/highway mileage: 19/24.

• Price: Beginning at approximately $33,000 (as tested $36,430).

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