Tuesday, June 12, 2007

TESTED: 2007 Acura RDX

By Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy Acura Canada

For years now, Honda has eschewed any form of assistance when it comes to making horsepower, preferring to use higher compression ratios and red lines rather than resorting to ‘cheating’ with turbos or superchargers.

It is, after all, called Honda Motor Company…

So as a result we saw little four-banger screamers revving to eight or nine-thousand rpm: Civic SiR, Integra Type-R, Prelude SH and the S2000.

But now Honda – as with the rest of the market – is jumping head first into the Crossover segment, and small-displacement low-torque high-revving engines just don’t suit the soft-roader segment in North America. Given the company’s desire to offer a vehicle positioned below its popular Acura MDX, it was faced with a quandary. Using the redesigned CR-V platform meant that none of the Honda/Acura V6 motors would fit, and even the 210-horsepower version of the corporate 2.4-litre found in the TSX would come up short next to its luxury branded rivals, Honda did the unthinkable. It turned to turbos.

Well, not turbos plural, but certainly to the technology. Seeing the efficiency provided by a properly designed turbocharger as a viable way to stay ahead in the fuel-economy and emissions game, a brand-new engine was designed for the new for 2007 RDX.

Displacing 2.3 litres, Acura’s new powerplant features the company’s Variable Flow Turbo technology that can narrow the turbo intake passage to spin the turbine faster thanks to improved exhaust flow. Combined with the i-VTEC variable valve timing and cam phasing, the RDX produces 240 hp @ 6000 rpm and a very stout 260 lb-ft @ 4500 rpm. Add in competitive fuel mileage for the segment – 12.5 l/100km city and 9.3 l/100km highway – and it’s apparent that Acura has put just as much effort and engineering prowess into its debut turbo.

(I figure it took about 25 seconds before someone dropped one of these into a ’93 Civic Hatchback…)

A five-speed automatic transmission routes the power through Acura’s SH-AWD system introduced on the RL sedan two years ago. The RDX is by definition a front-wheel-biased machine that sends up to 45 per cent of the engine power to the rear axle. The SH – or Super Handling – part comes from the system’s ability to send up to 100 per cent of that rear-biased power to the outside wheel, effectively rotating it faster than the inside wheel, making for higher cornering forces and greater stability.

Despite all this all-wheel-drive trickery, the RDX is definitely an on-road biased vehicle. With a relatively low ride height, 18-inch street-biased tires, and very ‘sporty’ – i.e. firm – suspension settings, the RDX is definitely a little corner carver. The all-aluminum engine helps give it some admirable turn-in, and the brakes on the 1,810 kg package are firm and responsive.

Inside, as with all Acuras, drivers are treated to a very high level of specification with very little being available on the options list. A great sound system, moonroof, xenon headlights, power driver’s seat and dual-zone automatic climate control are standard, while the Technology package adds Navigation, a rear-view camera, Bluetooth connectivity and an upgraded stereo. The space follows the Acura future-Asian theme with lots of faux brushed aluminum, lots of buttons, and bright gauges.

It’s on the outside that the RDX is at its weakest. While everything from the B-pillar back is stylish and well put together, the nose still has some work left. The very large front overhang isn’t helped by the angled lower fascia, while the ‘speed strakes’ in the five-pointed grille are a fussy afterthought. It’s obvious the design was guided by the need to feed cool air into the engine bay, but the result is something that looks unfinished.

Pricing is very simple; the RDX starts at $41,000 even, while adding the Technology package brings that total up to $45,000. That’s a pretty penny in today’s market, especially given the larger vehicles that command that same price tag. However, the RDX will sell, especially to size conscious Canadians who jump on compact anything much easier than our American cousins. Even a turbocharged Honda.

TESTED: 2007 GMC Acadia

By Mark Atkinson
Photos courtesy GM Canada

Faced with the prospect of slow-selling, badly dated Envoys getting even more unpopular thanks to the increasingly rapid demise of the traditional body-on-frame SUV, GMC has finally released what it hopes will be a competitive shot in the white-hot Crossover market.

Meet the 2007 GMC Acadia, one of General Motors’ new full-size triplets designed to be more user friendly and less compromised on road compared to its previous offerings. Designed from the start as a ‘real’ seven seater – as opposed to those mid-sizers sporting Geneva Convention defying third rows – the Acadia is one big machine. Based on the new front-wheel-drive unibody Lambda platform, it is actually larger in every dimension compared to the ancient Envoy, although its clean styling and driving style make it appear and feel smaller than it actually is.

Powered by GM’s ‘High-Feature’ 3.6-litre V6, the Acadia comes with 275 horsepower, and uses the new GM / Ford joint-venture six-speed automatic. Power is directed either to the front wheels, or optionally all four. As of y et, there is no alternative engine, which is a shame since the Acadia’s power is average at best, and lower than either of the Envoy’s outgoing units. And with a curb-weight of 2,234 kg, it needs all the help it can get, especially with all seven seats occupied.

However, with full independent suspension all around and four-wheel-disc brakes, the Acadia does a very good job of getting around town, smothering out nasty pavement humps while proving to be relatively agile. The vehicle’s width and long wheelbase become very apparent when trying to park or negotiate tight turns, but in more open environments, you never take notice.

Inside, Acadians are treated to a new high in terms of GM cabin design, with very little nasty plastic used, and the dash-top storage bin is handy to stash keys, glasses and a cell phone. Our SLT tester had a 10-speaker Bose sound system with a rear-mounted DVD player, and all Acadias come standard with a raft of safety features including six airbags, StabiliTrak with Proactive Roll Avoidance and traction control.

GMC has kept its pricing in check as well with two-wheel-drive Acadias starting at $36,495, while a fully-loaded all-wheel-drive SLT2 will run about $44,000.

The downsides? Well, the big C-pillars provide massive blindspots, the fuel economy is still dreadful, and the towing capacity has dropped considerably, reducing the Acadia’s use as a utility vehicle even more. There are rumours that perhaps a V8 engine might find its way under the hood, which could be a mixed blessing.

And although GMC has done an excellent job at putting a Toyota Highlander / Honda Pilot competitor into the market, its biggest competition will come from within: the virtually identical Saturn Relay, and the soon-to-be-announced Chevrolet version on the same Lambda platform. Hopefully the Acadia’s position as the first model out of the gates will give it the head start it needs to secure a foothold in the market.