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2010 Acura RDX. (Honda/Honda)
2010 Acura RDX. (Honda/Honda)

2011 Acura RDX

Acura sweetens pot for steady but unspectacular RDX Add to ...

The current Acura RDX is due for a major styling and engineering overhaul this year. Nothing official from Acura, of course, but count on it; the timing fits and the RDX is due.

For now, the RDX is making do with the small facelift it received in 2010. The fact is, the smallest compact crossover offered by Acura has been a steady if unspectacular player in a segment increasingly important to premium buyers.

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Rivals? Audi's Q5 is hot, as is the Mercedes-Benz GLK. Throw the BMW X3 into the mix, too, and note that it is all-new for this year from top to bottom. Cadillac has its new SRX to compete here, Land Rover the LR2 and Infiniti the EX35, too. Really, there's not a dog in the bunch.

Acura knows all about the competition and that's why you'll find a $2,500 factory-to-dealer rebate in play for 2011, despite Acura raising the price $500 to $40,490 from the 2010 base price of $39,990. That's a good number. Four-wheel-drive versions of the GLK and X3, for instance, start at $41,900 and $43,500 respectively.

The RDX stands out in this crowd for its first-rate engine. It is a turbocharged four-cylinder with responsive, engaging performance. The five-speed automatic transmission is equipped with Sequential SportShift transmission and it allows you to get the most out of this engine.

I'm a big fan of the Super-Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, too (SH-AWD). It sends engine power evenly between the rear and front axles and also splits it between the right and left rear wheels. Slick. All this means that you get the most out of the engine's 240 horsepower and 260 lb-ft of torque, regardless of the road conditions - slippery or dry.

Another plus is the cabin. Very nice and, for a compact crossover, it has ample cargo space. Acura tends to err on the "too-many-knobs-and-buttons" side of things, but in this model, one of the older ones in the brand's lineup, the controls are not overwhelming though there are plenty of them. Seats, meanwhile, are supportive and heated up front. Outward visibility is as good as any in this class, too.

Acura updated and enhanced the leather upholstery for 2010, as part of the facelift. It looks expensive and feels good. I also like the ambient lighting in the foot well. Fancy stuff. The available rear-view camera system is a useful safety feature, with the rear image projected clearly in the centre screen. At back, a pull handle makes closing the rear hatch a snap. Even the cup holders are sensible for today's drinks.

What some drivers may not like is the ride quality. In an effort to give the RDX sporty responses, the ride engineers have dialled in a pretty firm feel. Some might call it stiff and even jiggly. Sure, the handling is sharp enough, but it comes at the expense of a measure of comfort. Small kids might get carsick in back if you get a little too enthusiastic behind the wheel.

And you'll be tempted to do just that. The turbocharged engine snaps to attention the second you juice the throttle. You can manage the quick gear changes through steering-wheel-mounted paddles that allow for manual shifting. Acura revised the brake system in 2010, too. That is, the brakes feel sturdier and more responsive than in older models, as well as less jumpy and overly sensitive. Acura is aiming the RDX not so much at family types, but borderline enthusiasts. Keep that in mind if you have kids.

Kids or not, the RDX is safe. The U.S. Insurance Institute for Highway Safety rates this rig "Good" for both front and side impacts. Acura says its Advanced Compatibility Engineering, or ACE, body structure, should get credit here, though a full suite of airbags helps immensely.

Sure, I'd like better fuel economy with the RDX and Acura must continue simplifying the design of its controls. The ultra-firm ride is a plus if you're feeling frisky, but it's not so great for everyday commuting when all you want is a quiet, controlled and user-friendly ride.

The smart money is betting Acura will address those concerns with the next-generation RDX. There is also talk of a hybrid version coming, which should address the fuel economy weakness. What Acura does not need to fret about is quality - the brand's models continue to shine on that front.

And with the discounting available on the 2011 RDX, this compact crossover should at least be on your shopping list for anyone chasing this sort of ride.

jcato@globeandmail.com

2011 Acura RDX

Type: Compact crossover

Price: $40,490 ($1,895 freight)

Engine: 2.3-litre, four-cylinder, turbocharged

Horsepower/torque: 240 hp/260 lb-ft

Transmission: Five-speed automatic

Drive: All-wheel

Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 11.7 city/8.7 highway; premium gas

Alternatives: Audi Q5, Mercedes-Benz GLK, BMW X3, Cadillac SRX, Land Rover LR2, Infiniti EX35

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