SAN FRANCISCO -- Acura wants to redefine its image with more power and technology.
When it goes on sale in August, the new RDX crossover will be the first Acura with a turbocharged engine. It will have Acura's high-tech all-wheel drive, standard 18-inch wheels and more torque than any other Acura.
"We're going after the same customers as BMW," Dan Bonawitz, vice president of corporate planning and logistics for American Honda Motor Co., said at a press event here.
The basics: The RDX is the first vehicle on Honda's new, global light-truck platform.
The new 2.3-liter, in-line, four-cylinder aluminum engine produces 240 hp and 260 lbs.-ft. of torque. It is accompanied by a five-speed automatic transmission.
Acura believes the RDX fills a crucial hole. Bonawitz said the luxury market is expected to grow 23 percent over the next five years, and what Acura calls the entry-premium segment - RDX's home - is expected to grow 500 percent over the same period.
Notable features: At the heart of the RDX is the new turbocharged engine. The variable-flow turbo provides more even power than some turbochargers that start slowly, then take off like a rocket.
The awd system, introduced on the Acura RL sedan, distributes torque between the front and rear axles and between the left and right rear wheels. Paddle shifters on the steering wheel allow the driver to switch to the manual mode.
On the interior, the vehicle can hold two 19-inch bicycles upright. The center console is deep and can hold a briefcase or computer.
Standard is a 360-watt, seven-speaker audio system with a six-disc CD changer and XM satellite radio.
The only option is the technology package, which includes a 410-watt surround-sound audio system, navigation, a hands-free wireless telephone and up-to-the minute traffic details.
What Acura says: "The RDX is establishing a strong, early presence in this segment," Bonawitz said. "Consumers now see Acura with BMW, not traditional luxury like Lexus and Mercedes. We already have that young, affluent customer. This vehicle will continue that."
Compromises and shortcomings: Although the RDX is equipped with a more powerful engine than the X3, it still is a four-cylinder. Luxury buyers may want the image of big engines. So why not at least give it a six-cylinder engine?
"We looked at a six," Bonawitz said, "but it is heavier and takes up more space. We also figured that fuel economy would be an issue. There has been a shift from V-8s to four cylinders, so we believe this will work."
The estimated fuel mileage for the RDX is 19 mpg in the city and 24 mpg on the highway. The base X3 delivers 17 mpg and 25 mpg.
The market: Acura is positioning the RDX between the sporty TSX sedan and the mid-sized MDX crossover.
The TSX will be the entry-level Acura when the RSX goes away at the end of the 2006 model year.
"The MDX has been a success, but the price point is too far from the TSX," says Acura product planner William Walton. "Plus the TSX customer wanted something sporty."
The base price of the TSX is $28,505, including $615 for shipping. The MDX retails for $37,740, including shipping. Acura estimates the price of the RDX will range from about $32,000 to $38,000.
Walton says many RSX and TSX buyers were trading in their vehicles for rival brands' small, light trucks. "That's why we needed RDX," he says.
The skinny: The RDX helps Acura reposition itself as a brand with vehicles that are exciting to drive and loaded with technology. But it's unclear how many customers will pay $32,000 and up for a crossover with a four-cylinder engine.
You may e-mail Kathy Jackson at [email protected]