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Old 10-25-2006, 10:52 AM   #1
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Default 2007 Acura RDX vs. 2007 Mazda CX-7 GT vs. 2006 Toyota RAV4 Limited V6 (MotorTrend)

2007 Acura RDX vs. 2007 Mazda CX-7 GT vs. 2006 Toyota RAV4 Limited V6 (MotorTrend)


How Does a carmaker reach out to young, active buyers? There isn't an easy answer to this question, particularly when you're talking about one of today's hottest market segments--the compact SUV/crossover. From cool, urban designs to the latest in audio/video technology, Honda, Mazda, and Toyota each brings its own responses to the question. But will any of these offerings turn the heads of the jaded PlayStation generation? To find out, we borrowed each maker's latest entry and hit the road.

The newest member of the ad-hoc power trio presented here is Honda's premium division's first foray into small SUVs, the Acura RDX, which comes loaded with features, including a potent turbo-four engine--first ever in an Acura product--and a variation of the Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system introduced on its flagship RL sedan.

Hot on its heels is Mazda's take on the cross/ute, the high-profile CX-7. It, too, is motivated by a ready-to-rock T-charged four, though buyers can choose between front- or all-wheel-drive configurations and base, Touring, or Grand Touring spec. Parity demanded we opt for the GT/AWD combo presented here.

To round out the mix, we tabbed Toyota's popular RAV4. A generational changeover for 2006 adds style, size, and sophistication to this evergreen entry--along with a killer V-6 engine option that can send power to the front or all four wheels of the base, Sport, or the topline Limited 4x4 (which we drove for this match).

Embellishments vary for each of these compacts. The RDX offers a Technology Package thar's highlighted by a voice-activated nav system with AcuraLink real-time traffic, upgraded 10-speaker/410-watt premium Acura/ELS DVD-A sound with XM Satellite Radio, and GPS-linked solar-sensing auto climate control as its sole extra.This supplemental goodies-set was fitted to our vehicle and, if Acura's projections prove true, will show up on about 40 percent of customer RDXs. Stepping up to Tech trim bumps the RDX's price of entry from $33,610 to a stout $37,110.

Mazda's baseline front-drive CX-7 opens at $24,310, while a GT with AWD commands $28,560. The Moonroof/Bose Audio/6CD Changer Package on our vehicle brought that number to $30,145, with the other big GT option being a $4005 Technology Package that includes voice-activated navigation and keyless remote starting.

It's a different issue ith the RAV4. Toyota's ubiquitous mini-hauler ranges from an econo-oriented four-cylinder/FWD base model at $20,905 to our primo V-6/AWD variant which opened at $26,475. Augmenting its already bountiful Limited kit with extras like a moonroof, leather upholstery, premium JBL sound, side/side-curtain airbags, and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, our tester bottomlined at $31,719.

Visual distinction among these three is obvious. The CX-7's bold face and edgy contours incorporate recognizable corporate design cues culled from the MazdaSpeed6 and RX-8. Acura sent the new RDX down a more conventional path, though its tautly rendered lines and 18-inch wheels speak to its purposeful sportiness. Despite its dramatic bump in scale, the new-gen RAV4 remains closest to a standard-bearer for tradition here--albeit one its design team managed to infuse with a fair amount of contemporary flair.

Settle in behind the wheel, and you find that each cabin environment reinforces its respective exterior character. The RDX, which is rich in overtly techy elements, comes across as the thinking-enthusiast's favorite. But like its rivals, Acura's newcomer is surprisingly bereft of soft-touch surfaces, though it does boast the coolest-looking electroluminescent gauges and has the most legible all-around displays. However, mastery of the central controller--particularly on models with the Technology Package, which adds a sea of buttons and steering-wheel-mounted switchgear--just might require reading the owner's manual.

Opinions were divided on the RDX's firm, aggressively bolstered front buckets. They afford exceptional lateral grip, but encourage the removal of anything thicker than a credit card from one's back pockets before any long-distance treks. Fortunately, the RDX also features a lockable center console bin that rivals the trunk in a Pontiac Solstice for useable space, making it easy to secure personal effects up to a small briefcase.

Favoring emotion over intellect, the CX-7 displays a more avant-garde look set off by piano-black accent trim and a healthy dose of brushed aluminum. There's obvious 'Speed6 influence in the red-lit gauge cluster, and its tri-spoke steering wheel comes straight from the MX-5. Unlike the RDX and RAV4, which offer tilt/telescoping steering columns, the CX-7's unit adjusts for rake only. However, the less-aggressive bolstering of its well-shaped buckets struck the most desirable comfort/support compromise, and its locking center storage area, while smaller than the RDX's, is still generous.

Conventional but classy, the RAV4's roomy interior trades flash for functionality. With the most "upright" design and largest greenhouse, it offers the best driver sightlines and, aside from awkwardly positioned power window switches, it sports the most straightforward control layouts--although part of that simplicity stems from the fact that it's the only one without a navigation system option.

Conversely, Toyota's SUV is the sole player with the rear-seat DVD option (including a handy 115V AC outlet). While the RAV4's front seats would benefit from more contouring and the radio/HVAC displays in the central stack could stand more bright-sun legibility, there's little else to criticize about its basic creature comforts.

The RAV4's aft quarters are pleasing, as well. All three of these compact haulers are fitted with split/folding rear seats belted for three but capable of--and best limited to--accommodating two full-size adults. However, the Toyota leads in head- and legroom and cargo capacity. Not only does its 73.0-cubic-foot maximum outspace the RDX by over 12 cubic feet and the CX-7 by nearly 15, but the lower cushion on each side of its rear bench provides almost six inches of fore/aft travel to allow flex between people and packaging. We prefer the design of the top-hinged hatches on the RDX and CX-7 to the Toyota's side-swinging gate, but for those willing to forego two-thirds of the available rear-bay space for an extra pair of munchkin-only perches, the RAV4 is the only player to offer an available third-row seat.

The powertrains in these mini 'utes combine equal parts spirit and sophistication. Common traits are lightweight aluminum architecture and four-valve twin-cam configurations augmented with variable valve timing. While Acura and Mazda put their trust in small-displacement turbo I-4s, Toyota offers the RAV4 with the standard naturally aspirated 2.4-liter four and the bigger, 3.5-liter non-turbo V-6 as in our tester.

The RDX's free-revving 2.3-liter makes 240 horsepower and 260 pound-feet. Although that latter commodity doesn't peak until 4500 revs, the system uses a variable-flow turbo inlet valve that optimizes its operation across the entire rev range and minimizes lag. Backed by a paddle-shifted five-speed automatic, it sent our 3922-pound Acura from 0-to-60 mph in 7.3 seconds and through the quarter mile in 15.6 at 88.9 mph.

A fraternal twin to the 2.3-liter direct-injected four in the MazdaSpeed6, the CX-7's engine employs T-charger circuitry revamped to deliver better low and midrange kick. Where the 'Speed6 puffer makes 274 horses at 5500 rpm and 280 pound-feet of torque at 3000 revs, this version churns out its 244 ponies at 5000 rpm and 258 pound-feet of twist at 2500 revs. Equally notable, 99 percent of that hangs in right on up to the 5K mark. With the mandatory six-speed autoshifter, it propelled our 3908-pound tester to 60 mph in a respectable 8.0 seconds en route to a 16.0-second/84.6-mph quarter mile. But Mazda's best efforts notwithstanding, the engine displayed noticeably more lag than its counterpart in the RDX and seemed less consistent in throttling up and shifting down than in the last CX-7 we ran.

For all its low-profiling, the RAV4 stepped up when the gas pedal went down. Vitals on its V-6 show 269 horsepower and 246 pound-feet of torque. Paired with the standard five-speed autoshifter, it's stout enough to send our 3719-pound Limited AWD from 0-to-60 mph in a mere 6.4 seconds. That advantage also carried through the quarter, which flashed by in an equally stellar 15.0 ticks at 91.6 mph. While being the quickest, the RAV4 also is the most fuel-efficient, netting 21/28 city/highway EPA mpg numbers on regular unleaded gas instead of premium required by its thirstier Acura and Mazda mates. Light-duty off-roading aficionados should note the RAV4's AWD includes an electronically lockable center diff and Descent Assist Control/Hill-Start Assist Control. It also stands proud in the trailering department, with an optional tow package bumping the max load rating on a V-6 from 2000 to 3500 pounds, versus a 1500-pound limit on the Acura and 2000-pounds top for the Mazda.

In daily driving mode, all three of these SUVs are capable all-weather cruisers, thanks to such standards as unobtrusive stability- and traction-control systems plus powerful ABS discs. But push closer to the limit, and their relative strengths and weaknesses become obvious. The RDX easily establishes itself King of the Twisties, thanks in large part to its nifty SH-AWD package.

While all three vehicles normally operate as de facto front-drivers, the Acura not only can route up to 70 percent of its available motive force rearward--compared with 50 percent for the Mazda and 45 for Toyota--it can transfer up to 100 percent of that to the outside rear tire to maintain its proper line through a corner. Couple that edge with an ultrastiff unit body, taut-to-a-fault strut/multilink suspension, and grippy 235/55VR18 Michelin Pilot HX MXM4 tires, and it was no contest in lateral acceleration and our figure-eight tests--although that supremacy did impact ride comfort.

Despite a sporty feel and Mazda's Active Torque Split AWD--also borrowed from the MazdaSpeed6--the CX-7 just didn't have the same level of dynamic composure as the Acura. It also lacked the RDX's wrought-from-billet structural rigidity. The RAV4 was simply an order of performance down on the enthusiast scale, its softly tuned, strut/multilink suspension exhibiting some body roll and cornering push--though it did counter those issues with a reassuringly solid feel and the best compliance of the group. Even in Sport spec (stiffer springs/shocks and 235/55VR18 shoes in place of the Limited's 225/65HR17s), the RAV4 isn't up to canyon running with either of these foes. But stopping is a different animal, as the Toyota halted from 60 mph in a tidy 124 feet, compared with 122 for the CX-7 and 134 for the RDX.

Picking a winner here is no easy task. Depending on where your priorities--and budget--lie, a solid case could be made for any of these three. Ultimately, however, the Mazda's head-turning style and the Toyota's superiority in addressing the sensible side of life were simply outpaced by the RDX's more compelling mix of personality, practicality, and driving exhilaration. Acura marketing types continue to view the BMW's X3 as prime competition for their new baby, and it's difficult to take issue with this. Feature-matched, the RDX still undercuts its Teutonic counterpart in price. But with the X3's 2007 freshening also set to bring an extra 35 horses and a new six-speed Steptronic transmission, it'll be interesting to see how the Acura and BMW fare in a head-to-head shootout. Until we can make that happen, Acura gets the kudos here for a job well done.

1st Place: 2007 Acura RDX
The point-and-shoot reflexes of a purebred sport sedan matched with the practicality of an SUV.

2nd Place: 2006 Toyota RAV4 Limited V-6
Slightly short on sport, it's the pick of this pack when it comes to quickness, comfort, and versatility.

3rd Place: 2007 Mazda CX-7 Grand Touring AWD
An impressive package in its own right, which looks great but is just a bit less fulfilling.

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Old 10-25-2006, 12:28 PM   #2
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Acura should put that engine and awd system in the TSX...I know its been said before, but I'll say it again.
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Old 10-25-2006, 03:27 PM   #3
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Interesting that you never see the Forester XT in these comparisons.
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Old 10-25-2006, 03:41 PM   #4
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Fxt > *
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Old 10-25-2006, 03:56 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Corkfish View Post
Interesting that you never see the Forester XT in these comparisons.
Devils Advocate:
This might also be Subaru's fault for not providing a XT to the magazines for testing/comparision.
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Old 10-25-2006, 04:25 PM   #6
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Originally Posted by Kostamojen View Post
Fxt > *

the FXT pales in comparison to the RDX. sure it may be a little quicker...but the handling and rigidity is no contest.
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