Here at TOV we feel the need to come clean - we have a problem. We're addicted to the Tail of the Dragon. US-129, running from Tennessee across the border into North Carolina is our favorite test road in the Eastern United States. No, make that the whole USA, maybe even the world.
The Tail of the Dragon incorporates more than 300 turns into about 11 miles of road, with massive elevation changes and wonderful scenery. It is North America's version of a low speed Nurburgring and we love it. It is fun, exciting and an excellent test of vehicle dynamics.
This time around, we brought a diverse group of cars to the Dragon's Tail. First up was the 2007 RDX. Not exactly the sort of vehicle that is usually chosen for attacking US 129, but it is an SUV with sporting pretentions - a turbo charged engine and SH-AWD aren't made for hauling cargo in our opinion.. And since we test everything we can at the Dragon's Tail, including the Ridgeline pickup, we had no reason not to evaluate the RDX here as well.
Next up was our 2006 Civic, dubbed Project Si. We recently did some suspension upgrades and needed to evaluate them. Furthermore, we'd never taken any new Si to US 129 and that was a shortcoming we needed to seriously address. And since we'd never taken a stock Si to the road, we thought it would be nice to compare Project Si to a bone stock example. Honda was unable to meet our request for a loaner car in time for our test, but TOV member LudegarH22A7 was kind enough to bring his pristine (and stock) Habanero Red Si to meet us. Furthermore he was kind enough (or naive enough? :-) to let us hammer his car on the famous road.
In the end, all three cars acquitted themselves very well. The stock Si reminded us of just how awesome the original is. Great grip (even on all season tires), wonderful balance, good brakes and great acceleration. Naturally, the all seasons would overheat after some hard running, but we really enjoyed taming the Dragon in this car.
Project Si was, naturally, the standout of the day. This is the sort of road that it was built for and there wasn't a car on the road this day that could keep up with it. In fact, there weren't many motorcycles that could keep up either. The new front shocks and alignment we threw on before heading to US 129 made a serious difference, providing excellent front grip with vastly improved rebound control. Project Si could be thrown into corners with abandon. Turn in was quick and accurate with tremendous grip (even on stock summer tires). You had your choice of braking in a straight line and leaning on the front tires, or trail braking into the corner to generate some rotation at the rear. Once past corner entry, a little throttle applied through the factory LSD pulled the front end to the apex, where a ramp up to full throttle rocketed the car out of the corner. Understeer was almost completely non-existent. Our only complaint was some brake shudder from our well used rotors. And we may need to bleed the brake fluid again :).
Of course, what everyone was waiting for was our road test of the 2007 Acura RDX. We'll give more detailed evaluations at the conclusion of our road test. But suffice it to say that the RDX performed admirably for an SUV. The biggest surprise? The suspension calibration. The RDX, while a luxury/sport crossover vehicle, is delivered with a very sporty suspension setup. The ride quality is firm and communicative (very Euro). Yet it is very comfortable on smooth roads, and even bumpy roads don't cause any major disturbance (much better than something like the BMW X3). Yet, body roll is minimal, and shock damping in mid corner is exceptional. In all honesty, except for the weight, its hard to tell you're driving an SUV. We would like less understeer in the steady state (neutrality requires heavy throttle early in the corner, something that is not a natural response for most drivers), and more tire grip would be nice too, but we do recognize that the target buyer for the RDX is not likely to be 4-wheel drifting the car through tight corners.
The K23 turbo engine in the RDX pulls quite strongly - once it's under boost. Unfortunately, under 2000 rpm (especially from a dead stop), there is a bit of boost onset delay. Compared to other turbo engines in the 2.0-2.5 liter class, this is actually quite good (the only engine in this class with better response is the VW 2.0T engine), but combined with a wide ratio automatic transmission that doesn't like to downshift into first in slow corners, it can be a bit difficult to fully utilize SH-AWD in the way it was intended.
We have more photos and videos on the way, so be sure to check back regularly. And be sure to read our upcoming full road test of the 2007 Acura RDX.