Our problem: While some would call it a problem, others, like myself, would call it a blessing. With a baby on the way, the wifey wants something bigger than the old Honda Fit, and she wants it to have AWD, heated seats, leather, and built in Nav. Now I'm just like you and not about to give in and buy any old SUV that handles and performs like an old boat. I want her in a car that is a step up from the Fit, yet handles more like a car than an SUV. It also has to be something that is safe, reliable, and utilitarian for daily use.
Our Solution: Enter the 2007 Acura RDX. Sporting a black on black theme, this Tech Version has all of the luxuries our wives want (heated seats, navigation, back-up camera, etc.), along with all of the fun features us tuners look for in a car (AWD, disc brakes, boosted, etc.).
Our Goal: I purchased this ultimate soccer mom mobile to run a thorough DIY on the car to show that there is some aftermarket support out there for the family grocery getter, and that it is possible to have a powerful, reliable, fuel-efficient family car that looks and performs better than any other SUV crossover on the market.
The Black Pearl's gas mileage is at an all time low as the odometer surpassed that ominous 100,000-mile mark, and we are getting the feeling that it is about time for a tune-up. To start us off on the right foot, NGK supplied us with some fresh O2 sensors along with some of their infamous Iridium spark plugs, and K&N shipped us a set of their high capacity oil filters to try out. But no tune-up is complete without fresh oil, and where would we be without Motul? These guys not only shipped us their synthetic brake fluid for us to try out, they also have supplied us with their 5W-30 oil to run in the RDX during warmer months, and their 0W-30 offering for cooler weather. To cap things off, we added a J's Racing magnetic oil drain plug to keep particles where they belong-away from the engine. After installing these goodies, we noticed a 2-mpg increase in fuel economy, with even better gains on the highway during long road trips. So with that part of the equation now addressed, we can now move on to a far more daunting task: handling.
The Acura RDX was never meant to be a track monster. It's suspension, while sporty for a crossover, still leaves much to be desired, so when BC Racing decided to bring a coilover option to the table in 2012, we were elated beyond belief. With a 30-way adjustable compression/rebound option, full ride height adjustability via the shock body, and 100 percent anodized components, it's exactly what we were waiting for. Our installation was relatively easy (outside of one seriously stuck bolt), and a more simplistic setup is hard to come by. The design, fitment, and overall quality were spot on, and we had our coilovers on the car in a jiffy. Once installed, we clicked our way over to a medium stiffness level on the suspension and moved on to our wheels and tires.
There are countless wheel and tire options we could bolt onto our RDX, and a lot of these options would look pretty damn good on the Pearl. We needed a set of seriously strong wheels, some all-season tires that could handle the abuse of a 1,000-mile long road trip, and all while looking good along the way. Something clean, functional, and unique. So after months of debate we reached for the ultimate wheel and tire package in WedsSport SA-60M wheels wrapped in Nitto Motivo all-season rubber.
When Jim Wang of Weds Wheels suggested an 18x9 +23 SA-60M wheel we were a little skeptical. Would anything smaller than a 20-inch wheel look good on the car? Does this offset even work on the RDX? There were certainly some doubts. But Jim reassured us that he had been doing his homework, and that we would love his recommendation, guaranteed. So we decided to do a little research of our own, and looked into WedsSport themselves. Still 100 percent made in Japan, WedsSport Wheels are created through a unique cast flow technology called Advanced Metal Forming (or AMF). From what we found, these wheels are slowly formed on a spinning wheel, then spread thin under extreme heat with a smaller spinning wheel, which in turn makes the aluminum stretch to the point where it becomes a forged product. The end result is the best of both worlds, a reasonably priced wheel that has the strength and lower weight of a forged wheel. So after reading up on this process, along with some customer reviews, we decided to take the plunge and ordered the wheels along with a set of center caps.
Nitto Tire had been quick to point us toward their Motivo line, due primarily to size availability and its ability to bring solid year-round performance gains. Designed as an ultra high-performance all-season tire, these tires are for those of us wanting something that will perform in dry, wet, and moderate wintery conditions. After looking over the tread design and a few videos about the tire we ordered a set in a 255/45-R18 configuration to wrap our new Weds up. Now it was the moment of truth, would this setup of ours actually work? All of our previous doubts faded away once everything was mounted on the car. Jim from WedsSport really knows what he's talking about! With the coilovers on the car, about a 2.5-inch drop in ride height, and with the wheel/tire combo installed, we realized that this setup should have been on the car from the factory! The car now rides and handles like a high performance Euro wagon, but with the ground clearance of a stock Honda Fit. When we took it out to test the new setup for the first time we were quite impressed with the newfound feel of the car and how the wider wheels and tires gripped even the wettest corners.
Our suspension and wheel/tire combo recently got put through its paces in the twisted mountain passes outside of Asheville, North Carolina, and our verdict was quite favorable. With the rear coilovers dialed in a dash firmer than the front and the Motivo tires under 40 psi of pressure, the Pearl snaked its way through the Nantahala Gorge without issue and handled like it was a whole metric ton lighter. Later, we hit a very icy abandoned parking lot, and for an all season tire, those Motivo angled tread blocks and fin sipes really provide great grip in snowy conditions. So between the newfound handling in the corners from our aftermarket upgrades and the intuitive, natural feel of the car's SH-AWD system, the Acura RDX is now a seasoned canyon-carver and a joy to drive.
Weighing in at almost 2 tons, the Pearl does not stop on a dime, and one of the first things we realized was that it needs some brake upgrades. So when Curry Acura's OEM upgrades were making it onto the Pearl we decided to install some of EBC Brakes' GD rotors and Yellowstuff pads on the car. The dimpled and slotted GD rotors that we got from EBC Brakes, with their zinc coating and oversized fins, are perfect for aggressive street and track use and will run about 200 F cooler than non-machined rotors. The Yellowstuff pads are made from an organic base and use a higher concentration of Kevlar and ceramic for increased friction, which in turn gives a progressive bite that varies based on heat. We found that during normal street driving the pads will only be as aggressive as needed. But when it is time to get on the track and the pads start heating up, the bite becomes more aggressive and is ideal for brake snubbing. The pads also have an insanely high heat range (a whopping 1250 F), which ensures that the pads won't fade when they get hot and that they will last longer under prolonged abuse.
While we were on the brakes, we also contacted HeelToe Auto about a set of Fastline's RDX exclusive stainless brake lines, and we reached out to Motul for some better brake fluid. As we bled the brakes and refilled the reservoir, the low viscosity of the 5.1 Motul brake fluid surprised us. One hundred percent synthetic, and loaded with polyglycol, this fluid is an ideal additive to a Stage 1 brake upgrade, and is completely safe to mix with DOT 3 and 4 fluids. Another thing we noticed, when we were looking over Fastline's stainless brake lines, was that each of their brake lines was coated with a clear plastic coating, which prevents dirt and debris from wedging itself in the stainless mesh and fraying the line over time.
Better Brains, Boost, Intake, and Exhaust
In the go-fast department, we start things off with a K&N Typhoon intake, a Hondata reflash, an ETS intercooler, and an ATLP cat back exhaust.
The K&N intake install was a breeze, and was on the car in less than 15 minutes. With its simple design, million-mile warranty, and proven flow rates this unit was an obvious choice from day one. While we were in that area of the engine we disconnected our ECU and shipped it off to Hondata for a quick re-flash. With the ECU re-installed on the car we have seen an increase in throttle response, an increased rev limit to 7200 RPM's when in Sport Mode, better fuel economy, and an overall improvement in boost at higher RPM. As the dyno charts show, this reflash is a fantastic option for first generation RDX owners, and can be installed in less than 10 minutes.
The RDX's stock exhaust system, like many others, is a tangled web of various piping diameters, restrictive catalytic converters, sharp bends, and pointless angles. So Heeltoe Auto came to the rescue again, this time with their exclusive ATLP cat-back exhaust system. The first thing that struck us as we unpacked the unit was the overall quality of the exhaust. This exhaust is made out of 439 stainless steel and is fabricated 100 percent in the USA, with the muffler itself being a completely custom-made piece featuring the necessary single-in/dual-out configuration in a transverse mounted format to avoid any daily driven ground clearance issues. It is packed with a proprietary sound absorption material sourced directly from Germany that is designed to be both lightweight and incredibly efficient at filtering out any unwanted noise. All of the piping is mandrel bent, 2.5-inches in diameter, and features a distinctly simplistic bare-brushed finish. The system terminates with a pair of polished double-wall 4-inch tips featuring a slight angle and the ATLP logo etched in the sidewall.
Installation of this exhaust was a breeze since the ATLP unit utilizes all of the stock hangers and mounting points, and it bolted right up with the provided gaskets and hardware without issue. Once the Pearl was back on the ground we fired it up and to our surprise the ATLP exhaust proved to be just as quiet as the stock unit! Even under severe load their exhaust purrs like a content kitten while providing the bite of a seasoned predator. With its subtly angled 4-inch tips, clean lines, quality welds, and noticeable performance gains, this is, without a doubt, one of the best upgrades you can do to your RDX.
The last part to be bolted onto the car was our Extreme Turbo Systems (ETS) intercooler. Simply designed to replace the stock unit and utilize all of the OEM components (including the shrouding), this beefier intercooler has been a wonderful addition to the build and provides us with an additional 14 horses and 17 lbs-ft tq. Installation proved effortless, and we have found that with this upgrade boost piles up almost instantly, now leaving us quite satisfied with the car's power department ... for now.
Downstar Inc. came forward and provided us with a K-series engine dress-up kit and assorted flush fender washers to clean up the engine bay a bit. While the K-series kit from Downstar Inc. does come with instructions on what bolts/nuts go where on the vehicle, the K23, as we all know, is quite different from the rest of its K-relatives. So after an hour of installation time, we tossed the manual and just started measuring up stock bolts to the Downstar Inc. offerings in the hopes of getting things to match up. All in all we were able to get 85 percent of the hardware onto the vehicle and we are currently looking at placing the remaining hardware on various other areas of the car. The materials used are top notch and the effect you get from a Downstar inc. dress up kit is remarkable.
Stay tuned for a special finishing touches feature in an upcoming issue of HT where we add on some additional awesomeness and put our grocery getter on the dyno to see where we are in the numbers department.
Turn in Concepts
To build something as odd as an RDX we needed a shop that didn't just build Hondas, we needed someone who specialized in building boosted AWD chassis. Our build shop and chief sponsor comes to us in the form of an unlikely ally, a Subaru shop by the name of Turn in Concepts (TiC). Located in Cincinnati, Ohio these guys don't just limit themselves to Subies. Anything from Porsches, to R35's, Evo's, and BMW's are serviced here, with their niche market focusing on all-wheel-drive turbocharged platforms. These guys handled 90 percent of this build, and spearhead everything from installing and tuning our sharp suspension, to mounting and balancing our wheel/tire combo, to installing all of our go fast goods.
Allied with Acura
With 100,000 miles on our RDX's odometer we don't have to worry about voiding any warranties with this build; but what we do have to worry about is an aging chassis that needs some OEM attention in various places. Enter Curry Acura, and their top notch parts department. After doing some online research we chose to approach this particular dealership (which is located just north of New York City) with our build proposal based upon their positive customer feedback, parts availability, and professionalism. When they heard what we were up to, their parts department jumped on board and supplied us with some OEM aero, leather interior upgrades, rear differential fluids, service manuals, and more.