Bottom line: 2010 Acura RDX is a compact SUV built...

Bottom line: 2010 Acura RDX is a compact SUV built to be driven in the snow. Credit: None/Honda

All-wheel drive adds confidence in snowy weather, but really, even in a winter like this year's, how often do you really need it on Long Island?

Acura had the Sunbelt states in mind, not Long Island, when it decided for 2010 to make its appealing but somewhat pricey little RDX SUV available without all-wheel drive. But unless your regular winter travels include steep hills or unplowed roads, the formula might work for you, too. Front-wheel drive is almost as good, especially with traction control.

The compact five-passenger RDX isn't as large and hasn't been nearly as popular saleswise as the MDX. The RDX debuted in the summer of '06 as an '07 model. Forgoing all-wheel drive cuts $2,000 off the sticker price and increases fuel economy by 2 miles per gallon in city and highway driving as estimated by the Environmental Protection Agency. As in the all-wheel version, traction control is there to help get the vehicle moving in difficult conditions.

The fuel saving is attributable to two other advantages of forgoing all-wheel drive: less weight - about 100 pounds in this case - and no friction drag from the all-wheel system itself. That also improves acceleration and handling. Cornering is as flat as any SUV's, including that of competitors like the BMW X3. The steering is quick and communicative.

A few caveats: The EPA estimates for the front-drive RDX - 19 mpg in city driving, 24 on the highway - are nothing to write home about. Some competitors with six-cylinder engines do just as well. Further, both front- and all-wheel-drive RDXs require premium gas.

Know also that the RDX's ride is quite firm, so your passengers might not enjoy riding in it as much you will enjoy driving it. And the cabin lets in more road noise than you might consider tolerable in a near-luxury vehicle.

Prices for 2010 start at $33,330 in front-drive (which is about what the '07 model started at with all-wheel drive), $35,330 in all-wheel drive.

Both versions have what is this vehicle's most delightful feature: a turbocharged, 240-hp. 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine, delivering sprightly performance (zero to 60 mph in 6.4 seconds, says Car and Driver magazine) with no "lag" between the driver's request for power and the engine's delivery of it. Acura says the RDX will tow a 1,500-pound trailer.

Other changes for 2010 include a freshened exterior look and richer leather upholstery.

Acura has been a consistent high scorer in owner satisfaction surveys such as those by J.D. Power and Associates and Consumer Reports.

The RDX gets a top, five-star, rating from the federal government for its front and side-impact protection. The Insurance Institute calls it "good" in frontal, side and rear impacts.

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