More stories related to 2005 NAIAS DETROIT – Honda Motor Co. Ltd.’s Acura luxury division has found a niche worth cultivating: small upscale cross/utility vehicles.

BMW AG’s X3 has been a success, and no other luxury brand has a small CUV in production yet, leaving the Bavarian auto maker alone in the segment.

Acura will be next, when its RD-X small CUV goes into production in Marysville, OH, in 2006 as an ’07 model. The RD-X will be similarly proportioned to the Honda CR-V but will be based on a new light-truck architecture.

Acura rolled out a concept RD-X here at the North American International Auto Show.

Acura RD-X arrives in 2006.

Although Honda sells plenty of fuel-sipping 4-cyl. CR-Vs, Tom Elliott, executive vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., promises more exhilarating performance from the RD-X.

Honda will not identify powertrain options for the RD-X, but Elliott says the CUV will achieve at least 200 hp and will have Honda’s groundbreaking Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system, which debuted in the ’05 Acura RL flagship sedan.

The system distributes torque not only between the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right rear wheels. The result is outstanding cornering and handling.

Elliott tells Ward’s a hybrid version of the RD-X is a “possibility,” but that no decision has been made yet.

RD-X’s futuristic interior includes clear acrylic wing across dashboard and tangerine-colored leather trim.

“If we’re going to plan a hybrid, there are two ways you can do it,” he says. “You can do it at the same time or within a year after introduction. In this case, we will not have a hybrid to start. The best we could do, if we chose to do it, was a year or two after introduction.”

A small CUV is a smart bet for Acura, given that about 25% of Acura sales are classified as light trucks (MDX CUV, produced in Alliston, Ont., Canada) at a time when 50% of the U.S. luxury market consists of trucks.

“So Acura is missing some volume,” Elliott says. “We’d like to introduce a lower-price vehicle to get more buyers to the Acura side.”

An earlier concept of the small CUV debuted at the Detroit show two years ago. The concept shown Sunday features 19-in. wheels, Brembo disc brakes, a dramatic, raked beltline and an aggressive, chiseled exterior designed to woo young buyers with active lifestyles.

Like many concepts, the RD-X includes a host of advanced features likely to be excluded in the production vehicle, including cameras that replace the side-view mirrors.

The cabin is futuristic, looking more like a study in modern art than a functional cockpit, with its clear acrylic wing running across the top of the instrument panel.

The concept’s dashboard and door inserts are trimmed with a combination of ivory leather and ivory suede. Dual front bucket seats are trimmed in tangerine-colored crocodile-embossed leather with wool headrests.

Tangerine-colored leather also is used on the steering wheel, door accents, seat backs and center console.

tmurphy@primediabusiness.com