Acura calls its new MDX “the driver’s SUV.” While most marketing slogans are just hype and fluff, there’s actually something to this one. Honda, and its luxury brand Acura by extension, has always been driven by engineering and performance. It’s no different in this case.
While it’s tempting to laud Acura for making an engaging, high-performance crossover SUV like the MDX, the reality is that most of its competition has ratcheted up the fun factor as well. Infiniti, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Volvo, and BMW all offer V8s in their crossover utes, and so it was imperative that Acura turn it up a few notches.
They have done so, in spades. And they’ve done it in typical Acura fashion, taking one of the smallest engines in the field and turning it into a wonderful overachiever. The 3.7-liter V6 in the MDX makes 300 horsepower at 6000 rpm and 275 pound-feet of torque at 5000 rpm. This is a best-in-class rating for V6 engines, and even rivals some V8 options like Volvo’s 311-hp V8 in the XC90.
One of the secrets to extracting this kind of performance from 3.7 liters is VTEC, Honda’s legendary, industry-first variable-valve timing system. The MDX has the notorious “VTEC spike” a rush of power and deepening sound that occurs when the valve timing changes. In the MDX, it happens around 4000rpm at wide-open throttle. The sound is thrilling; much like the big sixes in Acura’s other offerings. The engine is paired with a five-speed SportShift automatic, which, despite lacking the extra gear of many of the MDX’s rivals, does a fine job of keeping the VTEC six in the meat of its powerband.
After spending a week with the MDX, we feel confident in pronouncing it the winner of the crossover SUV sporting campaign. It’s lighter on its feet than any of its rivals, and the only offerings that we think could firmly outpace it are high-performance SUVs like Mercedes-Benz’s AMG-tuned ML or Porsche’s V8-powered Cayenne variants. The MDX has performance-oriented driver aids, starting with its SH-AWD. This is the same system on the flagship RL and smaller RDX SUV, and transfers power to the outside rear wheels to help the MDX rotate quicker through a corner.
It works beautifully, and the MDX has other things – like an always-active (yet easy to turn off) VSA that is completely seamless, rather than abrupt. Combine it with the hard-charging V6 and you have an SUV that can rival many sedans for driving excitement.
You can also watch the 2007 Acura MDX Road Test Video at YouTube.
So how ‘bout the rest of it? How does it compare as a grocery-getter, or a traffic-jam-reliever? Well, it’s an Acura after all, and it doesn’t disappoint. Our test car was completely loaded, with the Sport, Technology, and Entertainment packages.
That meant we got the excellent navigation system with real-time traffic reports for up to 150 miles away, a rearview camera, power liftgate, and a premium sound system. And that’s just the big stuff. The MDX is littered with cool stuff, and none of it is intimidating or needlessly complex.
There’s a tri-zone climate control system that also happens to be solar-sensing and GPS-linked. The second row has heated seats in the outboard positions, not to mention a DVD player with a nine-inch screen, detachable remote control, and two sets of wireless headphones with their own volume controls.
The third row is not as luxurious as the first two, but it is incredibly easy to operate. There are two buckles in the load floor – simply pull them up, and the seats will follow. The buckles are located in exactly the right spot for maximum leverage, provided you are opening them from the open liftgate. It can also be done from the rear passenger doors, but it’s a bit tricky since you need to move the second row forward first. Since the liftgate is remote-controlled, it’s easier to just do it that way.
Navigation screens can be frustrating, but the MDX’s quickly grown on the driver. Acura has eschewed the touch-screen capability, which is a risky gamble. However, the screen is inside a hood atop the dash, requiring less diversion of the driver’s eyes from the road. So the control method is an iDrive-style wheel within easy reach of the driver’s right hand, with two layers – one for rolling and scrolling, one for bumping any of eight directions. For the most part, it works well, but some of the menu functions are redundant and mastering the zoom is a little tricky.
Big, flashy electronics items are not the only impressive facet of this car. The little things are just as impressive and often serve to distinguish the ownership experience even further. One thing that must be discussed is the MDX’s first-row center armrest. Its lid is bisected, and each side can open upwards like a French door. Since there’s a release button on either side, the armrest can be opened without disturbing the driver’s (or passenger’s) arm. Even more useful is the 115-volt outlet inside. This allows household electric items to be used in the MDX without an adapter.
The MDX is a tour de force of technology and performance, and must be experienced first-hand. As with any Honda or Acura product, it is much better in real life than it is on paper. We only had a few minor gripes. First, the front seats are heat only; there is no cooling function. And the second row’s armrest has no storage, only cup holders (albeit the best second-row cup holders we’ve ever seen). And although the third row is spacious and comfortable, the second row is not adjustable were more space needed. However, these are the only things that separate the MDX from total perfection. For an as-tested price of around $48,000, an MDX with absolutely every option can be yours. Considering how good it is, that’s the SUV steal of the year.