The Acura MDX is a popular contender on the luxury mid-size crossover battleground, helped by a potent all-weather drive system, efficient use of space, high level of features both standard and available, decent operating economy, and better-than-average warranty and resale value.
The 2010 Acura MDX features bold new styling to highlight significant changes for 2010 underneath. The 2010 MDX gets a new six-speed automatic transmission teamed with a revised version of its V6 engine. Acceleration improves slightly as do EPA ratings by 1 mpg. The MDX was last redesigned for 2007. Chassis refinements for 2010 include a retuned Active Damper System. Also, there is more technology on more models for 2010. The new Advance model gets thicker antiroll bars, especially in back, so it corners flatter and changes direction better.
Front and rear styling details have changed for the 2010 MDX model year, and the MDX is about an inch longer overall. Larger, 19-inch wheels are offered, taking the aggressive look one step further.
Inside, the styling and materials have been updated for 2010 as have many of the electronics and gadgets Acura has developed a reputation for, and more have been added. The top model known as Sport has been replaced with the MDX Advance model, not coincidentally the single-word Acura motto.
The Acura MDX is built on a unibody platform. It's neither an adaptation of a passenger car platform nor a truck-based platform like Chevy's Tahoe. It is not as long as the German seven-seat rivals, but close in size to many five-seat crossovers and has ample cargo space. It's a solid structure that should wear well and ride better than a truck-based utility.
From its wild grille to its elaborately stylish cat's-eye headlamps and new bumper the MDX continues to be edgy, figuratively and literally. It's quickly and easily identified and Acura and generally presents a wide stance.
The seats are laid out in three rows to accommodate seven people; flexible loading and appropriate materials make it family-friendly. It brings enough features to sate most technophiles, yet doesn't get too carried away with aids and assists.
Acura's 3.7-liter V6 is among the most powerful in its class and delivers decent fuel economy. Unlike all of its European competition there is no V8 option, nor a hybrid or diesel that some offer.
The all-wheel drive system can drive each rear wheel independently for maximum traction and to help drive the MDX around a bend. Handling is commendable and the ride taut, both comfort and performance enhanced on the Advance model.
The Acura MDX competes primarily with the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Lexus RX350, Mercedes-Benz GL and ML, and Volvo XC90.
The MDX was designed in America, at Honda's facilities in Los Angeles and Ohio, with input from design centers in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy.
The grille is a metal-filled hole that looks like a battering ram, the new bumper air vents looking very much like a Pontiac cue and drawing the eye to the center. Darkened headlight housings place signals above the headlights as on much larger trucks, and the hood is relatively flat.
At the rear the license plate recess carries the same five-angle shape as the grille and the tail-lights are easily mistaken for an Audi. Tailpipes resemble a wide vacuum cleaner snorkel and, combined with a lack of roof rails and the broad shoulders, make the MDX look lower and wider than it is.
Substantial arches frame the tires to promote the rugged look, while a gentle upward curve in the body mirrors the downward slope of the glass from the front door back, all meeting up above the rear wheel. Adornment is thoughtfully limited to chrome door handles and window trim, with no cladding to hold road salt or eventually fall off.
The 2010 MDX an inch longer than the 2007-2009 but all other dimensions remain the same. Relatively speaking, the Q7, X5 and GL-Class are all notably longer, the Volvo XC90 and 5-seat Lexus RX and Mercedes ML-Class almost the same. A three-seat-row Escalade or Yukon Denali is much larger.
Acura's power tailgate system can be operated either from the key remote key fob, a button on the driver's door panel, or from a button located inside the tailgate. The tailgate motor is in the D-pillar, not the roof, which yields more headroom for the third-row occupants. The tailgate can also be operated manually.
The rear edge of the MDX is a flat-black finish not easily scuffed by errant shopping carts or bushes, but the paint on top of the bumper could be vulnerable loading and unloading the cargo area.
The engine's relatively low placement under-hood is good for stability and pedestrian protection, and gives away the MDX is more suited to pavement that four-wheel drive trail travel.
The interior of the Acura MDX is designed with luxury, business and family all in mind. It is stylish and functional, with generous space for four adults and two kids.
Seats are powered and heated in front with a driver memory system, and offer excellent support for winding lanes or long road trips. Leather, perforated for the ventilated front seats on Advance models, is the default fabric for the front two rows. Third-row seats use a synthetic substitute for leather that is easy-to-clean and more scuff resistant; besides, you don't want to spoil the little buggers too early in life. Entry an exit to third row is best left to smaller, more agile bodies though a subcompact adult will fit if needed.
A ram's horn shape dominates the dash, with wood sweeping from a near-point where the dash and console meet, up and across, then rolling right into the door trim panels. The wood is new for 2010 as is the black-matte finish on the center control panel, and we have to admit the matte-black came off better than the wood which seems too busy with graining, sort of a combination of BMW's horizontal-grain dark walnut and Infiniti's vertical grain-maple.
The driver works with a tilt-and-telescoping dished leather-wrapped steering wheel, the aluminum trim punctuated by eleven switches; shift paddles are standard for 2010. Speed and engine rpm show in two nacelles, with coolant temperature and fuel level in half nacelles outboard. The center display offers the usual mix of info and data, including a bar-graph function for the all-wheel drive that shows the power split among wheels. Trust us, if you see more than three bars for either rear-wheel and aren't going straight ahead you should return your eyes to the road.
On cars with navigation, the top center is the nav screen, a full VGA display that works faster, has real-time weather and traffic, auto-rerouting, and a lane guide to help you find your way. It is controlled using the big multifunction button at the bottom of the panel but does voice recognition as well as any such system. The screen is also used for three rear camera views; a semi-wide-angle normal display, 180-degree fisheye for backing into a parking lot with vans on both sides, and an overhead display for trailer loading or best depth definition.
Switches and controls on the center panel number 48, a lot of white-on-black that might overwhelm at first but quickly becomes more familiar. At the top, the climate controls surround a digital display for radio and climate data; there is no need to go through the central controller and nav screen to do all common operations. Below that, the audio disc drive and controls, with the DVD drive and control source underneath. Bottom center, near the nicely-angled shift lever, is the main control button and hard keys for the majority of the car's systems and setups.
The shift on the left of the console leaves space for a big cupholder on the right and a deep center console with tray for your i-whatever. The forward edges of the armrests curve outward, making less of a dent in your forearm when it's not pointed straight ahead.
Three-zone automatic climate control allows the driver, front passenger and rear passengers to set different temperatures for maximum comfort. Advance models offer seat heat front and middle and ventilated front seats, and on navigation cars the climate control system is linked to better account for sunlight.
The middle row outboard seats are nearly as comfortable as the front and fold down wide side behind the driver. Despite the nearly-flat floor we'd still recommend the center position only for smaller types or baby seats. The third row is compact though Acura did the smart thing making it two seats and 50/50 split rather than three seats.
In addition to the big console there is storage space in the doors, glovebox and right side of the console. Dropping the third-row seats (without removing headrests) increases cargo space from 15 cubic feet to 42; dropping the second-row delivers about 83 cubic feet or very nearly what the much-longer Mercedes GL delivers.
The Acura MDX offers a quiet, taut ride and brisk acceleration performance. The all-wheel drive system does not counter stupidity or physics but it adds to driving fun and with a set of winter tires should do very well in snow.
Acura's 3.7-liter V6 dishes up 300 horsepower (more than any competitor's six cylinder) and with a new six-speed automatic delivers a very good blend of acceleration and fuel economy for a 4600-pound box. The engine is smooth; it's quiet too until you lean on it and pass through 4500 rpm where the satisfying growl comes on but it never gets rough or raucous. With only moderate torque you have to have some revs on to climb a hill or pass, but the transmission and shift logic are perfectly dialed in to that.
Fuel economy for the MDX is an EPA-estimated 16/21 mpg City/Highway on premium unleaded. Among its competitors, only the five-seat Lexus RX and RX hybrid offer better mileage on gasoline; the diesel Q7, X5, GL and ML all do from 2-5 mpg better.
MDX uses independent suspension all around, a setup typical for the class and tuned more toward the BMW-enthusiast end of the spectrum than pillow-velvety Lexus style. Steering is nicely weighted and the car goes where you point it, and driving it up a winding road, where the all-wheel drive pushes the car around a bend like a giant, gentle hand guiding it, is the most rewarding.
While the plain MDX is good, the Advance car is even better. It comes with larger (19-inch) wheels and the same width tires, normally a recipe for better handling/poorer ride, but also includes an active damper system. These shocks are the same design used on top-performance Corvettes, Cadillacs and Audis and use magneto-rheological fluid to change their firmness-level almost instantly. In addition to the comfort/sport modes retuned for 2010, the Advance car also gets thicker antiroll bars, especially in back, so it corners flatter and changes direction better. Pushed to its limits the MDX acquits itself well in terms of handling dexterity and braking, and its acceleration betters many V8-powered SUVs.
For 2010 the loaded MDX includes a blind-spot warning system that works from 6 mph. Acura claims it recognizes cars and trucks but did not mention motorcycles; outward vision is sufficient that we never had the system warn us. It also has radar-based adaptive cruise control to maintain following distance and, if needed, apply the brakes when it senses an impending collision. We didn't test that latter feature either.
MDX carries a maximum tow rating of 5000 pounds, though we'd carefully consider weights and frontal area carefully for any trailer approaching that weight. Some of the larger competitors have higher ratings, up to 7000 pounds, worth noting if your boat is more than 3500 without its trailer.
The Acura MDX has a distinctive face, luxury appointments, room for a family and enough flexibility to make it all work in the same package. It's also got a smooth engine with power to spare, excellent handling and stability, and an all-wheel drive system that can help as much on a dry corner as on a snowy hill. With a good warranty and resale value, it deserves consideration on any seven-seat ski-wagon shopping list.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent G.R. Whale contributed to this report after his test drive of the MDX in Pennsylvania and Los Angeles; Jim McCraw contributed to this report.