by: Mike Ginsca
With a reputation for reliability and good resale value, the Acura MDX is a popular choice for those looking for a midsize luxury SUV. For the 2017 model year, the MDX receives a facelift along with a few extra interior features. But competition from the Europeans is fierce and the MDX needs to stand out in a very crowded and competitive segment.
Performance – The Acura MDX is one of the few midsize SUVs that is still available with a traditional naturally aspirated V6. Mazda, Audi, and Volvo have gone with 4 cylinder engines while BMW and Mercedes have added forced induction to their 6 cylinder engines in their SUVs. Nonetheless the 3.5L V6 in the MDX is capable of producing 290hp and 267 lb-ft of torque and sends its power to the front wheels or all four wheels via the SH-AWD system as equipped in this test vehicle. Mated to the V6 is a 9-speed automatic transmission which likes to keep the engine’s revs higher than one would expect from a big V6. The reason for this is because the engine in this MDX doesn’t produce much torque at low rpms so it feels sluggish when trying to overtake another vehicle in a higher gear. But once the transmission drops down to a lower gear and the engine’s revs build, it pulls with plenty of grunt. It’s also a very smooth engine that doesn’t transfer any vibrations into the cabin.
If you do opt for the SH-AWD system in the MDX, you’ll be treated to a sporty and invigorating drive. The system uses torque vectoring to overdrive the rear wheels while in a corner to aid the SUV in faster cornering. It produces a feeling of oversteer but the driver is still in control. The suspension is also firmer for better control of the body roll but on the down side it does make for a more bumpy ride over unmaintained road surfaces. The steering effort is light (a bit too light in comfort mode) but it doesn’t offer quite the same feedback as that in the Mazda CX-9. Even in “Sport” mode, the steering feels artificially heavy and is better suited for highway straight line stability rather than spirited driving on a twisty road.
Comfort – The cabin of the Acura MDX is what you’d expect from a luxury brand in terms of refinement. It is quiet thanks to triple-pane windows and sound absorbing insulation throughout the cabin. As mentioned earlier, the engine’s vibrations do not translate into the cabin nor does wind and tire noise unless you’re purposely trying to break the highway speed limit. However the design of the cabin is not what you’d expect from a luxury brand especially one that is synonymous with being on the cutting edge of technology. The split screen infotainment system is a good idea but the software is badly showing its age. The lower touchscreen is not as responsive as other infotainment systems and the graphics are in need of a redesign. The rest of the cabin is lined with leather on the seats and real wood trim on the dashboard and door panels are a nice touch but boring black plastic is the predominant feature that catches your eye on the upper dashboard. Why couldn’t Acura have covered the dashboard with leather?
Sitting in the MDX is comfortable for the front and second row occupants. The driver’s seat has multiple electronic adjustments as does the front passenger and they are also treated with heated and ventilated seats. The second row can recline and slide and the side passengers have the option of heated seats, the middle seat does not. Getting into the third row is a piece of cake thanks to a simple one button design that allows the second row to tilt and slide forward providing plenty of access to the third row. But it is not a place I’d like to stay for longer than 15 minutes because there is no headroom or legroom. The backmost seats are best reserved for kids or left folded for more trunk space.
Odds and Ends – Technically this is not a completely new generation of the MDX. It is a mid-cycle refresh that has only received visual updates to the exterior. The sporty exterior looks sporty and is more in-line with Acura’s modern design language. Although, I’m not quite sure what to think of that new front grille. It looks as though the designers threw that massive Acura badge at the grille and made it look like a crater impact. I’m one of the few that still prefers the look of the old “shield” grille.
This being an Acura, it is packed with new electronic safety tech that for the most part works. Blind spot monitor, lane departure warning with lane keep assist, and 360 degree camera system all work flawlessly but on this test vehicle the forward collision alert and backup sensors gave false warnings from time to time in particular when the MDX was stationary with nothing around it. One more piece of tech that requires a bit more refinement is the radar guided cruise control. It works but just not smoothly. It maintains a set speed by constantly modulating the throttle, as in, it will accelerate then coast, accelerate then coast, and so on. Also when it detects that the vehicle in front has moved out of the lane, it will accelerate vigorously to the preset speed. Mazda and Volvo have much smoother operating radar guided cruise control systems than the MDX.
Although the Acura MDX received mid-cycle updates, it did not receive them where it really mattered. The interior and infotainment system needed a refresh, the electronic safety systems need a bit of refining, and the suspension could use a bit of tuning so that it still remains sporty but also comfortable. Because of these faults, it’s hard to justify spending $65,000 CAD on a fully loaded MDX like this one or even $53,600 CAD for a base model.
Thank you to Acura Canada for providing the vehicle. www.Acura.ca
Editor at large and gearhead. Can drive anything on 4 or 2 wheels... sometimes 3 wheels too.