Now this is an MDX I can easily warm up to. Not that lesser trims leave me cold. It’s just that a luxury SUV should make its owner feel rich, or at least richly pampered, and this top-line MDX six-passenger model with the Advance package is one nicely tailored ride.
After ogling the stunning open-pore hardwood trim and beautiful satin-finish aluminum across the Advanced model’s instrument panel, doors, and center console, take a closer look at its unique seat upholstery, complete with off-white piping and stitching on perforated Ebony Milano black hides. It’s all a cut above. And the second-row would never have me calling shotgun if I weren’t always in the driver’s seat. It’s as luxuriously appointed as the row up front, with individual captain’s chairs to each side and a wonderfully detailed brushed metal, wood and leather trimmed center console down the middle. The usual third row sits behind, giving this particular MDX six-occupant seating, so it’s not quite as capable for family hauling, but those second-row passengers will arrive much more relaxed and happier from the limo-like experience.
They’ll even enjoy seat heaters on cold winter days. Still, I can already hear the mid-summer bellyaching, “Why don’t we get seat coolers like you guys?” But you can retort that “We don’t get side window sunshades up here, so be grateful!” and then follow that up with something like, “Just be quiet and enjoy Pete and Elliot on the 16.2-inch screen while I’m fighting my way through traffic.”
Sure you get real life visuals via Acura’s impressive surround-view camera system, which is cool but hardly as entertaining as the adventures of a kid and his pet dragon. There are HDMI input jacks for games in back too, and the sound quality is superb thanks to 12 speakers and a sub driven by 546 watts of Acura/ELS Surround with Dolby Pro Logic II.
I prefer less visual and more audio, whether streaming my favorite financial and economics shows off my smartphone or pumping up the Radiohead, Acura providing AM, FM, and satellite radio to satisfy most anyone’s tastes. This six-passenger version even gets six USB ports for connecting and charging devices, so no one will feel left out.
A heated steering wheel, auto-dimming side mirrors, a 110-volt AC power outlet, plus front and rear parking sensors are also part of the Advance package upgrade, the latter feature a good thing as you wouldn’t want to scratch its beautiful paintwork or stunning 20-inch alloys. Two sets of triple-stacked LED fog lamps complete the upgraded look, which are small details that make a big difference.
This said all Acura MDX trims are worthy of attention. The base model is probably most impressive due to everything you get for just $44,050 plus freight and fees, such as its V6 engine, advanced nine-speed automatic transmission with paddles, 18-inch alloys, wiper-linked auto on/off full LED headlamps with auto high beams, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, electromechanical parking brake, power-adjustable steering column, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed follow, color multi-info display, auto-dimming rearview mirror, heatable powered side mirrors with driver recognition, memory, reverse gear tilt-down, and integrated turn signals, plus its standard tri-zone automatic climate control, eight-inch color infotainment, multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, text message capability, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, 432-watt eight-speaker audio, satellite radio, 10-way powered driver’s seat with two-way powered lumbar and two-position memory, eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, heatable front cushions, leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery, garage door opener, powered moonroof, acoustic glass, active noise control, powered liftgate, and the list goes on. Torque vectoring SH-AWD will set you back an extra $2,000, money that will come back in multiples when it comes time to trade in or resell.
All this is great, but it’s the MDX’ assortment of standard safety features that leaves most of its competitors in the proverbial dust. Along with the mid-size luxury SUV segment’s usual standard active and passive safety gear the MDX gets AcuraWatch, a suite of auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies that includes road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection, all of which helped the mid-size luxury SUV earn the IIHS’ best possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating for its fourth year running, while it also gets an NHTSA five-star crash test rating.
If you want more, the Technology package adds $4,410 for a total of $48,460 and includes 20-inch alloys that are different but equally stylish, remote start, perimeter/approach puddle lights, proximity sensing access for all four doors, power-folding side mirrors, rain-sensing wipers, enhanced HVAC with humidity control air-filtration and a sun position detection system, navigation, HD radio, Song By Voice, email-reading capability, AcuraLink satellite communication with real-time traffic and rerouting, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic assist, and more, while its superb 529-watt 10-speaker surround audio upgrade system isn’t quite as sensational as the top-line one with the Advance package.
All the features are impressive, but it’s the quality of finishings that let you know the MDX is not only a premium ride, but also Acura’s flagship SUV. It’s a cut above the RDX in materials quality and execution, as it should be, with more soft touch synthetic surfaces, fabric-wrapped roof pillars all round, and nicely crafted switchgear, some of the steering wheel and center stack dials even made from knurled metal for extra style and grip, while the metal, woods and leathers that come with the Advance package brings the MDX up into an entirely new level of top-tier refinement, so don’t think for a moment this Acura won’t measure up to its European peers.
That’s especially true with the powertrain, the MDX only making one engine available no matter whether you choose base, Technology or Advance trim. The 24-valve, SOHC, i-VTEC and direct-injection enhanced V6 measures 3.5 liters and puts out a gutsy 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. It’s one of the strongest base engines in its class, and while it might not boast turbocharging, supercharging, electrical assist, and other advanced technologies offered up by many premium brands, the nine-speed auto it’s mated to makes up for any shortcomings.
Take heed, it’s unorthodox shifter will take some getting used to, an array of buttons and pull switches where the regular shift lever used to go, but a little time spent on the road will sort out any unfamiliarity while it’s novelty is certainly a conversation piece. Like most modern transmissions the MDX’ incorporates auto idle-stop, although only with the Advance package. It shuts the engine down when it would otherwise be idling and then automatically starts it up again the instant you need it, a smooth operation that you’ll soon grow used to and might even learn to appreciate. I certainly do, enjoying the silence and complete lack of vibration while knowing my vehicle isn’t unnecessarily spewing noxious fumes into my local environment, while the gearbox itself is an equally smooth operator whether cruising through town at low speed or taking to the open road, where its long legs can stretch out down the highway or steering wheel paddles improve control through a circuitous mountainside two-laner.
The MDX is renowned for its handling prowess, the original helping to change perceptions of Japanese performance way back at the turn of the millennia when it arrived on the scene. It carved up a canyon road with the best from Europe, but it wasn’t until the second-generation MDX arrived in 2007 that it surpassed those pompous Euros and therefore garnered everyone’s respect. That’s when Super Handling All-Wheel Drive was made available, or SH-AWD as we’ve come to know it. It was first offered in Acura’s RL two years before, but the much more popular MDX made SH-AWD a household acronym. A full-time, fully automatic all-wheel drive system, SH-AWD was one of the first of its type to not only provide front to rear torque distribution, but also independently regulated torque between the left and right rear wheels so as to optimize exactly where grip was needed. SH-AWD can even deliver all of the torque to a single rear wheel, important if the other one is lacking traction on sand, snow or ice, while the system also reduces understeer during fast-paced cornering by using the same apportioning process to deliver torque to either outside wheel. Acura even improved it last year with a new twin-clutch rear differential. Hence, a big three-row SUV that really handles, making weekend getaways and longer road trips a true joy for the one behind the wheel, combined with a comfortable, compliant ride so not to upset anyone else along for the ride.
It helps if you set Acura’s Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) to Comfort mode first, or alternative to Sport mode for getting the most out of the suspension’s amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, IDS sharpening throttle response, allowing higher engine revs between shifts, adding steering weight, and relaying more torque to the outside rear wheels amid corners for better turn-in, while even making the powertrain sound sportier, this an altogether more capable performer than all previous MDX iterations.
That second-generation MDX I mentioned a moment ago certainly turned heads. It was the first of Acura’s shield grilles, a design language that has finally being fully replaced by this 2017 model’s larger yet more conventional black meshed take on the familiar trapezoid. The really unique element is the glossy black circular mesh insert, that fans out in a geometric pattern from Acura’s stylized “A” badge at center. Very cool, but the brand’s standard LED headlights remain the real eye candy, these some of the most visually arresting LEDs in the industry. If you kept your attention up front you might not realize the new MDX is really a dramatic mid-cycle refresh, although before you think of its redesign as merely an extensive nose job consider that along with that new grille, those fancy headlights, the revised lower bodywork including a new front apron, side sills, and rear bumper cap, not to mention updated wheels in all trims, Acura went so far as to fold the entire hood overtop the front fenders, when the opposite was done in the previous design. They didn’t have to do that, but the result is a perfect cut line from the rearmost point of each headlamp cluster to the back half of the fender, where it bends up to visually get lost in the darkness of the windshield. Nice job Acura, and very impressive for a refresh.
The MDX is a big SUV, so no matter the size of your family members it’ll fit you all in, including the dog. Unlike many in the class, there’s usable cargo space when all three rows are in use, Spot getting 15.8 cubic feet to himself when the rearmost row is upright. That’s around the same volume as a mid-size car’s trunk, albeit vertically apportioned (which Spot will appreciate), while he’ll get up to 43.4 cubic feet of romping room when those 50/50-split seatbacks are lowered. The process only needs a tug on each rear handle, found on the backside of each seat, which drops the headrests and releases the seatback lock, letting you push them down. You’ll need to walk around to the rear side doors to do the same with the second row, which opens up 90.9 cubic feet of puppy play space when completed. I like that the aforementioned rear center console doesn’t stick up to interfere with anything you might want to load in, this a problem with some other SUVs that tried the six-passenger configuration, but I’d be careful to throw a blanket overtop so as not to scuff the nice leather armrest.
When those seats are upright Acura provides easy “One Touch Walk-In” pushbutton access to the third row that automatically pops the second row seatback forward and slides the entire seat in the same direction; there are buttons on the base of each second-row seat and on their upper backsides for rear passengers to let themselves out. I wouldn’t say climbing in and out is easy for an adult, unless particularly flexible, and there’s not much room back there for anyone above five-foot-six or so, or at least my five-foot-eight frame felt the squeeze when trying to get comfortable, and that’s after sliding the second row fairly far forward, which of course infringes on their legroom. I don’t think this will be a problem for most families that use third rows rarely if at all, but those with a gaggle of mostly grown kids might want to consider something larger. Front and second-row seats are as comfortable and roomy as most anyone could want, while visibility from the driver’s seat is superb all around.
Speaking of kinsfolk, don’t worry about bringing the kids along to your local Acura showroom, as there aren’t any crazy colors they’ll be begging you to buy. The MDX gets seven to choose from, my tester in most popular White Diamond Pearl, while the usual black, gray and silver join black copper, dark cherry red, and dark blue metallics, a rich but conservative palette that should serve most MDX buyers’ tastes well.
Color choices aside, the only two Advance options include no-cost Espresso, Parchment, and Graystone Milano leather, which will automatically force you to choose between genuine olive ash or black limba hardwood inlays, while available dealer installed accessories include a variety of 20-inch alloys, different styles of running boards, roof rack crossbars, 3,500- and 5,000-lb towing packages, and more.
When under heavy loads your MDX won’t be able to take advantage of standard cylinder-deactivation, which when not stressed too hard shuts down three of the engine’s six cylinders. Acura is the only premium brand that offers this well-proven feature, which no doubt aids the top-line MDX in achieving its combined city/highway rating of 22 mpg with FWD and 21 with SH-AWD. Advance trims with the previously noted auto idle-stop feature do a bit better despite their heavier equipment load, achieving an impressive 23-mpg combined with FWD and 22 with SH-AWD.
If you’re considering a mid-size luxury SUV I probably don’t need to recommend the MDX, because it’s likely on your shopping list already. If for some reason it’s not, it should be. It was the bestselling dedicated three-row model in its class last year with 55,495 buyers, only beaten by a single five-seat model, which are normally more popular. This is where I make my pitch for a return of the fabulous ZDX, still one of my favorite SUVs, but alas it’s not going to happen so I won’t embarrass myself by lobbying too aggressively, the MDX already sporty enough for most peoples’ wants and much more capable of fulfilling their needs than the discontinued model’s sloping rear backside could ever hope to be. At least this Advance package-equipped six-passenger model adds the cool factor back that most family haulers lack.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, American Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, American Auto Press Copyright: American Auto Press