Acura MDX is a roomy, midsize near-luxury crossover, enjoyable to drive, with sharp handling. MDX offers three rows to seat up to seven. It comes with a strong V6 or an even quicker hybrid powertrain. Opting for Super Handling All Wheel Drive improves stability and handling in dry and slippery conditions.
For 2018, Acura MDX gets a new 7-inch capacitive touchscreen with a faster response time and simpler menus and commands on the dual-screen interface. There are also two new colors for 2018: Basque Red and San Marino Red. The current, third generation model was introduced for the 2014 model year. It was revised for 2017 with fresh styling, better ride and handling, and more safety features.
The standard engine is a strong and smooth 3.5-liter V6 with direct injection making 290 horsepower and comes with a paddle-shifting nine-speed automatic transmission. MDX comes standard with front-wheel drive.
Super Handling All Wheel Drive transfers power front-to-back and side-to-side as needed, sending more power to the outside wheels in a curve, called torque vectoring. SH-AWD has been in Acura vehicles for more than a decade, and is still one of the few mechanical torque vectoring systems on the market. It works very well, stabilizing the car while making best use of available grip.
The MDX Sport Hybrid model uses a 3.0-liter V6 and seven-speed dual-clutch transmission mated to a three-motor system with one motor at the transmission and two for the rear wheels; the hybrid system was largely borrowed from the Acura NSX supercar and RLX sedan. It makes a total of 321 horsepower, and rates 25 miles per gallon EPA Combined. The Sport Hybrid includes SH-AWD, although the system is mechanically different from that in the non hybrid.
MDX is rated to tow up to 3500 pounds.
The MDX earns Top Safety Pick Plus from IIHS (Insurance Institute for Highway Safety), as well as five stars overall from NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration), including five stars in front and side crash test, four stars in rollover.
Safety equipment includes the AcuraWatch suite with forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane-departure warning, road departure mitigation, and an adaptive cruise-control system with low-speed follow. A multi-view rear camera is also standard, while blind-spot monitors, surround-view cameras, and front and rear parking sensors are optional.
SH-AWD is extra ($2000).
The Technology Package ($4,400) adds navigation, blind-spot monitors, front and rear parking sensors, remote start and 19-inch alloy wheels. The Advance Package ($6,050) adds Stop/Start, roof rails, and Milano premium perforated leather upholstery with ventilated front seats. The Entertainment Package ($2,000) adds a DVD player, a 150-watt AC inverter, heated second-row seats, and second-row window shades. (Prices are MSRP and do not include destination charge.)
The Sport Hybrid adds $2,000 to an MDX SH-AWD.
We find the chrome rocker panels and body trim tarnish the styling.
The profile seems less upright than some SUV rivals, with its chiseled front end, tapered roofline, and the smooth rear end. Ironically, while the smaller Acura RDX crossover looks larger than it is, the Acura MDX looks smaller than it is.
The sloping and tiered dashboard sort of mimics the grille, as it leads into a V-shaped centerstack that doesn’t try to be opulent, but again the chrome trim gets in the way of things, sometimes reflecting into the driver’s eyes.
The front seats are plush and supportive, with low side bolsters that make sliding in and out easy. The driver’s seat slides back automatically when the door is opened.
The MDX is roomy for its class. The second row slides six inches fore and aft, giving either second- or third-row passengers more legroom (but not both). It’s split 60/40 and folds almost flat, although there are a lot of gaps and holes, not good for dogs. A small illuminated button at each side of the second row moves the seat to enable reaching the third row.
The optional captain’s chairs are the best way to reach the third row. Without them, getting back there is for kids. And once back there, the high floor level puts your knees at your chin, if you’re an adult or tall kid.
The third row folds perfectly flat by pulling a lever; the headrests flip forward, and can stay with the seats rather than having to be removed, a good safety feature because they won’t be missing when needed.
With both seats folded, the cargo space reveals an underfloor storage area with room for a laptop, camera bag, or more shoes. It has a lid that can be moved out of the way.
The cabin is very quiet and vibration-free, thanks to an active noise-cancellation system, an active engine mount system, acoustic glass in the windshield and windows, and heaps of insulation elsewhere.
The nine-speed automatic transmission is smooth most of the time, but sometimes it seems to get confused by so many choices, and hesitates. That’s in Drive mode, when the transmission does all the shifting automatically. But there’s a selector on the center console that switches the shift mapping between Drive and Sport. In Sport mode, and using the paddles to shift, you get quick upshifts or throttle-blip downshifts. The Sport mode works like a true manual mode because the transmission will actually let you hold onto gears all the way to redline, or all the way down to where you’re starting to lug the engine.
However the push-button shifter on the console is brilliant; it frees up space on the console, and is easy to use with its distinct buttons. One nice feature is that the transmission automatically shifts into Park when you turn off the engine.
The MDX also uses what Acura calls IDS, for Integrated Dynamics System, with Comfort, Normal, Sport and Sport Plus modes. The Sport mode quickens steering response, while the Comfort setting brings a lighter steering feel. The steering doesn’t send a lot of feedback to the driver, but the MDX feels capable and coordinated when driven near the limit. Actually, its handling is admirable for a vehicle this size; it’s as close to nimble and responsive as you can get in a seven-seat vehicle. It’s a very easy car to drive.
Special shock absorbers smooth the ride over rough pavement, even with the 20-inch wheels on the Technology and Advance packages. There’s just a bit of body lean in the corners.
The Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system not only provides excellent all-weather traction, it makes a difference on dry roads. The system can vary front-wheel torque distribution from 90 percent down to 30 percent (that’s 70 percent to the rear), or up to 100 percent to either the left or right wheels. That greatly improves stability when driving in winter, especially when patches of snow and ice are mixed with patches of wet pavement, or when the left wheels are on ice and the right wheels are on dry pavement.
The Acura MDX brings great handling, a smooth ride, and a fine engine. It isn’t the cheapest SUV, it’s not great on fuel mileage, and it needs premium gas. Nine-speed automatic sometimes hesitates. With optional captain’s chairs, it seats six.
Sam Moses contributed to this review, with staff reports.