New & Used Acura MDX: In Depth
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The sporty Acura MDX crossover can seat up to seven passengers, yet remains a driver's car with family-friendly features—distinguishing it from a number of other Asian higher-end crossovers whose on-road behavior is closer to minivans than sport sedans. The MDX gets some updates for 2016 and the revised model is already on sale.
The MDX wears one of the oldest nameplates in the luxury and near-luxury utility-vehicle category. Among U.S. large luxury crossovers, competition includes the Infiniti QX60, the Lexus RX, the Lincoln MKT, and perhaps the Buick Enclave. In its current form, the MDX offers three rows of seating and a choice of front- or all-wheel drive.
The MDX entered the market back in 2001, when it supplanted a slow-selling vehicle dubbed the SLX--simply a rebadged version of the then-current Isuzu Trooper. Offered as a seven-passenger crossover, the original MDX came with a single drivetrain, a 3.5-liter V-6 with 240 horsepower, mated to a five-speed automatic and all-wheel drive. Over the years, this first MDX would see its power boosted to 265 hp, while it added features such as Bluetooth connectivity, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, Bose audio, satellite radio, and a voice-activated navigation system. Side-curtain airbags were added to the MDX's safety package, and the original model performed well in crash tests.
While it never reached the prestigious ubiquity of the Lexus RX, the Acura MDX became a reliable sight in upscale mall parking lots and commuter lanes thanks to its luxe equipment, airy interior, and relatively good ride and handling.
The second-generation MDX arrived for the 2007 model year with a substantial look and feel both inside and out. It featured a 3.7-liter V-6 engine with a power output of 300 hp as well as a new all-wheel-drive system. "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive," as Acura called it, was related to the one that would bow in the Acura RL large sedan and featured true mechanical torque vectoring on the rear axle. Standard equipment included a sunroof and leather trim, while options included a high-quality premium audio package; voice-activated navigation; and a rear-seat DVD entertainment system. Handling remained above-average for a crossover of its size, while the MDX's interior grew more spacious and useful, giving it one of the most adult-friendly cabins of any crossover vehicle. Fuel economy, though, was not a strong point, at 14/20 mpg originally and then improving to 16/21 in later years. This was in part due to the heavy and complicated all-wheel-drive system that was fitted for this generation.
In 2010, the MDX got a mid-cycle refresh, which included Acura's new and controversial corporate grille, which some likened to a bottle opener, though we found the MDX version of that design to be the best-integrated one found on any Acura. The MDX also received new electric power steering that year, but it missed the mark completely for responsiveness (it's too fast) and heft (it's too light). Safety remained a strong point, with the MDX named an IIHS Top Safety Pick. In 2010, the two-door Acura ZDX was introduced, with the model sharing some mechanicals with the MDX. Its severe lack of interior space led to very low sales, however; it was withdrawn after 2012. The Acura MDX changed very little for 2013, the last year before the entirely redesigned 2014 model.
The new Acura MDX
The Acura MDX now shares some of its running gear with a number of other Acura and Honda models, including the Pilot crossover and earlier versions of the Odyssey minivan. Today, it competes with the Infiniti QX60 (nee JX), the equally long-running Lexus RX, and the Volvo XC90, which will be entirely new next year.
Today's MDX was introduced for 2014, the result of a complete redesign of the model. The body is much sleeker, with improved aerodynamics; it has lots the blocky, somewhat blunt look of its predecessor. Acura's big SUV continues to offer seating for seven and a single engine option. The 3.5-liter V-6 is new, now fitted with direct injection and returning better fuel economy than before. Acura also added advanced safety features to the MDX's roster, including radar-based cruise control and a collision-warning system. The current model receives a five-star overall rating from the NHTSA, as well as the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ rating, putting it at the top of its class in safety.
This generation is the first to offer a front-wheel-drive MDX, broadening its appeal to those in warmer climates who don't need all-wheel drive and its attendant fuel-economy penalty. The Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system is once again available. Handling is still crisp for a crossover, but the latest MDX has lost the sharp dynamic edge of the previous model. Those who prioritize comfort will, of course, see that as a good thing.
Acura has announced a few key changes for the 2016 MDX, which has already gone on sale. The 3.5-liter V-6 engine is now mated to a nine-speed automatic transmission for improved efficiency, and the available Advance package also adds an engine stop-start function to further improve fuel economy. The front-drive MDX now hits a maximum of 23 mpg combined. Several other features have been added as standard or optional equipment, including a revamped suite of safety features now called AcuraWatch, which includes road-departure mitigation and a rear cross-traffic monitor. The optional SH-AWD system has been redesigned as well, now featuring a lighter rear differential that has switched to a dual-clutch design for what Acura claims is better responsiveness. NHTSA scores have already carried over in full for 2016, while the IIHS's Top Safety Pick+ accolade is expected to be extended to the revised model. We will update this section once we have a chance to drive the revamped model.