While the MDX might not be the best performer in its class, it's one of the most satisfying. And although its mission might be somewhat utilitarian and family-minded, its performance is, even objectively, quite strong.
Although the 2013 MDX carries along with some underpinnings shared with the Honda Pilot, the Acura gets much more power--from a 3.7-liter V-6 that makes 300 horsepower and doles out strong acceleration and impressive passing power. With variable valve timing and an electronic throttle, it's very smooth and responsive through its entire range, and it sounds great, with a tinge of intake growl making its way into the otherwise tight and quiet cabin.
The V-6 comes matched to a six-speed automatic transmission, with a low first gear that lets the MDX churn away from stoplights with the authority of a muscle car (60 mph arrives in about seven seconds), yet without the drama. Acura's Super Handling all-wheel-drive system remains standard, and pushes power to each wheel based on its available traction. In ordinary driving conditions, it's constantly measuring grip, handing out more power to the wheels that could use the power best. And unlike most all-wheel drive systems, which add more of an impression of driving heft, the system here is more handling-oriented and actually makes curvy roads a bit more fun.
Steering-wheel paddle-shifters are included, which make it easy to click off a downshift or two right when you need it, and in addition to a true manual mode the system will smartly keep your downshift in normal 'Drive' for about a half-minute.
Handling is great in the MDX, compared to nearly every other crossover except for maybe the BMW X5 or Porsche Cayenne. Our biggest complaint about the MDX is that its steering is just too light, though the MDX's optional magnetic-electronic shocks allows great handling and body control without the brittle, jittery ride you sometimes get in these kinds of vehicles as a tradeoff. The base suspension offers a good balance, too.