Week-Long Test: The Acura MDX Finally Brings Driving Fun to the 7-Seat Family SUV

March 3, 2010
It is rare to find a spacious seven seat SUV that has actual space for the whole family, is handsomely styled and also actually manages the difficult trick of being fun to drive. The hardest trait to find in a 7-seat family SUV/crossover, to be frank, is an ability to engage the driver. So often 7-seat SUVs are under-damped, have scary amounts of body roll when cornering and their steering feel is akin to putting a wooden spoon into a vat of Jell-O.

But there is hope for the 7-seat family SUV driver who wants something fun to drive and, no, it isn’t a BMW X5. It’s the 2010 Acura MDX and not only does it beat the X5 for driver comfort, value for money and actual third row space but it also is less ponderous and more fun to drive. It appears the pecking order among the best seven seat SUVs in the world has just been totally upset.

With a starting price of $42,230, even the basic model comes with standard leather, 7-seats, Bluetooth, a premium 7-speaker audio system, moonroof, a power rear tailgate, automatic dual-zone climate control and Acura’s superlative SH-AWD (Super Handling All-wheel Drive) system. As is always true with Acura vehicles you buy options in bundled packages so if you hate facing the dauntingly long lists at BMW and Mercedes you might want to have a look at the MDX instead.

The test vehicle came fully loaded at a still reasonable $53,755 with the addition of the Technology Package (navigation, Acura ELS 10-speaker audio system, voice activation, richer Milano leather, huge 8-inch dash VGA screen for nav/backup camera functions), Entertainment (rear seat DVD player with adjustable screen angle function, twin heated outboard second row seats, wireless headphones) and Advance Package (heated and cooled seats, adaptive cruise control, auto leveling headlights, blind spot warning system, collision mitigation braking system, self leveling headlights, active damper system and gorgeous 19 inch alloy wheels).

While many of those features are very self-explanatory, many of the newly developed systems offered as part of the Advanced Package are highly technical yet appeal almost to the point of being absolutely necessary. First off, the blind spot warning system needs to be implemented in all new cars as it illuminates a small light by your side mirror (which you check anyway when changing lanes) if there is a vehicle out of your range of view. It eliminates the need to check over your shoulder and is one of those features that you could easily grow to depend on.

But the most incredible feature in the Advance package adds one simple button on the center console yet manages to transform the driving experience. It is the Active Damper System and while the MDX in normal mode is no handling slouch thanks to tuning at the Germany’s famed Nurburgring race track, it is nothing short of miraculous in sport mode.

Not only do the Active Damper System’s electromagnetic dampers firm up in as little as 5 milliseconds when you press the sport switch but they also virtually eliminate body roll even at ludicrous cornering speeds. As such the MDX handles exactly like a premium sports sedan yet never feels harsh or crashes over bumps like some allegedly “sporty” vehicles do. Acura has done wonders with suspensions before but this is nothing short of a miracle as body roll and seven seat SUVs used to go together like Kirstie Alley and yo-yo dieting. One just couldn’t exist without the other.

All 2010 MDX models are powered by a 3.7 liter V6 that puts out a very healthy 300 horsepower and 270 pound feet of torque. EPA estimated fuel economy is impressive at 16 city/21 highway considering this is a heavy vehicle (4,600 pounds) and that it has all-wheel drive.

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