2012 Acura MDX Review

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The Car Connection Expert Review

Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
January 4, 2012

The 2012 Acura MDX is not just comfortable and family-friendly; it's one of the most enjoyable three-row crossovers to drive.

The 2012 Acura MDX embodies much of what's made mid-size crossovers the modern vehicle of choice for American suburban families. With strong acceleration, a comfortable cabin, and impressive safety--all the while offering just a little understated ruggedness--the MDX gives a wide range of shoppers what they need in a seven-passenger, three-row luxury crossover vehicle.

The MDX's handsome profile carries through for 2012, as does the brash front-end design that's polarized some of this model's conservative buyer set. But ever since this model's last full redesign, for the 2007 model year, we've considered it one of Honda's better efforts at giving a rather utilitarian, box-on-wheels design some character. The cabin’s a well-executed comfort zone with Milano leather trim and woodgrain trim cascading from the midline of the dash, as on the bigger RL sedan. In all, it’s a modern, well-tailored workplace--except for the center stack, which can seem a bit cluttered.

Performance is surprisingly strong in the 2012 MDX; a 300-horsepower, 3.7-liter six doles out strong acceleration and impressive passing power, with just a tinge of intake growl, and it's paired up with a six-speed automatic with paddle shifters. The MDX step off smartly from stoplights (0-60 in about seven seconds), and passes with enthusiasm. Too-light power steering remains the chief complaint, and overall we think the MDX's optional magnetic-electronic suspension system improves both ride and handling (though the base setup is good, too).

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Acura’s Super Handling all-wheel-drive system remains standard. The complex system pushes power to each wheel based on its available traction. The system neatly excises some of the sluggishness and heft that plagues larger three-row SUVs, so you can have fun hustling this one on a curvy road.

There are three rows of seating in the 2012 MDX, and adults will find all-day comfort in any of the perches in the front two rows. The front seats especially offer great bolstering and support. As for the third row, it's child-sized, as are most benches in this class, but the second-row seat tilts and slides forward to expand access to the back. Storage bins and cubbies are everywhere inside the MDX, and the rear cargo area is large enough to accept a lot of luggage, particularly when the third row is folded down.

The 2012 Acura MDX has a great record for safety, and it's been a longtime IIHS Top Safety Pick (it's only not for 2012 as it still hasn't been tested for roof strength). In the new, revised federal frontal test, it achieved four out of five stars.

The MDX is priced right in the same range as other luxury-brand crossovers, but it sure doesn't disappoint in terms of features. Leather upholstery, heated power seats, a three-zone climate control system, a power tailgate, Bluetooth, XM satellite radio, and steering-wheel audio and phone controls are all standard.  One odd omission is that the base model still lacks a USB port; to get that, you need to upgrade to the 410-watt premium sound system. The nav system includes 15 gigabytes of storage for music, and real-time traffic and rerouting functions. There's also a rear DVD entertainment package, and an Advance package that adds on ventilated front seats; the adaptive suspension; and a host of safety pieces, like blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and brakes that apply themselves if the vehicle senses an accident is imminent.

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2012 Acura MDX

Styling

A polarizing snout and a busy instrument panel are the only questionable issues in a very tastefully done luxury vehicle.

The 2012 Acura MDX has a handsome profile, but its brash front end--a contrast to an otherwise conservative design--can be polarizing to some of this model's buyer set.

For the most part, the MDX remains one of our favorite luxury crossovers, and the design has aged well since its last full redesign. It's one of Honda's better efforts at giving a rather utilitarian, box-on-wheels design some character. The few sleek curves applied to its fairly upright body really do wonders, particularly at the back pillar.

What doesn't work, of course, is the big chevron of chrome across the MDX's nose. It's Honda's latest attempt at a family theme for all its products, and it's been dubbed everything from a bottle opener to a "bionic beaver." Acura hasn't tried to do a retake with it, as it has on the TL sedan, and in truth it almost fits on the big ute. Thankfully, the rest of its lines stay clean and neat, and the gentle downward arc and taillamps slim it somewhat at the rear.

Inside, the MDX cabin is a well-executed comfort zone, with Milano leather, wood-grain trim, and a dash that cascades downward at the center stack as in Acura's sedans yet a look that's somewhat more upright. It looks well-tailored, with clear gauges and a restrained look--though with the usual Acura array of buttons, knobs and switches in abundance.

The cabin’s a well-executed comfort zone with Milano leather trim and woodgrain trim cascading from the midline of the dash, as on the bigger RL sedan. In all, it’s a modern, well-tailored workplace--except for the center stack, which can seem a bit cluttered.

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2012 Acura MDX

Performance

The 2012 Acura MDX has one of the sweetest powertrains in its class, along with engaging handling.

The 2012 Acura MDX breaks away from its utilitarian shape and family-minded mission, with surprisingly strong performance. The 3.7-liter V-6 makes 300 horsepower and doles out strong acceleration and impressive passing power, thanks to features like variable valve timing and electronic throttle. It even sounds good, with a tinge of intake growl making its way into the otherwise stone-silent cabin.

Together, the six-speed automatic and the V-6 let the MDX step off smartly from stoplights. 60 mph arrives in about seven seconds from a standing start. And when you need responsiveness in corners or for passing, the six-speed automatic with paddle shifters only serves to make it better; click right or left and the MDX snaps off gearchanges and stays in manual-shift mode for about a half-minute, anticipating you'll want more hands-on control of the shifting.

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.

On all trims, Acura’s Super Handling all-wheel-drive system remains standard. The complex system pushes power to each wheel based on its available traction. It's constantly measuring grip, handing out more power to the wheels still stuck best to the pavement--and that neatly excises most of the sluggishness and heft that usually afflicts crossovers with all-wheel drive, so you can have more fun on a curvy road.

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2012 Acura MDX

Comfort & Quality

The 2012 Acura MDX feels luxurious, yet there's more than enough space and utility for most busy families.

The 2012 Acura MDX has three rows of seating and a rather boxy exterior that promises a lot of utility. And even though the MDX is a luxury vehicle, it's quite the cargo workhorse for weekend projects.

There are three rows of seating in the 2012 MDX, and adults will find all-day comfort in any of the perches in the front two rows. The front seats especially offer great bolstering and support. As for the third row, it's child-sized, as are most benches in this class, but the second-row seat tilts and slides forward to expand access to the back.

Storage bins and cubbies are everywhere inside the MDX, and the rear cargo area is large enough to accept a lot of luggage, particularly when the third row is folded down. Keep the third-row seat in the upright position and you still have more than 15 cubic feet, or enough for most grocery runs. Both rear rows fold flat for a total of nearly 84 cubic feet of storage. A power tailgate, standard this year, makes loading cargo easier.

Though the instrument panel of the 2012 MDX is a bit too busy with all the buttons, lights, and controls, the cabin is crafted from high-quality materials. Acura has tinted the woodgrain trim a medium shade of brown, which warms up the cabin a bit from its former grey drabness. Fit and finish is excellent, typical for Acura, and the MDX is very quiet, whether on rough surfaces or in highway cruising. 

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2012 Acura MDX

Safety

The 2012 Acura MDX is one of the safest luxury crossover picks, and you can opt up to several innovative accident-avoidance technologies.

The 2012 Acura MDX has a great record for safety--including good ratings, an extensive list of safety features, and some high-tech accident-avoidance options. 

The MDX has a great record for safety, and it's been a longtime IIHS Top Safety Pick (it's only not for 2012 as it still hasn't been tested for roof strength). In the new, revised federal frontal test, it achieved four out of five stars--plus a five-star rating for side impact.

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Front, side and curtain airbags; all-wheel drive; anti-lock brakes, stability, and traction control; active headrests; and a rearview camera are all standard in the 2012 MDX. An Advance option package adds on adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and a multiple-view rearview camera. The warning systems are among the more invasive that we've tested, though the camera system could be very useful for outward visibility.
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2012 Acura MDX

Features

There's a lot offered in the 2012 Acura MDX, but some of the most innovative features are bundled in expensive packages that drive prices way up.

The MDX is priced right in the same range as other luxury-brand crossovers, but it sure doesn't disappoint in terms of features.

Every MDX comes with leather upholstery; power windows, locks and mirrors; heated power front seats; a rearview camera viewed in the rearview mirror; a three-zone automatic climate control system with humidity control and air filtration; a power tailgate; 18-inch wheels; a six-disc in-dash changer and XM Satellite Radio; a auxiliary audio jack; steering-wheel audio and phone controls; and a Bluetooth hands-free calling interface. One odd omission is that the base model still lacks a USB port; to get that, you need to upgrade to the 410-watt premium sound system.

We'd recommend the Technology package, which adds on a well-conceived navigation system; a triple-view rearview camera; a 410-watt premium audio system with hard-drive media storage; and the USB port for your media player to connect to the car's head unit.

The Advance package adds on ventilated front seats; the adaptive suspension; and a host of safety pieces, like blind-spot monitors, adaptive cruise control, and brakes that apply themselves if the vehicle senses an accident is imminent. Most will appreciate the added security, but we wouldn't recommend it to those who might find added blips and bleeps an annoyance.

The Entertainment package, which offers a rear-seat DVD system with big LCD screens and a 115-volt outlet, should be on the list for families who take road trips.

But step up to all these packages, and beware, the price of the MDX soars to the $55k range.

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2012 Acura MDX

Fuel Economy

The 2012 Acura MDX's fuel economy ratings won't be very attractive to green-minded shoppers.

The 2012 Acura MDX has a single powertrain, and at an EPA-rated 16 mpg city, 21 highway, it's not particularly fuel-efficient.

There are a number of vehicles in the MDX's class that manage a mile or two better per gallon, which can add up fast over the course of a year. The Lincoln MKT manages 17/22 mpg, for instance, and for truly impressive fuel economy,the Lexus RX 450h gets up to 32/28.

One other point of note is that the MDX requires more expensive premium fuel.

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