2013 Acura MDX Review

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Bengt Halvorson Bengt Halvorson Deputy Editor
July 31, 2013

The 2013 Acura MDX is one of the most satisfying and enjoyable vehicles to drive, if you must have three rows of seats.

The 2013 Acura MDX is less of a standout in the crossover class for its third-row seats, its versatile cabin, or its attractive styling. What sets it apart from most luxury family utes is its handling. It's pleasant to drive, and that's one reason it's been a strong seller for Acura--that, and its record for durability, straight-line performance and impressive safety.

The MDX's design has aged well in the several years since its last full redesign. Honda has done a better job here in giving the Acura MDX a sleeker look, in what could have been a bare-bones box on wheels. Just a hint of a curve, here and there, does wonders for the big wagon.

In any of the seats in the first two rows, adults will find a comfortable place to spend a few hours. The front seats in particular have great support and bolstering. The child-friendly third-row seat won't be an easy place for bigger people to find comfort, but at least the second-row seats fold and slide forward to make access to the third row a bit easier. There are plenty of storage bins and cubbies inside the MDX, and with the second and third rows folded forward there's enough virtually flat space to swallow most weekend project materials. The one exception--and a peeve we just can't get over--is the instrument panel's cluttered and unnecessarily complex layout

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The MDX is related to the Honda Pilot, but as the more rakish sheetmetal suggests, the MDX is much more focused toward the on-the-road driving experience. Power comes on strong from a 300-hp, 3.7-liter V-6, which delivers impressive passing power even with a full load, with a 6-speed automatic and a very smart, dynamically sharp all-wheel-drive system puts the power to the pavement (or gravel, sand, or snow) confidently. The power steering feels a bit too light (with a quick ratio that takes some getting used to), but the adaptive shocks give it smoother handling and better ride quality. Overall, the AWD system, the suspension, and the steering together neatly excise the portliness (or at least, the sense of it) that taints the driving experience of so many crossovers--especially those with three rows.

You won't mistake the Acura MDX for anything but a luxury vehicle. In addition to impressive interior trims and materials, it comes with all the comforts and conveniences that are expected in premium cars, and you can option it up with impressive audio, infotainment, and even an adaptive suspension.

The 2013 MDX carries over essentially unchanged from last year. It comes loaded with all the features that are expected in a larger luxury vehicle--except for a USB port, which is included only with the upgraded audio system. But the excitement comes in the options, and most of them are grouped into one of three different packages: Technology, Advance, and Entertainment. We do recommend that awesome, 410-watt audio upgrade that you get with the Tech package; while the Entertainment package is for those with kids they want to entertain with the included DVD system. The Advance package gets adaptive shocks, ventilated seats in front, and a safety package that includes adaptive cruise control and blind-spot monitors.

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2013 Acura MDX

Styling

The Acura MDX is tastefully done inside and out and bridges the line between crossovers and a traditional SUV look.

Handsome is surely a word that applies to the 2013 Acura MDX. The shape still looks good even a few years since its introduction. It's Acura's best design effort in a utility vehicle--the wagon has real character, and its style is more sophisticated and timeless than most.

One of the keys to the MDX's look, which seems contemporary at one moment and more traditional at another, is its combination of carefully sculpted sheetmetal applied to a fairly upright body--in a way that's not at all heavy-handed. This is most apparent at the rear pillar, where a rounded arc edging the rear side window, plus a curvaceous stretch of sheetmetal at the rear flank, combine to make the MDX appear more rakish than it is.

There's one letdown to the design, perhaps, and that's the brash front end and its big, bright grille. The theme has never quite hit the elegant yet precise look and feel that underwrites most of Acura's vehicles.

Inside, a cascading dash design trimmed in woodgrain and leather establishes right away that the MDX is fully a luxury vehicle. The dash is a little more upright than that of Acura's cars, but it continues many of the same themes and looks well-tailored, with clear gauges and a restrained look. The only exception from both a design and practicality standpoint is that the instrument panel can seem just a bit too cluttered.

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2013 Acura MDX

Performance

Engaging handling and a sweet powertrain make the 2013 Acura MDX one of the more satisfying performers in this class.

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.

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2013 Acura MDX

Comfort & Quality

The 2013 MDX has the space and utility to suit busy families, and enough luxury to suit its premium price.

Beneath its somewhat sculpted, contoured sheetmetal and crisp luxury-vehicle detailing, the 2013 Acura MDX really is quite a boxy vehicle--and that pays dividends when it comes to interior space. With three rows of seating, including a rearmost row that can fit adults for short stints, the MDX has impressive passenger room for child-wrangling yet can be a cargo workhorse for the home projects on the weekends.

Among the MDX's three rows of seating, adults will find all-day comfort in either of the first two rows. In front especially, there's great bolstering and support. Getting into and out of the third row might be an issue for adults, and the accommodations themselves are quite child-sized; but it's doable for adults if you slide the adjustable second row forward a bit.

Particularly with that third row folded down, there's a lot of luggage space in back; and if you fold both the second and third rows, there's a total of nearly 84 cubic feet of space with a virtually flat floor. Keep that third row up, and you still have 15 cubic feet in back--probably more than enough for a large grocery run. Storage bins and cubbies are everywhere inside the MDX, and the standard power tailgate does make loading cargo easier.

Fit and finish is excellent, with good woodgrain trim that helps save the feel of the interior from drabness. And the MDX is very quiet, whether on rough surfaces or in highway cruising. About the only complaint we have with this interior is that the instrument panel of the MDX is just too busy, with so many buttons, lights, and controls. It doesn't strike us as a simplified interface for frenzied moms, which are probably the most frequent drivers of the MDX.

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2013 Acura MDX

Safety

You can opt for several innovative accident-avoidance technologies on the MDX -- but even without them it's a safety standout.

If safety is one of the top priorities--as it should be for the smart, affluent family shoppers who typically look at luxury crossover vehicles--then the 2013 Acura MDX deserves some serious consideration. It has a good record for safety, including some top safety ratings, a solid list of standard safety features, and some high-tech active-safety options that might help you avoid an accident entirely.

Standard on all trims of the MDX are front, side and curtain airbags; all-wheel drive; anti-lock brakes, stability, and traction control; active headrests; and a rearview camera system that displays a wide view as soon as reverse is engaged. Adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot warning system, and a multiple-view rearview camera are all added with an Advance option package, which we do recommend for their lifesaving potential--although we do note that these systems are among the most invasive we've tested.

The MDX earns top 'good' ratings in all categories of Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) testing, and it's earned IIHS Top Safety Pick status in previous model years (anticipated for 2013 as well). In the tougher federal testing program (NCAP), the MDX has earned four a top five-star rating in side impact, though it achieves four stars overall and in frontal impact.

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2013 Acura MDX

Features

The 2013 Acura MDX packs in a lot of features, although many of the most innovative ones are bundled into expensive packages.

You won't mistake the 2013 Acura MDX for anything but a luxury vehicle. In addition to impressive interior trims and materials, it comes with all the comforts and conveniences that are expected in premium cars, and you can option it up with impressive audio, infotainment, and even an adaptive suspension.

Leather upholstery; power windows, locks and mirrors; heated power front seats; a rearview camera system; 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 are all standard features in the base MDX.

While that's good, the excitement comes in the options, and most of them are grouped into one of three different packages: Technology, Advance, and Entertainment.

For families who take road trips (or just those looking to distract the kids in back), the Entertainment package adds a rear-seat DVD system with big LCD screens and a 115-volt outlet.

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.

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.

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2013 Acura MDX

Fuel Economy

The 2013 Acura MDX is only green if you plan to use its seating capability.

As is the case with many of the more fuel-efficient vehicles that have three rows of seating, whether or not you consider the 2013 Acura MDX to be at all green depends on how much you're using its capabilities. But even then, it's hard to figure this as a green pick at all once you look at the numbers for it versus rival models.

The MDX gets an EPA-rated 16 mpg city, 21 highway. And in its class, there are a number of vehicles that get one or two more miles out of a gallon, which adds up over the entire course of a year—and the time of ownership.

The Lincoln MKT now manages 17/25 mpg, for instance, while the Lexus RX 450h—a Hybrid—gets up to 32/28.

It's also worth keeping in mind that the MDX required premium gasoline. 

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Styling 7
Performance 8
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Features 9
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