Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
2012 Acura MDX Elite. Click image to enlarge
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Review and photos by Jonathan Yarkony

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2012 Acura MDX

Acura is about to undergo a dramatic renaissance. For several years this brand has soldiered on with some gaping holes in its line-up — RL anyone? (Yeah, that hole is so big it echoes.) In some senses, it is a brand without a flagship because the flagship sedan is so overlooked that it might as well not exist. It doesn’t have any coupes (unless you count the ZDX crossover. I know, that was a reach), sports cars, hybrids or diesels and its entry-level sedan doesn’t even offer the brand’s excellent AWD system.

Acura sales were down almost 12 per cent in Canada last year (and down about 25 per cent since 2007), though no one can accurately say how much the tsunami in Japan affected the parts supply chain and production capacity, despite most Acura models being produced in North America. Speaking of production, the MDX and ZDX are produced right here in Canada at Honda’s Alliston, Ontario plant. With CSX production winding down and the RL, TSX and ZDX models sales faring poorly, Acura became predominantly a truck seller, with the MDX and RDX accounting for over half of its vehicles sold in Canada last year.

Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
2012 Acura MDX Elite. Click image to enlarge

But the future is bright. Acura just debuted the NSX concept at the Detroit Auto Show, and despite the lack of an interior, it is a convincing reinterpretation of the seminal Acura supercar, abiding by the mid-engine layout, exotic, supercar-worthy design, and application of Honda hybrid technology and all-wheel-drive as befitting the Acura brand. Alongside the NSX, Acura introduced the second generation RDX and upcoming ILX compact luxury sedan, which will put them back on the map with entry-level luxury shoppers looking for a small car or crossover.

On the sedan side, the TSX and TL are both standouts offering warm performance and exceptional value that keep people coming back to the Acura brand, though controversial styling may be hurting their adoption rate. Without question, the greatest strength in the Acura line-up for several years has been the MDX SUV, with sales consistently topping 5,000 units annually for the past 5 years. It may be odd that Honda’s luxury brand has been anchored by a mid-size SUV considering Honda’s reputation is rooted in small, efficient cars, but the MDX is to the luxury SUV market what the Fit is to small cars: efficient packaging ahead of its time, strong and nimble performance — yet economical to run — and good value even if it might not win the feature-per-dollar contest. The MDX may not have anything as brilliant as the Fit’s Magic Seats, but it came to market with three rows of seating without bloating into a full-size SUV, which served to make it a reasonable solution to a wide variety of tastes and needs.

Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
Test Drive: 2012 Acura MDX Elite car test drives reviews luxury cars acura
2012 Acura MDX Elite. Click image to enlarge

Then again, taste is one area that Acura wasn’t afraid to experiment with, and while many lambasted Acura’s various grille and trunk treatments, the MDX has resonated with high-income households looking for one car that fits all needs or as a luxury winter carry-all. A recent trip through Forest Hill, one of Toronto’s most affluent neighbourhoods, and I was crossing paths with MDX models of various generations at practically every turn and intersection. Granted, that’s a fairly limited sample, but it’s worth far more to Acura to have MDXs in a handful of those driveways (or better yet, at the school drop-off) than any number of reviews on a site even as esteemed as this one.

Personally, I find the current grille a little blasé compared to the 2007–2009 model years, with its twin, perforated grille shields, but I have to give Acura credit for consistency across the line-up and finding a look that works from compact sedan all the way up to its SUVs. Once you get past the grille, the angular headlights may not sport the latest LED gimmickry (though I’m sure it’s coming soon), but they suit the sharply creased edges and even proportions that make this SUV seem much smaller than its 4,867 mm length (longer than either the 4,807-mm Volvo XC90 or 4,829-mm Land Rover LR4).

That length helps accommodate the third row of seats and 425 litres of cargo even with all seats up and 1,215 litres behind the second row, compared with 249 litres and 615 litres for the XC90, or 280 litres and 1,192 litres for the LR4. Max cargo volume with all seats flat is 2,364 litres for the MDX, to the XC90’s 1,837 and the LR4’s 2,558. Overall, utility definitely goes to the MDX (power tailgate as base equipment, thank you very much, Acura), although it should be noted that the third row is not a comfortable option for full-size adults in any of these SUVs.

Although by no means unique to this segment, I always feel the need to share when seats are at an ideal height for easy installation of car seats and insertion of children into said car seats for both me and my vertically-challenged wife. Our two-year-old daughter’s favourite feature was the rear entertainment system that meant another week of Barbie and Leap Frog movies whenever we drove anywhere. (It should also be noted that if I never have to listen to another Barbie movie again, it will be too soon. Unfortunately, I likely have many years of Barbie movies and accessories in my future, no doubt.)

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