The DVD player was not the only trick feature included in the MDX we sampled. Acura provided the fully loaded $62,890 SH-AWD Elite model with 19-inch aluminum alloys (finished in a satin effect gunmetal grey — very slick), adaptive cruise control, pre-collision braking system (which seemed a little eager to me), and ventilated and cooled front seats with perforated leather.

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

The mid-level $58,190 Tech package already comes with multi-view back-up camera, nav system with voice recognition, the rear DVD screen, 410-watt, 10-speaker premium DVD-audio sound system with 15 GB hard drive for media storage and USB connection, 115-volt power outlet, perforated leather–trimmed interior and a blind spot warning system.

Base equipment includes seven-passenger seating 18-inch alloys, power tailgate with back-up camera, Bluetooth, heated front and second row outboard seats with a leather interior at $52,690. While our Bali Blue Pearl tester was trimmed in the standard Ebony leather, other colour choices come with an alternate complimentary interior leather option.

I take back what I said earlier about the MDX not winning the feature-per-dollar contest — it is hands-down the best value among seven-seat luxury SUVs, though the upcoming Infiniti JX35 FWD seven-seater will come in at a low $44,900, and likely with many of Infiniti’s favourite tech goodies as well. Lincoln’s MKT likely ticks all the feature boxes as well for a fully loaded price of $53,350, but that’s only if you still give Lincoln credit as a luxury brand.

Also standard across the board for the MDX is the 3.7-litre V6 that makes 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque, delivered to the wheels by Acura’s signature Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). SH-AWD channels power to all four wheels, but also shifts power to the outside rear wheels through turns in order to improve handling. Power is definitely not overwhelming, but the MDX picks up speed well, has plenty of oomph at all speeds, and the six-speed transmission is connected to standard paddle shifters that allow you to quickly drop a couple gears and find the peak torque at 4,500 rpm or peak horsepower at 6,300 rpm.

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

In this segment, the MDX’s power and transmission are very ordinary, but I confess a particular affinity to the MDX – it’s a perfect compromise between sportiness and comfort, and power to efficiency. Official Canadian fuel consumption estimates are 13.2 L/100 km city and 9.6 L/100 km highway. Granted, my observed 14.0 L/100 km isn’t saintly by anyone’s standards (nor was my aggressive driving style in the MDX), but it is reasonable for a truck that can move seven people briskly (with four comfortable positions for adults) and tow 2,268 kg (5,000 lb.) in a pinch. It should also be noted that it requires pricey premium fuel – ouch.

But the magic isn’t purely practicality. It’s not nearly as performance-oriented as an X5 or X3, but it still responds nimbly to an occasional thrashing through an on-ramp or when imagining an apex on a tight turn — the steering is weighty and chassis responsive, and the SH-AWD always delivers more stability than you would expect from a 2,000-plus kilo SUV (2,069–2,109 kg). Dial back the driving intensity and the MDX dampens harsh pavement with muted thumps that disturb the cabin very little. Noise is kept to appropriate luxury levels, with little disturbance from wind and tire drone, but the engine does whine a bit as you push it into its performance bands.

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

There’s also a button on the centre console marked COMFORT (for the adaptive damper system only available on the Elite trim), and so far as I can tell, when you press it, the light goes off and that’s about it. Call me insensitive (Why not? Join the club: my wife does, my sister-in-law does, most of the people I work with do), but the amount of difference it makes is inconsequential for my seat-of-the-pants sensors — maybe road imperfections come through a little more sharply with the little light off, and the MDX corners flatter by 1.867 percentage in degrees of y(eeh)aw [pitch?], but really, the MDX handles well when the light is on, and absorbs and diffuses potholes and bumps even with the light off. However, just as with SH-AWD, it does make for good marketing material and commercials.

Despite nearing the end of its life cycle (this generation has been in service since 2007, with powertrain and styling updates in 2010), it still carves out a niche for itself in the luxury SUV market. It’s easily the best-performing seven-seat SUV in its price range and one of the best values in the luxury market, although it can’t go on for much longer with an interior that seems more dated with every new launch by its competitors. There’s good reason this is Acura’s best selling model. It’s Acura’s best-conceived product for its segment in its line-up and Acura needs to capture the same kind of packaging, performance and brilliance in other segments in order to return to relevance in the luxury market.

Pricing: 2012 Acura MDX SH-AWD Elite
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