September 27, 2006
Ottawa, Ontario – If envy is a deadly sin, then surely faith in your self is a heavenly virtue.
Acura builds some of the best handling front-wheel drive vehicles on the planet, and their SH-AWD (Super Handling All-Wheel Drive) is a technological marvel.
Yet I can’t help thinking that Acura (and not just Acura) envies the reputation of their German competitors.
I say this because there it was on slides displayed for Canadian auto writers at the recent press introduction of the 2007 Acura MDX. The development goal would be to build a more sporting MDX, one that would be more capable of competing with the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5, what Acura described as a “driver’s SUV” (as if this isn’t a contradiction in terms).
And when it came to fine-tuning the chassis on this driver’s SUV, Acura took it to, you guessed it, the holy grail of German handling, the famed Nurburgring race track in Germany. Surely, just being there would endow the MDX with race-car qualities.
The old MDX, introduced in 2001, may have been a bit conservative in appearance, but it was exactly what a lot of Canadians wanted in a luxury SUV – providing capable all-weather driving, safety and security and lots of space for people and cargo – and about 4,500 were sold each year.
It was not as comfortable or as cushy as the Lexus RX, but it was more adventurous, more rugged than the Lexus.
But the goal with this new MDX would not be to build a better luxury SUV than Lexus, but to try and be more German without actually being better than the Germans at what they do best. Confused? I am too.
This German-envy makes the new MDX look like it has come up short when in fact it has moved dramatically forward. It has become a much better driving vehicle without a major sacrifice in ride comfort, luxury or utility.
If there is one thing Acura should be proud of is that the new MDX has the kind of compromises that most buyers with multiple needs can live with.
By increasing the power and handling capability of the MDX, Acura hopes to attract buyers, mainly men, who might be more inclined to buy the Porsche or BMW, without giving up its traditional buyers or women who might lean toward the Lexus.
A new 3.7-litre single overhead cam VTEC V6 now delivers 300 horsepower (up 47 hp) and 275 lb-ft of torque (up 25 lb-ft). These big numbers give the MDX a V8 feel and V8 power, but do not translate into the kind of sporting power that the numbers might imply. The MDX is an SUV and at 2,093 kg (4,614 lbs), there is a lot of weight to move.
This isn’t meant to be critical. Neither the Porsche Cayenne nor BMW X5 can match the acceleration numbers of Porsche or BMW cars. It just underlines the contradiction of a “sporty” SUV.
But for such a behemoth, the new MDX handles surprisingly well. Much can be attributed to the SH-AWD system that can move torque from 90/10 front to rear to 30/70 front to rear when accelerating up a hill, and distribute up to 100% of rear wheel torque to either the right or left rear wheel depending on conditions.
We found the MDX to be more confident and direct in tight corners than on long sweepers where it had a tendency to feel a bit “nervous”, as do many sports cars. Changes in torque distribution were not noticeable. The pre-production models we tested included an optional active damper system that allows adjustment between “sport” and “comfort” (firmer and softer dampening) modes. To be honest, I couldn’t detect much of a difference, but more time behind the wheel would be needed to assess this feature. Whether your own tastes lean toward sport or comfort, the MDX is sure to please. Despite its much-improved cornering ability, the MDX is still very comfortable on the highway.
The transmission remains a 5-speed automatic, but with a new manual mode for manual shifting.
The new 3.7-litre engine returns good fuel economy for a vehicle of this size – 13.8 litres per 100 kilometres in the city and 10 L/100 km on the highway. Towing capacity is rated at 2,268 kg (5,000 lbs). A high capacity radiator, transmission cooler, heavy-duty power steering cooler and pre-wiring for electronic brake controller are standard equipment.
Also standard is trailer stability assist, a component of the MDX’s vehicle stability system. The system uses a combination of torque reduction and individual brakes to correct oscillation of the trailer or “trailer wag”.
The MDX’s vehicle stability system, including traction control, is integrated with SH-AWD to help the MDX accelerate smoothly on slippery surfaces. With SH-AWD, the stability system is able to transfer torque bias to the axle with the most traction, reducing the need for brake and throttle interventions.
Other safety features include dual-stage, dual threshold airbags, dual stage knee bolsters for driver and front passenger, front seat side airbags with passenger occupant detection, side curtain airbags with rollover sensor for all three rows, front active head restraints, three-point seatbelts at all seating positions and hands-free wireless telephone interface. While published tests of the 2007 Acura MDX are not yet available, Acura expects the MDX to receive top ratings from both the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the US Insurance Institute for Highway Safety for front, side and rear impacts.
Despite having seating space for seven passengers, Acura does not make unrealistic claims about the MDX’s seating capacity. The seating is designed around a four + three concept that focuses on comfort for four adult occupants and as needed seating for three more. The second row centre seat doubles as a wide armrest with cupholders built in and has a headrest that is nested when the seat is not in use. The third row seats are suitable only for children up to 12 years of age.
But those second row outboard passengers have as much comfort as front seat passengers, with supportive heated seats, access to rear seat controls for the standard tri-zone climate control and available rear seat entertainment system with flip-down nine-inch screen.
Standard equipment on the 2007 Acura MDX, which is expected to start in the low $50K range, includes a 10-way power driver’s seat with lumbar support and two position memory, eight-way power passenger seat, electronic tilt and telescopic steering and a 253-watt sound system with eight speakers, six-disc in-dash CD/MP3/WMA changer and auxiliary jack for personal audio devices and XM satellite radio. Also standard are the usual assortment of steering wheel controls, and power operated features common on mid-luxury vehicles. Noteworthy though are headlight washers, hands-free wireless telephone interface and a maintenance reminder system.
When the MDX goes on sale this October, buyers will be able to opt for a technology package that will add navigation system, rear view camera, a 10-speaker 410-watt surround sound system and perforated premium leather seating surfaces. The “Elite” package will further add the active damper system, exclusive alloy wheels, auto-levelling Xenon HID headlights, textured metallic accents, DVD rear entertainment system, remote powered rear tailgate, roof side rails and a 115-volt power outlet in the centre console. Price for the full load is expected to be in the low $60K range. All of the photos accompanying this article show the 2007 MDX with Elite package.
The third row seat is split 50/50 with nested head restraints allowing the seats to be folded flat without removing them. The new MDX is a bit wider than the previous model and is now just wide enough to lay a four-foot wide sheet of plywood flat in the back between the wheel wells. The second row seats slide forward and flip up to allow access to the third row seats when needed. They can also be folded flat to produce a flat load floor.
Acura calls this flexibility “stealth utility” (and you thought you were buying a sports car!). But there is nothing stealth about the styling of the 2007 MDX. Its new grille is big and bold and recognizable from a mile away, the better to attract male buyers to a brand that they too often described as practical.
In my mind there is nothing wrong with practicality, flexible utility, multi-passenger comfort and capable all-weather driveability. The Acura MDX still has all these features. In fact they are better than ever. But with packaging and marketing that emphasizes power and handling, you might not know about it.
Acura may be envious of the German ability to wring leading edge performance from almost any type of vehicle. But the company should be proud of its ability to build a vehicle that will no doubt appeal to a much broader public. Have faith in your self and others will follow.
Manufacturer’s web site