September 4, 2007
Toronto, Ontario – Itâ€™s been 20 years since Honda launched its upscale Acura division in Canada. Acura was the first luxury Japanese brand in North America (predating Lexus and Infiniti), and to mark the occasion, the automaker is offering a 20th Anniversary Edition of the new-for-2007 MDX crossover.
When Acura introduced the MDX in 2001, car-based luxury SUVs were pretty thin on the ground, and as such, the understated yet pleasant driving MDX had plenty of elbow-room in the market.
That was then. Within the last few years, this segment has heated up faster than my Broil King, and now just about every manufacturer is offering a well-appointed crossover/SUV powered by a V6 engine.
For 2007, the MDX goes from innocuous to edgy. It has grown in every dimension, and the new sharp-creased bodywork comes at you with a bold stance, HID (high intensity discharge) headlight clusters and a polarizing RoboCop-esque metallic visage.
The 20th Anniversary Edition is the top-of-the-line Elite model ($61,900) with a few extra goodies: 19-inch summer tires on chromed alloys (18-inch wheels with winter tires and tire-totes are included), running boards and lower body â€œgarnishâ€, bringing the price to $67,900. The MDX starts at $52,300, with the Technology model next up at $56,900.
The Alliston, Ontario-built SUV is powered by a new SOHC VTEC 3.7-litre V6 that generates 300 horses at 6000 r.p.m. and 275 lb.-ft. at 5000 r.p.m. Acura claims this is the most powerful V6 in its class. Coupled to a five-speed manumatic, the V6 feels strong and smooth, and like all good Honda engines, is happy to spin to its redline.
Due to the extensive use of high-strength steel and light alloy metals, the new MDX has not gained any weight over the outgoing model, It consumed a respectable 12.7 L/100 km (premium fuel) over a week of mixed driving.
The MDX has always featured a plethora of luxury and techno â€“goodies, and while these elements still figure strongly, MDX, v.2 revels in its new-found athleticism. Acura has thrown everything itâ€™s got at this tall SUV to make it handleâ€¦ well, not like a tall SUV.
Every MDX is equipped with Acuraâ€™s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive â€“ a clever computerized system that will, as conditions dictate, send to up to 90% of the torque to the front wheels, 100% to the rear, and apportion torque from side to side. In addition, it can overdrive the outside wheels in a corner to â€œpushâ€ the vehicle around in a more brisk fashion.
The Elite model (and thus the 20th Anniversary Edition) gets a new Active Damper System that utilizes 15 sensors, magnetic viscosity variable dampers and mucho computer mojo to keep things on the level. The system reacts to road inputs within 30 milliseconds and can operate in either sport of comfort mode. Acura tells us this system was tuned on the famed Nurburgring race circuit in Germany.
Throw the MDX 20th Anniversary into a series of bends and, yes, the automakerâ€™s work seems justified. There is barely a whiff of body roll and the truckâ€¦ er, crossover handles quick transitions with ease. Steering is reasonably communicative too. Impressive.
Itâ€™s when youâ€™re not driving like Walter Rohrl that things arenâ€™t completely rosy. Comfort mode serves up an odd combination of float and impact harshness, and while sport mode seems the better of the two, there is too much lateral rocking, like the system is trying too hard to compensate for road irregularities. I got used to it, but it never felt completely settled or natural.
Additionally, my wife and I both noticed an occasional tugging in the steering (left or right), mostly when driving in a straight line. It felt like torque-steer, but showed up at the oddest times.
Those niggles aside, one canâ€™t argue with the way the rest of the MDX 20th Anniversary Edition treats it occupants. The interior is well crafted and elegant, with comfortable and supportive perforated leather seats and tri-zone climate control. Along with the expected mod-cons, Acura has gone the extra mile here with satellite-based navigation, rear seat climate controls and DVD, rear-view camera, an excellent 410-watt sound system with XM radio, Bluetooth, and bilingual voice command for every parameter of navigation, HVAC and entertainment.
Iâ€™m sure Acura never intended this system to entertain children, but my progeny got no end of pleasure out of asking the nice lady in the dash ridiculous questions like â€œFind the Eiffel Towerâ€ to which she would gamely answer â€œrear defrost setting on two.â€ or switch the XM radio to a station that sounded vaguely like Eiffel.
While many European automakers are trying to eliminate dash clutter with complex computer-like interfaces, Acura goes the old fashioned route with lots of buttons. I counted 52 on the centre console. It looks fussy, but once you know where everything is, it sure beats the heck out of twirling, scrolling and nudging a control knob while dividing your attention between screen and road. Getting a handle on voice recognition eliminates a lot of button-pushing anyway. The hooded LCD screen on the top of the dash (not touch-screen as in most other Acuri) faithfully transmits all info but can get washed out in bright sunlight.
Acura describes the MDXâ€™s seating arrangement as 4+3 â€“ four persons go first class, while the other three will likely lodge some complaints from the second row centre hump and the two flip-up third row perches that are only accessible from the passenger side.
With second and third rows folded, MDX offers 2364 litres of flat storage. Towing capacity is 5000 lbs.
Despite some reservations regarding the active suspension, my family and I thoroughly enjoyed the MDX 20th Anniversary Edition. Its technology is easily accessible, the cosseting factor is high, and if a banzai run to the cottage is in the cards, you can be assured this hot dog will eat up those twisty roads with all the relish it can muster.
Pricing: 2007 Acura MDX 20th Anniversary Edition
Price base: $67,900
AC Tax: $100
Destination charge: $1775
Price as tested: $69,775
Manufacturerâ€™s web site