April 23 2007
If German cars are designed for drivers who like a dash of mechanical involvement along with their leather-lined luxury; and Lexus goes after drivers who want their car to feel like, well, like it’s not even there – then Honda’s upscale Acura division seems to be seeking a middle ground between the two with its new, second-generation MDX.
Not that this is a new approach for Honda. Their combination of refinement and driver involvement has been a longstanding appeal of Honda’s vehicles: personally, they appeal as much to my boy-racer side – with a tight ride and handling – as to the part of me that loves a nice, smooth car in which to drive home in after a long day.
Of course, not even Honda is immune to the odd dud of a car. While the Acura RL flagship is a lovely vehicle in many ways, it hasn’t been a strong seller thanks to being a little smaller than many prestige car buyers like; Acura cut that car’s price by a few grand for 2007 in order to attract more takers. But the RL did serve as a test bed for one of Honda’s most innovative technologies in some time – the Acura Super Handling all-wheel drive system – that’s now standard on the second-generation MDX.
That, paired with the active damper suspension on my full-zoot MDX Elite tester, helps make this second-generation version a far better handler than its tall, heavy body would suggest. The active damper system includes driver-selectable comfort and sport modes. The latter was my preference; while it tended to make the ride choppy over badly broken pavement, the Comfort setting was too soft and made the car feel top heavy over the same roads. Ride compromises aside, the active dampers do a great job at virtually eliminating body lean in corners.
The MDX is motivated by a new 3.7-litre V6 making an even 300 horsepower and 275 lb-ft of torque. These days, that’s not a heap of horses, but it’s enough to give the 2,100 kg MDX (in my tester’s fully-loaded form) enough accelerative potential to keep up with the car’s sharp handling. The five-speed transmission sacrifices a bit in terms of seamless operation but offers crisp and smooth gear changes. With gentle use of the throttle, the MDX used about 15 litres of premium unleaded for every 100 kilometres travelled in mostly city driving. Not bad, but a bit off the MDX’s Natural Resources Canada city rating of 13.8 L/100 km.
Hondas and Acuras are typically comfortable, and here the MDX doesn’t disappoint. The front seats are as nice to the backside as I could ask for, and even the second-row chairs feel like they’d be pleasant for long hauls; the same can’t be said for the standard third-row seats, which are very tight for space and are accessed – with some difficulty – by sliding the right-hand second-row seat forward. At least headroom is good all around, and second row legroom is good, if not exactly limo-like. Cargo space with the third row stowed in the floor is great; folding the second row expands the cargo hold but doesn’t create a flat load floor.
The MDX’s interior is attractive and arguably as functional as that in any Honda, even if getting the hang of all the various controls in the centre stack takes a few drives to figure out. But kudos to Acura for not going with a centralized control module like those favoured by the Germans. All of the MDX’s climate and audio controls are right there on the dash – no duplication, no frustrating multi-layered menus.
It must be pointed out though, that the interior quality of my tester didn’t seem quite up to Honda’s usual high standards. The edge of the headliner was peeking out from the overhead console; a trim piece behind the inside door handle of the front passenger door was loose and there was a piece missing from the backside of the steering wheel that left some wiring exposed. Perhaps it was wear and tear from the MDX’s 12,000-plus kilometres in the hands of less-than-gentle journalists, but I’d tend to expect better from my $62,000 SUVs.
The MDX starts at $52,300; for another $4,600, Acura will throw in the Technology Package, which includes a 10-speaker, 410-watt stereo with six-disc changer and XM radio, voice activated navigation system and perforated leather interior. The Elite includes all that stuff and adds auto-levelling headlights, an advanced suspension with Acura’s active damper system, a rear-seat DVD entertainment system with surround sound to rival a movie theatres’ and a power tailgate. The sound system that comes with the Technology Package is almost worth the price of moving up from the base model on its own. And don’t get the Elite Package for the rear-seat DVD player if you’re only going to use it to keep the kids entertained: this system would be wasted on them. If it weren’t for the fact that the screen is only nine inches, you could go for the MDX Elite instead of that home theatre you’ve been eyeing for the family room. The sound quality really must be experienced to appreciate how good it is.
Dynamically, the new MDX doesn’t feel as complete as its competitors from Audi or BMW; size-wise, it’s quite a bit smaller than the Audi Q7 and slots in between the BMW X3 and X5. But it’s still a capable performer, and beats those two German models in the ergonomics department with its more straightforward dashboard controls. Add in decent looks (though the grille could be less plasticky) and what seems like a reasonable price – and it looks like Acura’s finally got a serious contender in the fun-to-drive SUV segment.
Pricing: 2007 Acura MDX Elite
Base Price: $61,900
Freight/PDI: $ 1,430
A/C tax: $ 100
Price as tested: $63,430
Manufacturer’s web site