2008 Acura MDX Expert Review:New Car Test Drive
New Car Test Drive
Powerful and luxurious, seating for seven.
The Acura MDX was completely redesigned for the 2007 model year. Larger than before, it improves upon on the first-generation MDX (2001-2006), which had a unique combination of style, design, utility, and a rock-solid powertrain. The MDX balances power and fuel economy well. All that made it very popular among mid-size luxury SUVs. Given last year's complete redesign, there are only a few minor changes for 2008.
For 2008, the MDX adds a new auto dimming Day/Night rear view mirror; updates to the navigation and real-time traffic systems; a new exterior paint color choice of Sterling Gray Metallic; and a taupe interior is now available with the Aspen White Pearl exterior.
The Acura MDX is built on a truck platform, not on an adaptation of a passenger car platform. It is among the largest vehicles in its class, offering lots of space for folks and cargo. From its wild grille to its elaborately stylish cat's-eye headlamps to its huge new taillamps, it has a more muscular look compared to the original, especially in the areas around the tires. Sporty styling cues include the big, fat dual exhaust tips that look like they belong on a V8, and the hefty five-spoke alloy wheels.
The seats are laid out in three rows of two but can offer seating for up to seven people. The 10-way driver and 8-way front passenger power seats allow huge adjustment latitude for long-distance comfort for drivers of many different sizes.
Its rigid structure is beneficial for ride and handling as well as tightness, which should prove beneficial as the vehicle ages.
It has a large, powerful V6 engine, combined with a five-speed manual-shift automatic transmission. Inside, there is an organic, unified presentation of instruments and controls, a more involving scheme for the driver that should be appreciated by moms and dads alike.
We found the MDX quiet and quick, with nicely weighted steering. The active damper system that comes on the Sport model makes driving the MDX more fun, with a flatter ride and less body roll in the corners. The driver can select between sport and comfort modes for sharper handling or a softer ride. The navigation system, satellite radio, iPod input jack and Bluetooth phone synching make it easy and fun to go down the road.
The Acura MDX competes with the BMW X5, Volvo XC90, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes-Benz ML 350. Acura hopes the new MDX will appeal to women who want a sports car but need an SUV.
The 2008 Acura MDX ($40,195) offers three optional packages.
The Technology package ($43,695) includes the voice-activated navigation system with Zagat reviews and ratings, real-time traffic data, and a rearview camera. The AcuraLink satellite communications provides information specific to the vehicle, including required maintenance information. There is a 410-watt ELS surround sound system with 6CD changer and 10 speakers, wireless telephone equipment, and three-zone automatic climate control that automatically adjusts temperature and fan speed according to the position of the sun. For 2008, 32 markets have been added to the Real Time Traffic system, which now covers 76 major metropolitan areas.
The Sport package ($45,795) includes the Technology package and adds Delphi active-damping magnetic rheological shock absorbers, perforated leather interior trim, alloy wheels, and self-leveling HID headlamps.
The Entertainment package ($2,200), is available with either the Technology or Sport packages, adds a DVD rear entertainment system, heated second-row seats, a power tailgate, and a 110-volt power point in the front console.
Safety equipment includes two-stage frontal air bags and active head restraints, two-stage driver and front-passenger knee bolsters, front-seat side-impact air bags, and three-row side-curtain air bags with rollover triggering. Active safety features, designed to help the driver avoid accidents in the first place, include all-wheel-drive, electronic stability control, and anti-lock brakes (ABS) with electronic brake force distribution and brake assist for panic stops. The MDX earned a Top Safety Pick designation from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which conducts crash tests for the insurance industry.
The exterior and interior of the Acura MDX were designed in America, at Honda's facilities in Los Angeles and Ohio, with input from design centers in St. Moritz, Switzerland, and Milan, Italy.
The grille is a metal-filled hole that looks like a battering ram, and the side window arrangement is designed to suggest more sportiness than the original, with converging sheetmetal lines built into the design. The head lights and taillights are heavily sculpted. The sides are clean, with no cladding or side trim. The wheel openings, especially the fronts, are pronounced, for a more sporty stance.
This second-generation MDX is more than two inches longer in length and wheelbase than the first-generation MDX (2001-2006), but it doesn't look like it from the outside, with a wider track and a lower stance.
Acura's power tailgate system is available on the MDX with the entertainment package. It can be operated either from the remote key fob, from a button on the driver's door panel, or from a button located inside the tailgate. The location of the tailgate's motor is the D pillar, not the roof, which yields more headroom for the third-row occupants. The tailgate can also be operated manually.
The interior of the Acura MDX is designed with driver-centric instrumentation and displays. The beautiful three-spoke brushed-aluminum steering wheel has nine control systems mounted on it for cruise control, telephone, entertainment systems, and information displays.
The dashboard has a high-mounted, large navigation screen in the heavily sculpted panel, with all other switches subservient to the nav center, and carefully orchestrated into about one square foot of dashboard real estate. The two-line readout display for the climate control and entertainment systems uses large segmented figures and is very easy to read and interpret. The compact main instrument pod is housed in one deeply tunneled nacelle, with four even deeper nacelles for the main instruments.
Three-zone automatic climate control allows the driver, front passenger and rear passengers to set different temperatures for maximum comfort.
The seating is arranged as two front, two center, and two rear, with a third seat available for the second row. There is scant rear legroom in the third row for adults, making the third row strictly for the kids.
Cargo capability is competitive for the class. When the second and third row seats are folded down, the floor is flat, and for ease of use, the third row can be folded flat without removing the head restraints. In spatial terms, the interior has 142.2 cubic feet of passenger space. There's 15 cubic feet of cargo behind the third seat, 43 cubic feet with the third row seats folded into the floor, and 83.5 cubic feet with all seats down.
The Acura MDX offers a quiet ride and brisk acceleration performance. MDX is rated to tow up to 5000 pounds.
Its rigid structure, and long wheelbase add up to a quiet ride quality, and we've experienced zero squeaks, creaks, groans or rattles.
Acura says the 300-hp 3.7-liter V6 engine is the most powerful V6 engine in any SUV sold in the U.S. market. It's quick, fast, and quiet, like every Acura engine before it, only more so.
Fuel economy is an EPA-rated 15/20 mpg City/Highway, and the V6 uses premium unleaded fuel.
Underneath the lithe lines of the MDX, in the Sport package option you'll find an active damper system. These are the fastest-acting shock absorbers in the world, and they make driving an SUV much sportier, with a flatter ride and less body roll in the corners. A console-mounted switch lets the driver select between sport and comfort modes with the shocks.
With the power and torque available from the engine, and the amazing capabilities of the Acura Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD), this vehicle handles very well. This system actively distributes just the right amount of torque not only between the front and rear wheels but also between the left and right rear wheels. Not only does this help in ice, rain and snow, but helps drivers maintain control in cornering situations even when the road is dry.
We drove the MDX in the hill country of western Pennsylvania and eastern West Virginia, and found it to be a delightful traveling partner. The torque-sensing variable power rack-and-pinion steering provided the right amount of help in every situation from parking to very high speed Interstate travel, with nice weight at the wheel and good center behavior. The wheel was connected to big 255/55R18 mud-and-snow tires, very nice to have along, not too noisy, with plenty of cornering grip. Braking performance in those hills was exemplary.
The Acura MDX is sized right for the job. It looks aggressive and sporty. The interior design is especially zoomy, but not at the expense of function and ease of use. It's a good choice for drivers who need a truck-based SUV that can tow.
NewCarTestDrive.com correspondent Jim McCraw performed his test drive of the MDX in the mountains of West Virginia and western Pennsylvania.
Acura MDX ($40,195); MDX with Technology Package ($43,695); MDX with Technology and Entertainment Package ($45,895); MDX with Sport Package ($45,795); MDX with Sport and Entertainment Package ($47,995).
Alliston, Ontario, Canada.
Options As Tested
Acura MDX Sport Package ($45,795).
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