You know the zip codes. With a Trump golf course here, a Trump high rise there and more black Escalades then you can count, the entitled navigate this turf – urban or suburban – behind the wheels of chariots laden with chrome and infused with horsepower. Not-quite-bespoke Bentleys maneuver past the Porsche Panameras, while Teslas and Audis are as common as Impalas and Galaxies of another era, another zip code. Parked amongst the $20 tips and $200 lunches is the Acura MDX, with one hand reaching for the upper rung…and its ass stuck on a Honda showroom.
Throughout history they’ve observed it, and it undoubtedly remains true in this or any year: It ain’t easy being first. And to Honda’s everlasting credit, among Japanese OEMs it was first out of the volume, mid-priced box when introducing the Acura franchise in 1986. The Legend was Acura’s 3-box luxury sedan – just the thing when moving up from your second Accord – while the Civic-based Integra was there for the kids to drive. (Of note – my one-time sister-in-law drove hers for over a decade.) For a while things went swimmingly, but then some Honda suits decided to rebrand the Legend as the RL, a series of nondescript 2-and-4-doors followed, and – of course – Lexus and Infiniti were fighting for the same disposable dollars. At last count Lexus won.
A generation later we’re left with the refreshed MDX, a capable RDX compact CUV, three sedans with designations no one can remember and a made-in-Ohio supercar that is fetching, but fetching some $150K. The 3-row MDX is head of this particular herd, and in an American landscape seemingly starved for anything with a back-of-the-bus backseat, it’s worth – as they say – a look.
EXTERIOR: Having been redesigned for the 2014 model year, 2017 brings what the industry calls a ‘refresh’. For Acura that means a new ‘diamond’ pentagon grille, along with a restyled hood, front fenders, side sills, front and rear fascias and Jewel Eye(?) headlights. In short, they brought to the table a tad more bling, and none of it is disquieting.
But if we move from the details for a minute and take a look at the overall footprint, know I like my SUV and crossovers a tad more vertical, a little less squat. A co-worker has regular access to an ’06 MDX, and he found this model to be visually wider and significantly lower. And while that makes for a more planted look, it also makes access more difficult, and visibility once inside more restricted. We end up with a crossover that’s more wagon – think Toyota Venza – than SUV, while having all of the weight of a substantial crossover. We don’t have the time or space here, but I’d love to compare the interior volume of today’s MDX with that of Acura’s now-discontinued TSX wagon. I’d guess their interior spaces are comparable, while the TSX undercuts the MDX’s curb weight by – again, we’re guessing – by some 1,000 pounds.
INTERIOR: It is, in a word (or two), quite lovely. Leather seating is standard on all trims, and while 7-passenger seating is available our ‘Advance’ trim featured captain’s chairs in the second row, with ample storage for electronics or – if your elderly parents are riding along – their medical marijuana. Access to the 3rd-row bench wasn’t as intuitive as you might hope, although we eventually figured it out. And once in the 3rd row the space was more constricted than in previous loans from Mazda or Hyundai. Finally, as noted above the squat exterior makes for a more constricted view from inside the cabin; if you want to be master of your domain consider Nissan’s new Armada – or go back to your bedroom.
Also worth a mention: Why do product teams think they need to reinvent something that’s been working? In the MDX the traditional shiftlever has been replaced by console-mounted buttons for your PRNDL needs, and while over a 36-month lease you’ll probably get used to their lack of functionality, why should you need to? We did like the seat shape, an ample storage and the genuine Olive Ash Burl interior trim featured on the Advance trim.
POWERTRAIN: Acura continues with a 3.5 liter V6 serving 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, driving either the front wheels (standard) or all wheels via Super Handling All-Wheel Drive. Coupled with the weight of a big crossover (the MDX platform is shared – we believe – with Honda’s Pilot and Odyssey), acceleration is adequate but far from overwhelming. To its credit, the V6 offers midrange responsiveness in a relaxed fashion that Mazda’s CX-9 sacrificed when moving from a V6 to a turbocharged four.
On the highways and byways the MDX’s overall composure is excellent; you’ll think you’re driving a reasonably responsive Buick. And while we think the Acura is well removed – given its bulk – from the ‘Super Handling’ descriptive, neither will the MDX do anything in transitions to upset your personal equilibrium. Or that of your partner.
OWNRSHIP: Our top-of-the-line Advance stickered for just over $57K, and that is hard loaded, with a Monroney label overstuffed with interior-this and exterior-that. And given its content – and Acura badging – that’s reasonable value in its competitive segment. We like its restrained exterior relative to what’s coming from Lexus, but we’re not quite sure we see substantive differences between this and what is offered by Honda’s recently redesigned Pilot. Nor do we see a $12K difference between the MDX and Mazda’s all-new CX-9.
If, however, you enjoy an upscale vibe with anvil-like reliability, you could do far worse – although if opting for the MDX we’d buy a base-level trim for around $45K. The takeaway from a week with this MDX AWD Advance: It’s the perfect carriage for a couple of empty nesters enjoying a handful of youngish grandchildren. At this point we have one toddler. And we wait.