2011 Acura MDX Elite Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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Since its introduction in 2001, Acura's MDX has proven to be one of the marque's strongest sellers in North America, and it's easy to see why: The MDX offers up a tempting blend of practicality, luxury, style and performance in a segment that has long seen most of the competitors divided into two distinct camps. There were premium competitors that offered more performance than the MDX, but without its 7-seat practicality (think Infiniti FX and Porsche Cayenne), and there were lesser competitors offering equally healthy doses of practicality, but surrendering to the Acura in the performance and luxury departments (think Toyota Highlander, Hyundai Veracruz).

Of course anytime a marque ends up with a sales winner, rivals rush to catch some of the magic. The MDX has gained plenty of new company in its niche, with Audi entering the 7-passenger luxury crossover market with its Q7 in 2005 and BMW adding third-row seating to the redesigned 2006 X5. Lesser brand Buick upped its game with the 7-occupant Enclave in 2008, and now Ford has taken the 7-passenger Explorer into luxury crossover territory with the introduction of its impressive new 2011 model (and let's not forget the Flex either, introduced for the 2009 model year, or more appropriately the Flex-based Lincoln MKT that competes directly with the MDX).

I was given an Aspen White Pearl 2011 MDX Elite to try out for a week, and with all the fresh competition in the niche I was interested to see if the MDX would still measure up. After all, it was last redesigned for the 2007 model year, so it's now a five-year-old design, and it enters 2011 essentially unchanged from 2010.

Certainly the MDX has withstood the test of time in terms of its style. It was always a fairly sleek-looking machine, but also fairly conservative in an angular sort of way, and what was sleek and conservative looking in 2007 is still fairly sleek and conservative looking today. Acura tweaked the styling in 2010, including grafting the new corporate "power plenum" shield grille onto its nose, and whether you like the look or not it does at least keep things fresh.

Inside, the MDX continues to offer a convincing luxury ambience, with leather seating (heated in the first two rows and perforated Milano leather in the Technology and Elite models), 8-way power seat adjustments for both front seats (with 2-position memory on the driver's side), excellent audio systems, zebra wood-grain trim, backup camera (multiview in the Technology and Elite models), an auto-dimming rearview mirror, power moonroof, power tailgate and, of course, tri-zone automatic climate control, power windows and power locks (though one "of course" that is strikingly missing is proximity-sensing keyless entry and pushbutton start).

The Elite trim adds to the interior ambience with heated and cooled front seats, and the Technology and Elite trim both include a superb sounding upgraded 410-watt ELS sound system, USB input, 15 gigabyte hard drive storage, navigation system, rear seat DVD entertainment system and Bluetooth connectivity. Unfortunately Acura's full-featured Bluetooth interface isn't compatible with all phones, and my phone was one of those on the "doesn't play well with others" list.

Performance-wise, the MDX has been a bit of a standout ever since Acura introduced its SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive) system in the second-generation model in 2007, and this system still gives it a decent handling edge. Push the MDX hard into a corner and you can feel the system shifting the power from one wheel to another in order to generate more bite, and it doesn't feel at all intrusive. Instead it gives the big crossover a delightful, confidence-inspiring agility that belies its chunky 2,109 kg (4,649 lb) curb weight in Elite trim.

The Elite trim adds some significant bonuses in the handling department too, including bigger 19-inch alloy wheels and an active damper system. This uses variable-viscosity magnetic fluid in the shock absorbers to instantaneously adjust the damping force, allowing for a relatively soft, compliant ride while maintaining a flat attitude and superb grip in corners. A button on the console allows you to select "comfort" mode for an extra-soft ride on rough surfaces, but in practice I found this didn't really improve comfort that much and instead made the MDX wallow and bounce and generally show its weight.

Along with the styling tweaks in 2010, Acura also upgraded the MDX's transmission to a six-speed automatic with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters, and this gearbox helps wring respectable straight-line performance from the 3.7L VTEC V6. With 300 horsepower at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, the engine cruises around happily enough at low speeds but doesn't really come alive until the revs build up. Once they do it's certainly no slouch, pushing the MDX from standstill to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds and generating enough grunt to allow a healthy 2,268-kg (5,000-lb) towing capacity. Fuel economy is respectable enough for this class of vehicle at 13.2 / 9.6 L/100km (city/hwy), but your fuel bill will be higher than the numbers imply because the MDX needs premium gas.

Overall, the MDX still holds up well against its newer competitors. It's big enough to be versatile, but not so big as to be ungainly (the one compromise here is that when it comes to the third row seats, "versatile" does not necessarily translate to "comfortable," "spacious," or "easy to access.") It offers good power with a sophisticated V6, and has excellent handling for a biggish crossover. It has a stellar array of safety features, and boasts commensurately good safety ratings. There are lots of storage cubbies, including in unexpected but welcome places like the passenger's console side. There's plenty of luxury and technology packed into the cabin, especially in Elite trim (I really liked the Elite's active cruise control, which takes the annoyance out of trying to use cruise control when the flow of traffic is continually changing speed), and the Elite trim's blind spot information and collision mitigating braking systems are welcome safety additions.

With prices starting at $52,690 (plus $1,895 in destination charges) and climbing to $62,690 for the Elite trim, the MDX is competitive with its luxury rivals yet it offers more practicality than most of them, and comes with more standard equipment than many others. A tempting blend indeed.
©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Acura, 2011, MDX, $30,000 - $39,999, $40,000 - $49,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Acura

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