2013 Acura MDX Elite Road Test Review

Simon Hill - CAP staff
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For those seeking a practical yet luxurious seven-passenger SUV/crossover there's certainly no shortage of challengers worth considering. But one in particular stands out - the Acura MDX. The current, second-generation MDX has topped the midsize luxury SUV/crossover sales charts ever since it was introduced in 2007, thanks in large part to its compelling blend of style, performance, practicality and luxury. Then there's the MDX's value proposition: with a starting price tag of $55,135 it handily undercuts competitors like the Audi Q7, which starts at $61,395 with third row seating, the Lexus GX starting at $64,495, or the BMW X5, which starts at $65,895 by the time you add in the third-row seats (all prices include destination). The only seven-seat luxury rival that competes on price is Infiniti's JX35 at $46,895, but for those seeking driving engagement there's no contest.

2013 is the farewell year for the second-generation MDX, because an all-new version is waiting for 2014. But the current MDX goes out looking good: it was last refreshed in 2010 and regardless of what you might think about Acura's "power plenum" grille, the MDX's sleekly angular and somewhat conservative lines have withstood the test of time remarkably well. And while there are no significant changes for 2013, it does get some revisions to the available paint colours.

Inside, the MDX offers a convincingly luxurious atmosphere. The well-appointed cabin features abundant use of soft-surface materials (including the dash and door uppers), with leather upholstery in all models and perforated Milano leather upholstery in Technology and Elite models. There's rich-looking woodgrain trim (though purists may note that it's not real wood), a very nice stitched leather centre console armrest, eight-way power seat adjustments for both front seats (with two-position memory on the driver's side), heated seats in the first two rows, backup camera (multi-view in the Technology and Elite models), power moonroof, power tailgate and, of course, tri-zone automatic climate control, power windows and locks, and a range of impressive audio systems with standard Bluetooth hands-free telephone connectivity.

My test vehicle's Elite trim added to the interior ambience with heated/ventilated front seats, and the Technology and Elite trim both include a blind spot information system and upgraded 410-watt ELS premium sound system with USB input, 15 gigabyte hard drive storage, navigation, rear seat DVD entertainment and Bluetooth streaming audio.

Notably missing from this list of features is proximity-sensing keyless entry and pushbutton start, which one imagines will likely make an appearance on the third-generation 2014 MDX. The foot-actuated park brake also seems a little out-of-place in a luxury crossover, although I actually prefer it in some ways to the newfangled electronically activated park brakes that are now expected in the segment.

In practical matters, I found that first two rows of seating both offered a comfortable, supportive fit for my 5'11" frame, while the third row was, as might expected, better suited for kids. I did fit back there but it's tight for headroom and legroom, like riding in the rear of a sporty coupe. With the third row seats deployed you get a reasonable 425 litres of cargo space, which expands to 1,215 litres with the third row folded and 2,364 litres with the second and third rows both folded. The back two rows are both split-folding (50/50 for the third row and 60/40 for the second), providing a wide variety of cargo configurations.

Under the hood, the MDX has a 3.7-litre VTEC V6 that generates 300-hp at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm, and is hooked up to a six-speed automatic transmission with steering wheel-mounted paddle shifters. The big V6 has a nice low growl and lots of grunt (which allows a healthy 2,268-kg towing capacity), and in normal driving it mostly just purrs along between 2,000-3,000 rpm. It has a lofty 6,600-rpm redline however, and if you floor the accelerator it'll happily wind all the way into the upper rev range, pushing the MDX from 0 to 100km/h in 7.6 seconds. Slip the shifter into sport mode and use the paddle shifters and the drivetrain becomes remarkably lively and sporty, although I found the wheel-mounted paddles a little small and noted that the transmission takes care of the first-to-second shift automatically almost regardless of what you do.

Getting the power to the road is Acura's SH-AWD (super-handling all-wheel drive) system, which constantly measures wheel speed, steering angle, g-forces and the vehicle's yaw angle, and then varies the amount of power being fed to each of the rear wheels to help reduce understeer and keep the vehicle almost perfectly balanced. Push the MDX hard into a corner and you can sense the system at work, but it doesn't feel at all intrusive. Instead, it gives the big crossover delightfully confidence-inspiring agility, even on rain-slicked roads.

In the Elite trim the MDX gets big 19-inch alloys and an active damper system that uses variable-viscosity magnetic fluid in the shock absorbers to instantaneously adjust the damping force, providing a relatively soft, compliant ride while maintaining a flat attitude and excellent grip in corners (a "comfort" button lets you soften the ride on rough roads, though it does induce a fair bit of pitching over bumps). Between the active dampers and the SH-AWD system, the result is that the MDX handles much more like a sedan than its high stance and hefty 2,109-kg curb weight (in Elite trim) might imply.

While the MDX offers good performance and handling, it doesn't do quite as well in terms of fuel economy, with official ratings of 13.2 / 9.6 L/100km (city/hwy). Transport Canada's ratings are generally on the optimistic side and I found this especially true with Acura's largest, which asks for pricey premium fuel and in my real world short-hop city driving used close to 18 L/100km of the stuff. Happily, highway driving generates numbers much closer to the official figure, but I only had a couple of brief highway runs during my week with the MDX.

Overall, the second-generation MDX still holds up well as it gets ready to bow out. It's big enough to be versatile, but not so big as to be a challenge around town. It offers good power and has excellent handling for a 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 - and plenty of luxury and technology packed into the cabin, especially in Elite trim.

With suggested pricing starting at the previously-mentioned base price of $55,135 and climbing to $65,335 for the Elite trim, destination in, the MDX is competitive with its luxury rivals yet it offers more practicality than most of them and more standard equipment than many others. And as Acura dealers get ready to welcome the new third-generation 2014 model, buyers can almost certainly look forward to deals on the 2013, such as the $10,000 cash purchase incentive being offered at press time in Acura's Master the Road sales event. It's a tempting offer on a top seller, and ensures that the MDX should remain on the must-see list for anyone in the market for a seven-passenger luxury crossover.

©(Copyright Canadian Auto Press)

Topics: Crossover, Acura, 2013, MDX, $50,000 - $74,999, Midsize,

Organizations: Acura

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