Acura MDX — First-class family hauler

By Jim Meachen and Ted Biederman

Acura has given its MDX mid-sized crossover a face-lift for the 2017 model year including clipping off the chrome beak — a very good thing — and creating fresh headlight and grille designs. Several new standard features are also included in the mid-cycle refresh including cap-less fueling, an electronic parking brake, additional USB ports, and a surround-view camera.

This comes on top of 2016 updates that added a suite of safety features called AcuraWatchPlus, revising the all-wheel drive system to increase response time, installing auto stop-start and — perhaps best of all — endowing the crossover with a nine-speed automatic transmission, which replaced an out-dated six-speed.

The MDX is powered by Honda's energetic 3.5-liter V-6 making 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque. While the MDX is not endowed with as much torque as some rivals, it can zoom from zero to 60 mph in a respectable 6.2 seconds thanks in part to the new nine-speed. A quarter mile time of 14.78 seconds at 94.6 mph attests to its ability to quickly pass slower traffic or merge into the fast lane — even with a big load.

Another benefit of the direct-injection engine is realized at the gas pump with an EPA rating of 19 mpg city, 26-highway and 22 overall on premium gas for the all-wheel drive model. Highway mileage is 27 in front-wheel drive. For those people who tow weekend toys, the MDX AWD has a useable 5,000-pound rating.

The MDX has always had an athletic feel, something Acura has become known for, and its handling prowess in the newest edition lives up to the billing. Drivers can tailor the vehicle to their driving tastes through the use of three dynamic modes — Sport, Normal and Comfort. These settings change steering effort, throttle response, all-wheel drive settings, and even noise cancellation for different tastes or driving conditions.

Inside, the MDX is attractive and generally more user friendly than the previous generation. Instrumentation is easy to read and Acura has eliminated the myriad of buttons once found on the center stack. But this means that more controls are now buried in a seven-inch touch screen that sits below the navigation screen. Hard buttons are still available for controlling temperature, navigation and radio volume, although we miss the easily accessed radio preset buttons found in the last generation MDX. Acura's dual screen system has been criticized, but we think it works just fine. For instance we like the fact that the radio — including information from satellite stations — can always be viewed along with a full-sized navigation screen.

Acura has also created a very quiet and passenger friendly interior. The second-row seats slide six inches fore and aft, and a one-touch control folds and slides them forward for easier entry and exit to the third row. Storage includes a handy under-floor compartment in the rear cargo area and a center console large enough to fit a laptop or purse.†However, the cargo area still falls a bit short of some competitors measured at 15 cubic feet with all seats in use, and a cargo area of 68.4 cubic feet with all seats folded.

Acura has a unique strategy of offering three packages — Standard, Technology and Advance — and virtually no stand-alone options. Buyers simply purchase the package that best suits their needs starting at $44,890 for the Standard package with front-wheel drive. The top-of-the-line Super Handling AWD with Advance and Entertainment at  $59,340 hits the pricing ceiling.

The good thing here is that Acura has made the AcuraWatchPlus items standard equipment across the lineup meaning the buyer who is struggling to keep his purchase solidly under 50 grand will get the benefit of such things as forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane and road departure warning and mitigation, and adaptive cruise control. The Standard package also includes automatic LED headlights, power liftgate, keyless entry and ignition, eight-way power-adjustable front seats, power-adjustable steering wheel, leather upholstery, tri-zone climate control, satellite radio, Bluetooth and an eye-popping five USB ports.

Technology adds 20-inch wheels, remote engine start, blindspot monitors with cross traffic alert (we think this feature should be standard across the lineup), navigation and a 10-speaker premium audio system.

The entertainment package ($2,000) can be specified with either the Technology or Advance packages that adds a DVD-based rear entertainment system — a necessity for families with children — and 12 audio speakers. It comes with a nine-inch screen and 11 audio speakers with the Technology package, and a 16.2-inch screen and 12 audio speakers with the Advance package. That feature also replaces the second-row captain's chairs with seven-passenger seating.

Base price: $44,890; as driven, $59,340
Engine: 3.5-liter V-6
Horsepower: 290 @ 6,200 rpm
Torque: 267 foot-pounds @ 4,700 rpm
Transmission: 9-speed automatic
Drive: all-wheel
Seating: 2/2/2
Wheelbase: 111 inches
Length: 196.2 inches
Curb weight: 4,215 pounds
Turning circle: 38.7 feet
Luggage capacity: 14.9 cubic feet
Cargo capacity: 68.4 cubic feet
Towing capacity: 5,000 pounds
Fuel capacity: 19.5 gallons (premium)
EPA rating: 19 city, 26 highway, 22 combine
0-60: 6.2 seconds (Car and Driver)
Also consider: Audi Q7, Volvo XC90, BMW X5

The Good
• Quiet, powerful V-6
• Handsome and spacious interior
• Loaded with infotainment, safety features
• Chrome beak finally disappears from front end

The Bad
• Cargo capacity below segment average

The Ugly
• Segment competition intense