Back in 2001 Acura introduced the MDX mid-size luxury crossover, long before such things were the norm. In fact, most other automakers were (and still are) concentrating on off-road capable SUVs in this segment. Fast forward to 2010 and the MDX has surpassed all other Acura models to become the volume leader in the Japanese automaker’s luxury lineup.
|1. For 2010 the MDX gets a new 6-speed automatic transmission that improves fuel economy to 16/21-mpg (city/hwy).
2. Motivation comes from a 300-hp 3.7L V6 that is rated to tow 5,000 lbs.
3. Standard features include a power liftgate, SH-AWD and a backup camera.
4. A new Advance Package for 2010 includes 19-inch wheels, an Active Damper System, vented front seats, adaptive cruise control, blind spot monitoring and a Collision Mitigating Braking System.
We’d say that Acura’s gamble to build a crossover while the rest of the market was focused on more traditional SUVs has paid off, but it wasn’t a gamble. Rather, Acura followed its business plan to build models like the MDX that forego unnecessary off-road capability for functional real-world practicality.
The reality is, the vast majority of buyers in this segment will never take their vehicle to the beach, let alone up the side of a mountain, and so the underlying car architecture works perfectly. In fact, since the beginning Acura made no secret of the fact that the MDX has no off-road ambitions. Instead it was designed to deliver added ride height, a luxury drive with high-end features, a stylish look, good passenger and cargo room, plus the value of Honda reliability and a lower price point when stacked up against the German competition.
Already successful in all of these categories, Acura has made a short list of changes for 2010 to help keep the MDX at the top of the heap. Most noticeable is a mild redesign that certainly helps set the MDX apart. We can’t say we love Acura’s bird beak front grille that’s now being used across its entire lineup, but you’ll no loner confuse the MDX with a Lexus. The new corporate face of Acura is starting to slowly grow on us and on the big MDX the “power plenum” grille is less ostentatious and more decorative. Perhaps we’re just being worn down, but Acura’s designers might just have been ahead of their time.
A design cue we really do like are the updated exhaust pipe finishers, which help give a little flare to the rear of the big crossover.
Changes have also been made under the hood with a new engine and transmission – although when it comes to the engine, the term “new” must be used loosely. Honda says the 3.7-liter V6 gets more usable power. That sounds like a bit of a stretch. We don’t have a torque curve to examine, but the MDX makes the same 300-hp, which now comes on at 6300 rpm (300 rpm higher). As for torque, it comes on 500 rpm sooner at 4500 rpm, but the total is also 5 ft-lbs less at 270 ft-lbs. Regardless, power is sufficient and while we’d like to see Honda develop a V8 engine for other vehicles, the MDX doesn’t need one.
The tow rating for the engine is a reasonably high 5,000 lbs, which is great for a crossover – although with the limited torque it’s sure to feel labored when you approach the max.
More important than engine changes, however, are changes to the transmission, with a new six-speed unit for 2010 that ups fuel economy to 16/21 mpg from last year’s 15/20-mpg rating. We like the improvement, but these numbers still seem dreadful. For a luxury brand, Acura is slipping behind in certain respects with 7- and 8-speeds quickly becoming the norm, while it is only now upgrading to a 6-speed.
One area where Acura has been a leader in for quite a few years is in AWD technology. The company’s SH-AWD system distributes power not only front to rear, but also side to side in the rear. It’s more designed for optimum grip in performance settings than for getting you out of the mud – but it can help with that too.
Another new addition for 2010 are lighter 18-inch wheels that are designed to improve both handling and ride quality. There’s likely a difference, but not something you can qualitatively measure. The MDX suspension setup is already quite good delivering a ride that is both comfortable and reasonably sporty. Our test model featured larger 19-inch wheels and lower profile tires as part of the Advance Package, delivering a perfectly comfortable ride but with a slightly more dynamic edge.
That package is new for 2010 and also includes an Active Damper System so drivers can choose between a soft or firm suspension setting. The difference between the two setups isn’t dramatic but is noticeable. Designed more for sporty flare, we preferred to leave the harder setup on, switching only to the soft setting on longer highway drives or when the road got rough. (It’s also nice if you’ve got a couple sleeping kids in the back.)
Other items included in the Advance Package are a blind spot monitoring system, adaptive cruise control, perforated higher-grade Milano leather seats with ventilation, auto-leveling headlights, paddle shifters and a Collision Mitigating Braking System (CMBS) that works similar to other systems on the market notifying the driver of an impending crash using an auditory alert before engaging the brakes partially to reduce the severity of the collision.
Vehicles equipped with this package cost $51,8551, roughly a $6,000 premium over the standard model with the Technology Package. We like some of the items, but wish we could get just a few of them a la carte.
As for the Tech package, it’ll bring the base $42,230 price up to $45,905 but includes what can almost be considered necessities in a vehicle of this caliber; things like leather seats, Navigation and Acura’s ELS Surround sound system with 410-watts, 10-speakers and a built-in hard disk drive (HDD) with USB connectivity. Generally Acuras come with pretty weak audio systems, but this one can really pound out the tunes. The Nav system displays on an 8-inch LCD screen which is also used for the backup camera. Even models without the Tech package get a backup camera, but it’s a tiny screen located on the rearview mirror.
Acura’s Keyless Access System can also be considered a modern luxury must-have, although with memory settings tied to the keys, we can foresee problems when two keys get close to the car. Notably absent is a push-button ignition. A final Tech Package item in is a tri-zone automatic climate control system – something the back seat passengers are sure to appreciate.
As for those rear seats, they’re moderately roomy but there isn’t as much legroom as we’d expect in a vehicle of this size. Technically, the MDX is a seven seater and there is a third row as well, but it’s mostly useless and serves a better function when folded flat, increasing the cargo room from a sedan-like 15 cubic-feet to a significant 42.9 cu.-ft. Access to all the space is made easy through a standard power tailgate.
In terms of the overall cabin, it’s typical Acura; following more in line with a BMW meets Audi type of minimal-but-well-done luxury, as opposed to the more lavish interiors of a Mercedes or Lexus. The vented front seats are, however, supremely luxurious and those in the rear seat will love the optional heated outboard seats.
In true Acura fashion, the ergonomics are great although the steering wheel easily has a half a dozen too many buttons.
The 2010 additions, particularly the new style, are sure to give the MDX a new lease on life at the top of the mid-size luxury crossover/SUV segment. Most importantly, however, is the price. Starting at $42,230 it undercuts all major competitors by a fair margin, with the Mercedes ML starting in the $45,000 range, the BMW X5 in the $47,000 range and the new Lexus RX460 at just over $50,000. Even our fully loaded model with the Advance and rear-seat Entertainment Packages just topped the Lexus at $53,755.
With an almost Lexus-like way of succeeding in all areas but never really excelling in any particular one, we can’t say we love the MDX, but it would be our top pick in the segment – if, as we suspect is true for most shoppers, true off-road capability and more heavy-duty towing capability are not required. We would suggest shoppers also seriously consider the too-big-for-its-class Lexus RX as an alternative.
Barring that, we’ll take our MDX in Aspen White Pearl a color that perfectly suits this luxurious suburban soft-roader.