2017 Acura MDX SH-AWD Tech
Ideal all-rounder gets an eye-catching new faceLook down at your wrist. Chances are, if you’re considering purchasing an Acura MDX you’re wearing something along the lines of a Bulova Precisionist Wilton Chronograph or one of Citizen’s many Eco-Drive watches. If you’re really into horology that Citizen might be a higher end Signature Grand Touring Sport, Signature Grand Classic 9184, or even better, a Campanola. Then again if you’re not part of the more egocentric sex you probably don’t care as much about watches because you’ve got so much other great jewelry to enjoy, but let’s say you’re donning something from Michael Kors, D&G, Fitbit, or possibly the latest Apple Watch 2, but not by Hermes as that’s just frivolous.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure you could afford a $3,000 timepiece if you wanted to, and I’m certainly not criticizing the choice of an Apple Watch or anything from Citizen. I consider these intelligent choices. I own an Eco-Drive myself and it’s a superb tool watch. In fact, it keeps the most accurate time of any in my little eclectic collection, despite its near lowest initial price and lowest ongoing cost, the latter because it won’t need its solar-powered rechargeable battery replaced for at least another decade, but even considering its inventive movement, impressive workmanship, and sophisticated titanium case and strap, it carries nominal prestige, and then only amongst low-end watch geeks who appreciate its advanced tech. Kind of like Acura.
As you might already suspect, I have reason for associating Citizen with Acura in this review (and not just because I’m a watch addict). First, they’re both Japanese companies with heavy ties to the U.S. (Citizen owns New York-based Bulova, and before expanding to Hong Kong in 1991, Acura was only available in North America; it entered the Mexican market in 2004); and second, Acura’s sensational NSX and outlandish ZDX aside (I know I’m not alone in loving this SUV, right?) they’ve long lacked styling leadership. That’s changing at Citizen, while the new Precision Coupe Concept points the way toward a very emotive and distinctive new design language for Acura, but most importantly both companies make well respected products that are well built, diehard reliable, very popular, extremely functional, strong performing, and for the most part handsome (it’s also kind of cool that Citizen’s Miyota watch movement division and Acura’s Minato, Tokyo headquarters seem like they could’ve been coined in the same meeting).
Clearly, Acura is a Tier 2 luxury brand, or so says highly respected Automotive News, meaning it doesn’t quite measure up to the prestige lathered on Mercedes-Benz, BMW, or Lexus. Interestingly, AN suggests that fifth-place Audi doesn’t occupy Tier 1 status either, due to its lower sales, but let’s be real, more of your neighbours will be questioning how you suddenly came into money if you drive home in the latest Audi Q7 instead of this MDX.
There’s a reason, of course, and it comes down to money. You can get into a 2017 MDX for as little as $43,950, which is $10,850 less than the cheapest Q7. The Audi and Acura price gap isn’t as wide as the $895 required for a Citizen Signature Grand Classic 9184 (Ebay) and the $8k-plus you’ll need for an Omega Speedmaster Professional Moonwatch (and that’s by no means expensive for a quality Swiss automatic), but the difference will dramatically effect your monthly payment being that vehicles are higher ticket items. And similar to the just noted Citizen timepiece that also incorporates an automatic movement plus a power reserve no less, the Acura MDX gives you more leading-edge features than most competitors for its lower price, while it doesn’t cut back on performance, capability, or much else, except snob appeal.
If you hadn’t already noticed, the 2017 MDX gets a new more angular front grille inspired by the aforementioned Precision Coupe Concept, which will either send you straight to your local dealer to trade up or have you grateful for your still well-kept 2013 through 2016 version. It’s a polarizing love it or hate it addition that I don’t mind at all, but let’s be clear about one thing, it’s merely an extensive nose job. The rest of the SUV, excepting the headlights, lower front fascia, hood, front fenders, rear bumper cap, and wheels, is mostly the same. If it weren’t for all the work that went into folding the hood overtop the front fenders and then redesigning the latter it would simply be a classic mid-cycle makeover, but it’s been an expensive one with dramatic effect, the new façade not only changing the face of the MDX but ushering in a new design era for Acura as well.
Fortunately for MDX fans, and there are many with 58,208 sold in the U.S. last year, all that’s inherently good about this mid-size seven-passenger SUV remains the same for 2017. Its seemingly identical interior is more than equal to its price point, which means it’s considerably more upscale than a Buick Enclave’s and not as superbly crafted as the pricier Q7 or Volvo’s impeccable new XC90. Nevertheless, it gets fairly high-end soft-touch materials across the dash top, instrument panel and even below, where the knees and feet reside, glove box lid included. Likewise for the upper half of the doors, but no such luck for their lower halves that are hardly more lavish than a Honda Pilot’s. Ditto for the center console’s sides that are hard plastic, although it’s nicely finished on top with satin-silver trim and genuine looking lacquered faux hardwood. The wood and metal theme graces the instrument panel and doors as well, while all the pillars are fabric-wrapped. Basically, the MDX dots the majority of its luxury i’s and crosses most t’s, although it won’t be the sole cause of anyone pining for a Tier 1 SUV, or the aforementioned Volvo, to ante up, unless they need maximum space.
The cabin is large and comfortable, the driver’s seat superb and visibility excellent all-round. Second-row passengers are wonderfully taken care of, with expansive legroom unless you slide each side of the 60/40-split bench forward to make room for third-row tagalongs. I did, setting the second-row so my five-foot-eight length and medium (albeit expanding with age) width was still comfortable, then pressing the handy “One Touch Walk-In” button on the lower side (or the upper rear corner) that automatically slides the entire seat ahead while tilting its backrest forward for easy access, and finally planting myself in one of two surprisingly comfortable rearmost seats. I still had reasonable head, shoulder, hip, leg and foot room, meaning the MDX is a true seven-passenger vehicle, not five plus two afterthoughts like so many of its rivals.
Acura dresses up the cargo compartment with fancy chromed tie-down hooks and a snazzy stainless steel protector plate, plus nice carpeting on the load floor and sidewalls, so your lifestyle gear will be well cared for. It’s a fairly commodious space even with rear seatbacks upright, measuring 15.8 cubic feet or about the size of a mid-size sedan’s trunk, not including the hidden compartment under the cargo floor. When you need to load more there’s up to 43.4 cubic feet behind the second row and 90.9 cubic feet when both are laid flat, which is more than average in this class.
Less than best is the manual labor needed to lower those seats. No, they don’t require Rio weightlifting gold winning Lasha Talakhadze or Rim Jong-sim levels of strength to muscle into place, quite the opposite really, but no mechanical levers or power buttons assist the process. Therefore you’ll be forced to reach all the way to the seatback before yanking on a big lever in order to drop the third row, plus stretch a lot farther forward to hoist it back up again later. Folding the second row requires a trip to the rear side doors and a tug on a big lever at the base of the cushion. It all works well enough, but it’s not exactly an ultra-luxe automated experience.
Granted I was driving one of the most popular MDX Technology trims. At $48,360 it sits in the middle of the SUV’s hierarchy, above base and below the $54,400 Advance; that top-line MDX is priced about the same as the entry-level Q7. Other than available fogs, roof rails, and unique wheels, none look noticeably different from the outside, but there are considerable changes within. To continue my previous complaint, no MDX trims upgrade the cargo area with more convenient powered operation, but they certainly take care of other areas.
Before delving into each optional trim line the best MDX story is what comes standard, with base models getting V6 power, a nine-speed automatic with steering wheel paddles, 18-inch alloys, wiper-linked auto on/off full LED headlamps with auto high beams, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, an electromechanical parking brake, a powered steering column, ambient lighting, adaptive cruise control with low-speed following, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, heatable powered side mirrors with driver recognition, reverse gear tilt-down, and integrated turn signals, plus tri-zone auto climate control, an eight-inch infotainment display, a multi-angle backup camera with dynamic guidelines, text message and email reading capability, Bluetooth phone and audio streaming, Siri Eyes Free, 432-watt eight-speaker audio, satellite radio, a 10-way powered driver’s seat including two-way powered lumbar and two-position memory, an eight-way powered front passenger’s seat, heatable front cushions (albeit only controllable from the infotainment interface), a leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery, a garage door opener, a powered moonroof, acoustic glass, active noise control, a powered liftgate, and much more.
As for standard safety equipment, all the expected active and passive features are included as well as AcuraWatch auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies such as road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection, resulting in IIHS best Top Safety Pick Plus status, along with an NHTSA five-star crash test rating.
The as-tested Technology package adds unique 20-inch alloys on 245/50R20 all-seasons (up one inch from last year’s optional rims), remote start, proximity access for the rear doors, power-folding side mirrors with perimeter/approach puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, a color TFT multi-info display, voice recognition, navigation with 3D View, HD Traffic and Traffic Rerouting, hard drive media storage, a sensational sounding 501-watt 10-speaker surround audio upgrade, HD radio, AcuraLink phone connectivity, blindspot monitoring, rear cross traffic assist, and more.
I could stop naming features right now as that last one was the vehicle tested, although I should give you some highlights from the top-line Advance package that adds a more sophisticated drivetrain with auto start/stop, plus LED fog lamps, auto-dimming side mirrors, front and rear parking sensors, a heatable steering wheel, a surround-view camera, genuine olive ash open-pore hardwood (that’s worth the price of admission on its own), upgraded perforated Milano leather upholstery, a 10-way powered passenger’s seat, ventilated front seats, heatable and cooled second-row outboard seats, rear side sunshades, etcetera.
Both Technology and Advance packaged models can be upgraded with a $2,000 Entertainment package that includes rear side sunshades, a 529-watt 11-speaker ELS audio system, plus nine-inch rear entertainment display and DVD player with the former, or 546-watt, 12-speaker ELS audio and 16.2-inch widescreen rear entertainment with the latter.
Of note, the Advance model’s auto start/stop system gives it a fractional efficiency gain with a combined city/highway rating of 23 mpg compared to 22 for lesser trims when equipped in base FWD, or 22 mpg with the Advance package and 21 in others with SH-AWD, with 100 percent of its improvement found in the city, but really this technology should be standard considering most competitors offer auto start/stop in base trim, not to mention regenerative braking.
As for performance, I can’t see many complaining about the MDX’ standard 24-valve, SOHC i-VTEC-enhanced 3.5-liter V6, although it’s not the most advanced powertrain in the industry, incorporating direct injection albeit lacking turbocharging, supercharging, electrical assist, plus other technologies currently offered in the premium segment. It does include cylinder-deactivation, however, which shuts down three of its six cylinders under lighter loads, but this is hardly new tech and it hasn’t been adopted readily across the industry, which is either a good thing if you like exclusivity or something to be wary of if you fear seemingly unnecessary complications. This “Earth Dreams” engine is not only a carryover from last year, but has remained identical since Acura oddly downgraded its output upon launching the 2014 model, from a 3.7-liter V6 capable of 300 horsepower and 270 lb-ft of torque to the 3.5 making 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Fuel economy improved, but not as much as last year when the sophisticated nine-speed automatic was added, not to mention one of the weirdest gear selectors in the industry.
Speaking of unnecessary complications, Acura has joined a number of other brands in devising playful ways to take advantage of new fully electronic transmissions. As you can probably tell this isn’t my favorite of such designs, its long row of pushbuttons and pull-tabs causing the need to relearn how to drive let alone taking up more space on the lower console than a simple shift lever. I’m not against change, but prefer the simpler lever designs offered up by the Germans, or the slew of new rotating dial selectors that save much more space and are the most intuitive to operate. The transmission is wonderfully smooth and quick shifting, however, while the paddles allow plenty of driver engagement, important with such a nicely balanced SUV.
The MDX has always been a great handler, its strangely named but very adept optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) receiving an upgraded twin-clutch rear differential last year, which directs torque between front and rear wheels plus side to side for quicker, smoother operation through corners plus ultimately better traction. Together with amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, SH-AWD aids a taut body structure and superb fully independent suspension setup for much greater legerity than anything this large should be capable of.
Acura’s Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) adds a Sport mode to enhance the experience, which quickens throttle response, lets the engine rev higher between shifts, increases the steering “weight” and relays more torque to the outside rear wheels in corners for better turn-in, plus it even makes the engine sound a bit sportier, and while I took advantage of this more exciting setting most often I also found its default Comfort mode enjoyable enough and nicer over often rough inner-city pavement. Either way, the MDX provides an excellent ride that’s also very quiet, two very key reasons why it’s so popular.
The MDX is far from perfect. Its business-first interior lacks the sense of occasion a number of its challengers possess (a classy analog dash clock would be a nice touch), but it’s a very good SUV in most respects and its eye-catching new grille should cause some potential buyers to give it a closer look. When they do they’ll experience an ideal all-rounder with a mostly advanced powertrain, decent fuel economy, excellent ride and handling, very nice interior refinement, better than average passenger and cargo hauling capability, a superb assortment of standard and optional features, and a standard safety setup that’s as good as this segment gets. All that and one of the category’s best value propositions too, which makes the MDX truly worthy of your consideration.
Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.