First impression: Wow! This all-new fourth-generation is impressive. It handsomely wears the brand’s latest and unique design traits and is the most luxurious and tech-laden vehicle that Acura has created, so far. As it pushes into new territory, however, some areas of the MDX prove to be more successful than others.
With styling guidance from the brand’s Precision Concept, the seven-passenger crossover is larger than before and its cabin is positioned far aft of the front axle for a more premium posture. The very shapely bumper wears an upright grille for an even longer hood and the headlights and taillights are slim and keep the large crossover from looking too truck-ish. The main styling line stretches along the window line and carries around the rear of the MDX while the wheel arches provide most of the bodysides’ depth. It’s an upscale look that’s entirely fitting of its also-premium $62k price tag.
While the exterior presents a very appealing first impression, it’s the interior that steals the show with its attractive design, high-quality materials, and the latest technology. The front seats are sixteen-way power-adjustable and are wrapped in soft leather and, a 12.3-inch digital gauge cluster provides information in a manner that’s practical and looks expensive. The same goes for the 10.5-inch head-up display – Acura’s largest to date. Centrally located on top of the dash is a 12.3-inch infotainment screen that features crisp graphics and is fast once it’s booted up. Gloss-black interior trim is orange-peel free and large panels stretch across the dash panel for a premium horizontal splitting effect. Lower down, it tucks under and narrows, adding a sense of depth before extended outward to provide the surface for the transmission selector as well as a nifty pop-up set of charging ports.
The infotainment system utilizes Acura’s remote touchpad which matches the locations of the menus of the infotainment screen to the relative location on the touchpad. A robust raised chrome and leather wrist pad allows for a steady hand to make the selections and is additionally comfortable to use as a hand rest. By combining the fast menu selection enabled by a touchscreen and the stability of a control wheel or dial, its concept is a winning solution, although it may take a few days before feeling entirely confident with each selection. The infotainment system is smart too and recognizes natural speech commands, learns the user’s habits to suggest shortcuts, and offers simple layouts that need just a quick glance away from the road.
The infotainment system also connects wireless to CarPlay and Android Auto and pumps sound out through the newest and greatest ELS Studio 3D sound system. It delivers a new level of concert-like experience without the need to be cranked up to 11 – although it’s always happy to oblige.
The luxurious experience continues for the second-row passengers with heated seats, gloss-black painted climate controls, an AC power outlet, and access to an app that can control the sound system, rear climate settings, and even the panoramic roof’s sunshade.
The MDX’s larger exterior has translated into additional cargo volume (more than its competitors) and more passenger space. The third-row seat is positioned higher and offers more legroom and shoulder room but still isn’t quite large enough for adults for an extended amount of time. At least sliding the seat forward is quick and as easy as pressing a button. A new walk-away auto-close feature for the tailgate is a very clever and useful solution for closing the tailgate when your hands are full.
With the premium look, feel, and sound of the exterior and interior, the chassis and powertrain faced steep expectations for a sporting and luxurious experience. The MDX rides on an all-new platform which has allowed for a complete redesign of the front suspension whose double wishbone design provides more precisely tuned performance and comfort characteristics over the previous generation’s strut design. The rear suspension also receives an updated design, and the 20-inch wheels feature resonators to minimize vibration from specific road surfaces. But, ultimately, the MDX doesn’t have the elegant body control that is expected at this price point. The softer springs and adaptive dampers never seem to be on the same page and it prevents the MDX from achieving a crisp turn-in or the ability to soak up bumps with a single body motion. It also feels as it’s unwilling to use all of its suspension and the largest road imperfections are sent through the cabin rather abruptly. At least it’s quiet on the highway and proves to have excellent cornering stability when hustled around the canyon roads – aided by the latest version of Acura’s performance-focused SH-AWD system and dynamic controls.
Helping motivate the MDX is an updated 3.5-liter V6 that produces 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. It’s teamed to a 10-speed automatic that features a lower first gear ratio than the last generation’s 9-speed and provides faster downshifts – which sadly, still take too long. Steering wheel paddle shifters provide full control of upshifts and downshifts and the transmission’s sport mode keeps the engine churning at a higher rpm. When left in normal mode, the transmission is too eager to upshift which unfortunately highlights the engine’s lack of low-end grunt – especially compared to its turbocharged competition. Put your foot into it, and the engine uncharacteristically takes a moment to respond and I can’t recall an Acura V6 that sounded this unhappy to be working so hard.
In the area of active safety systems, however, the MDX has a leg up on the competition. Whether heading down a straight highway or winding around a mountain road, the lane keep assist system will expertly guide the MDX without ping-ponging between the edges of the lane and it won’t surprise you with too much “assist” or force any mid-turn corrections – it simply works and continues to be one of the best systems available.
The adaptive cruise control system is also noteworthy, but primarily for the way it communicates what it’s about to do and why. Through the driver’s digital display, the MDX shows the target gap to the vehicle ahead and whether that vehicle is too close (requiring braking) or if there is enough gap to begin accelerating up to the set speed. It’s a revolutionary concept and allows one to have a lot more faith in automated driving-assist systems.
The confident styling, impressive technology, and smart packaging move the MDX up to the next level of luxury that needs just a bit more enthusiasm from the handling and power departments – which is precisely what the upcoming Type-S trim line promises to deliver.