Review of: 2017 Acura MDX SH-AWD 4dr Elite Pkg
2017 Acura MDX: Putting the sport in sport-utility
By Jil McIntosh
Sep. 29, 2016
The first of the premium Japanese brands spun off from its mainstream parent, Acura has often straddled the line between sport and luxury, as if not quite sure which path it wants to take.
Its slightly refreshed 2017 MDX is certainly sporty and overall, it’s great fun to drive. But in goosing up the interior, Acura has burdened it with a few clunky systems that could use streamlining.
The MDX comes in four trim levels (base, Navigation, Technology and Elite), starting at $53,690, all with three rows of seats. A front-wheel-drive version is available in the U.S., but all Canadian models come solely with Acura’s SH-AWD, for Super Handling All-Wheel Drive.
I had the top-line Elite trim, which rings in at $65,790. A new option for 2017 is second-row captain’s chairs for six-passenger seating, available solely on the Elite, but my tester had a conventional three-person bench seat. Other new features for 2017 across all trim lines are extra USB ports, automatic high-beam headlights, and an electronic parking brake with brake hold.
Pros & Cons
- + cargo versatility
- + Sharp handling
- + Well-matched engine/transmission
- - Tech could be a distraction
- - Push-button transmission
- - Small third-row seat
The MDX is well-proportioned and “wears its size well.” As large as it is, it doesn’t look ponderous. For 2017, it receives a redesigned hood and headlights, a good-looking new grille, and twin tailpipes.
All MDX trims include headlight washers, reverse tilt-down mirrors, power liftgate and power sunroof, while Technology and up get auto-dimming and power-folding mirrors, and auto-levelling headlights. Unique to the Elite trim are LED fog lamps and roof rack side rails.
The swoopy styling of the rear doors and windows gives a streamlined look, especially since your eye is drawn to the chrome surround, but the roof itself actually stays straight all the way to the hatch. This provides good headroom in all three rows, but that swoop lowers the rear door opening, and taller passengers need to duck when getting in.
The MDX’s curvaceous dash is almost a little too much, a wide swath punctuated with wood and chrome trim. The centre stack contains two screens, a love-or-hate-it proposition that I happen to like. With the navigation screen up top, and the stereo and phone controls below, you can adjust the music without blocking out the map function as you do.
The centre console contains a huge, cleverly-designed storage cave, accessible through the sliding cover or the centre console box, and with charging ports and auxiliary jacks hidden inside.
The front seats are comfortable and roomy, leather-clad and heated on all trim levels, and further ventilated on the Elite. The sliding second-row bench is also a nice place to park one’s butt, and the outboard positions are heated on the Technology and Elite trims.
But the third row is a different story. It’s not easy to access, and even with the second row slid forward, legroom is simply something to dream about. The cushions are flat and you sit with your chin on your knees. If you’re over the age of ten, you don’t want to be here for very long.
Both the second and third row easily fold flat to turn the MDX into a cargo carrier. If that isn’t enough, there’s also a generous bin hidden under the rear floor as well.
This is where the MDX and I briefly parted company. The vehicle is packed with features, but some could be easier to manage, especially when you’re searching for icons while driving.
If I want to change the temperature of my seat, for example, I don’t just tap the seat icon. Instead, doing that opens another screen, where I have to tap again to turn it up or down. Ditto the fan speed or climate control modes, which require an additional dip into the screen and correspondingly more time looking at it instead of the road.
In addition to a premium surround sound system, the Elite trim throws in a 16.2-inch DVD system, which dwarfs the nine-inch display found in the Technology Package trim, the only other to offer rear-seat entertainment.
There are also numerous electronic driving assists. All trim levels get adaptive cruise control (which isn’t as smooth on acceleration and deceleration as some others I’ve used), forward collision warning and braking, automatic high-beam headlamps, lane-keeping assist, and a rearview camera that’s a 360-degree unit on the Elite. Oddly, though, blind spot monitoring isn’t available on the base trim level.
When the adaptive cruise control and lane keeping are engaged, the MDX can drive itself, keeping its distance from vehicles in front and staying between the lane markings. It’ll do it for several seconds before demanding that you take the wheel—a requirement to meet legal regulations, not because it’s at the end of what it can do. The general idea behind lane-keeping when your hands are on the wheel is that you don’t have to fight road crowns or ruts, but I dislike the squirmy feel.
All MDX trims are powered by a 3.5-litre V6 making 290 horsepower and 267 lb.-ft. of torque. It includes Acura’s variable cylinder management (VCM) on all trims, running on only three cylinders when full power isn’t required, while the Elite trim adds auto start/stop that turns off the engine at idle. If you don’t care for it, there’s a button to disable it. The engine has a 91-octane recommendation but will run on regular-grade as well.
It’s hooked to a smooth-n-lovely nine-speed automatic transmission, but I detest the row of buttons that masquerades as a shifter. They’re mismatched so you don’t mistake one for another—you pull a tab for reverse, for example—but I still found myself looking down each time. Some shifter variants save space, such as the dials used by Jaguar and Chrysler, but this layout pretty much occupies the same space as a regular lever.
But once it’s in drive, the fun begins. The MDX is much more athletic than its size might suggest, thanks to its quick and responsive steering, well-planted stance, and an all-wheel-drive system that splits the torque up to 70 per cent to the rear wheels, and then further divides it to as much as 100 per cent to left or right.
Throttle tip-in is abrupt, but it’s not much of an issue unless you’re determined to feather it off the line. The cylinder deactivation helps with fuel consumption, officially measured at 12.2 L/100 km in the city and 9.0 on the highway, while I averaged 10.8 L/100 in combined driving.
The MDX is tight and alert in the drivetrain’s normal mode. You can dial it back a bit with the comfort setting, where it’s softer but nowhere near flabby, or twist it up into sport, with heavier steering weight and more-rear-biased AWD. It’s no sports car, of course, but it’s a fun family hauler.
There aren’t that many sporty-luxury SUVs that come with three rows of seats, and with a starting price of $53,690, the MDX ends up pretty much in the middle of them: Infiniti’s QX60 starts at $47,400, while Audi wants $65,200 for its Q7, and BMW asks $66,300 for its three-row X5.
Although its pricing does move up the ladder quickly—$57,190 for the Navigation trim, $60,190 for Technology, and $65,790 for the Elite—the MDX will hit the sweet spot with a lot of buyers.
Its control interface could use some fine-tuning, and don’t expect adult passengers to be happy in that third row, but much can be forgiven once you’re behind the wheel. Tight but not twitchy, the MDX is one of the better handlers out there and is definitely deserving of a test-drive.