Normally, trying to be all things to all people is a six-lane freeway to suckitude. This is the downfall of focus-grouped design-by-committee automaking, which waters creativity down to the point of the lowest common denominator. Death by clinic.
With its all-new Megatron-faced 2007 MDX, Acura wants the MDX to be mentioned in the same breath as the Porsche Cayenne and BMW X5. Doing so required the new MDX to be a much hotter tamale than the lame-duck MDX in nearly every way, so Acura endowed the 2007 model with a formidable dynamic repertoire. Effectively negotiating the opposing tables of performance, utility and comfort is a delicate balancing act that the smarter, buffer MDX pulls off convincingly.
A brave new face
Looking like the aftermath of a tryst between an Infiniti FX45 and the Muppets' Sam the Eagle, the bulges and creases of the 2007 MDX are a welcome departure from the smooth, invisible lines of the original MDX. Curiously, over the course of 1,700 miles, our MDX tester ferried us to far-off locales in the Southwestern States without drawing a single murmur or sideways glance. Combined with our tester's subdued "Steel Blue" paint, the MDX's pursed mug makes it less Bo Derek and more Derek Zoolander.
It's what's under the skin that counts. A subtle clue to the 2007 MDX's newly invigorated philosophy is the "Comfort" button on the center console. Unlike nearly any vehicle we can think of with split-personality dampers, "Sport" mode is the MDX's default attitude upon startup.
Selecting Comfort mode instantly switches the magneto-rheological dampers to a softer setting that is, frankly, underdamped on some road surfaces — hit a large bump and the body will continue to seesaw for a cycle or two. Forget Comfort mode. Since the standard setting is so well-resolved, it's better to simply leave the button alone. You'll be rewarded with a ride that is sure-footed and firm — never punishing — with a notable lack of the head toss or belly jiggle normally associated with sport-tuned dampers.
Anyone who has worn running cleats or climbing shoes will have an appreciation for the MDX's adroit SH-AWD all-wheel-drive system. Similar to that found in the Acura RL, SH-AWD incorporates a drive system logic that apportions torque both front-to-rear and side-to-side in an effort to control yaw. The end result is that the MDX maintains path accuracy eagerly, like a Jack Russell terrier missile-locked onto a Frisbee. There's a sensation of the torque shifting from wheel to wheel during hard cornering, clueing the driver into the magic behind the electronic curtain, but it all happens so effectively that it's encouraging rather than distracting.
And it works, too — the MDX generated 0.82g of grip on our skid pad and ran through the slalom at 62.6 mph. Wide 255/55 sneakers on 18-by-8-inch wheels help, too, even if they're all-seasons. Those are solid results, but what's really impressive is how exploitable the MDX's capabilities are within those values. For a three-row SUV, the MDX does a fine job of driving like it's not one.
Even at a crawl, the steering has a reassuring heft that reminds us of the latest BMW 3 Series. Response from the helm is superb, and combined with the MDX's reined-in body motion, the driver has heaps of confidence when attacking a sinuous road or just threading through traffic. Likewise, the MDX's braking response and consistent pedal effort further bolster confidence. Stopping from 60 mph consumed 134 feet — a decent stopping distance for the MDX's size — though obvious fade was experienced during the successive stops of our testing.
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
Outgunning all other six-cylinder-powered rivals including the BMW X5, Lexus RX 350 and Porsche Cayenne, the MDX's big 3.7-liter V6 punches out 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 275 lb-ft of torque at 5,000 rpm. From a dig, acceleration is a shade soft until the tach needle builds momentum.
It's in the middle and upper ends of the rev range where the smooth six pulls with enthusiasm, running the truck from zero to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds on its way to a quarter-mile in 16 seconds at 88.9 mph. Downshifting readily when the throttle is stirred, the MDX's manually shiftable five-speed autobox drew praise for its transparent, slurred gearchanges.
More than a one-trick pony
So, the MDX succeeds at the driver involvement part. Any $48,465 sport-ute needs to be more than a one-trick pony, and the MDX addresses this concern, too.
Although the MDX will accommodate seven passengers and tow up to 5,000 pounds, it's best used as a four-seater with the third row folded down for their luggage. In fact, Acura refers to the MDX's seating configuration as "4+3," meaning, "those +3 had better be Mother Teresa in size and disposition." The remaining four occupants are treated like kings, though, with top-shelf comfort from the Sport package's glove-soft perforated leather seats and seat heaters all around.
We've griped about this in other cars but it bears repeating despite how obvious it sounds — glossy surfaces reflect light. The MDX's clearcoated plasti-wood makes for an intriguingly styled interior, but casts reflections into the driver's face. Plus, for all the MDX's sport-biased gusto, its pencil-rimmed steering wheel is a letdown, and the overcrowded center stack can't be easily operated by feel alone. Aside from those quibbles, and a shrill whistle from the HVAC when at full chuff, the high-quality interior is a stylishly sybaritic environment indeed.
Certain manufacturers have a reputation for executing a particular area to a consistently high standard. Porsche has brakes, GM has air-conditioning and Ferrari has exhaust notes. Add Acura's navigation interface to that list. With its ease of use, utterly intuitive operation and well-placed multifunction display, Acura puts other systems — Mercedes-Benz's comes to mind — to shame. It's something other automakers should unabashedly copy.
Putting it all together
Like all Hondas, the MDX adopts the corporate options strategy of bundling features into a vehicle style, thereby making those items "standard equipment." In our case, the MDX we tested was equipped with the Sport and Entertainment packages. Fully loaded, in other words.
Base MDXs start at $40,665 with destination. The Sport package includes the features of an available Technology package — navigation with voice recognition and real-time traffic, a positively mind-blowing 410-watt audio system, a rearview camera and solar-sensing climate control — plus a sport suspension with the aforementioned Active Damper System, premium leather and special wheels. Available separately, the Entertainment package consists of a rear-seat DVD screen, the heated second-row seats, a power tailgate and a 115-volt power outlet.
While other automakers are content to tout real or pseudo off-road capability for their SUVs, Acura instead focused the MDX's skill set on the types of roads most SUV buyers drive on: paved ones. As a result, the 2007 Acura MDX works exceptionally well in this environment, even on spirited romps. It's a driver's SUV heavy on sport, yet doesn't abandon the user-friendliness of its progenitor.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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