Designed for a family, but built for an enthusiast
Comparing the performance of an Acura MDX to that of a BMW X5 3.0i
or a Porsche Cayenne V6
might seem ludicrous — and it would have been until now. That changes with the introduction of the all-new 2007 Acura MDX.
In the past, the MDX had been characterized (by us, in fact) as an SUV "with room for seven passengers or serious amounts of cargo with a gutsy 253-horsepower V6 and a ho-hum interior design and materials." Nowhere was it mentioned that the MDX could put a Cayenne or X5 in its mirrors around a racetrack. Nor did it cite state-of-the-art electronic entertainment and telematics, including live traffic information within a sat-nav system or Bluetooth connectivity. At the MDX's concept reveal in New York, however, Acura hinted at the MDX's capabilities by divulging it had undergone testing at Germany's famous Nürburgring. Later our spies confirmed the exhaustive interior redo when they caught a glimpse of a camouflaged MDX mule undergoing hot-weather testing in Death Valley. The stage was set.
Gunning for the big guys
It appears the folks at Acura went after BMW and Porsche in terms of vehicle dynamics and have outdone themselves in the process. The basis for this newfound performance comes from an all-new bespoke chassis and engine combined with an electromechanical all-wheel-drive system first used on the RL sedan and on the recently released RDX crossover. The standard all-aluminum 3.7-liter V6 is now the largest and most powerful in Acura's arsenal, producing 300 hp and 275 pound-feet of torque.
That's a gain of 47 hp and 25 lb-ft of torque over the previous model's 3.5-liter V6. Luckily, the MDX's city/highway fuel economy estimates change little, from 17/23 mpg to 17/22 mpg despite the increase in output and approximate 100-pound weight gain. That's good news considering the premium fuel requirement of the engine. Still, the 2007 MDX is more fuel-efficient than the X5 3.0i's 15/19 mpg or Cayenne's 15/21 mpg.
The new 3.7-liter power plant still features VTEC variable valve timing and lift control to optimize horsepower and torque characteristics while promoting fuel economy. This time, however, a sky-high 11.0:1 compression ratio, electronic throttle, and variable intake and exhaust systems bring about a far more responsive engine in all rev ranges.
Behind the V6 is a new, strengthened and regeared five-speed automatic with grade-logic control and SportShift manual capability, and the combination makes the 4,500-pound MDX feel downright quick. The last time we tested an MDX was way back in 2003 when it was rated at just 240 hp. Even then, the MDX ran to 60 mph in about 8 seconds and we suspect the 2007 MDX will easily eclipse that modest performance. Towing capacity rises from 4,500 to 5,000 pounds.
That's Mr. Suspension to you
Our on-road and racetrack drives were spent mainly in the new Sport-optioned MDX that includes, among other things, two-mode dampers with magneto-rheological (MR) fluid. Even so equipped, we would never have expected the kind of dexterity the MDX displayed, especially at the racetrack.
The MR dampers do as advertised: smoothing out the ride on the rough stuff and firming up for spirited driving. Only a few times did we feel the comfort mode was just a little too apt to float and bound on some undulating highways. Likewise, there were a few times when the MR suspension revealed a slightly artificial feeling. With its prime directive being to keep the vehicle more or less upright, we found it to be slightly meddling and apt to jounce if we weren't absolutely steady with the steering wheel all the way through a corner. Piloted smoothly, however, the MDX's steady-state line tracing is nearly perfect.
At the track, Acura reps assembled the aforementioned BMW X5 3.0i and Porsche Cayenne V6, and threw in a V8-powered Volvo XC90 to add insult to injury. Granted, there were no representatives from the other vehicles' manufacturers to prepare, observe or defend the contest, so it falls short of an authorized comparison. The unofficial results, however, indicate the MDX was the superior vehicle. It was easily quicker, more controlled and entertaining when compared to the BMW or Volvo. Where the X5 and XC90 summoned either overzealous stability-control intervention or developed terminal understeer entering a corner, the MDX simply dove in and powered out of those same corners.
The Cayenne behaved like a Porsche should, rewarding an aggressive driving style with precise steering and a balanced chassis that would allow some sideways antics in both on- and off-throttle situations. It was a willing dance partner to be sure; however, the MDX was still the quicker, more confidence-inspiring vehicle — with the Porsche's stability control turned off and the MDX's still on.
When the Acura's vehicle stability assist (VSA) was shut off, it matched the Porsche's athleticism and penchant for crazy yaw angles. Nevertheless, it was obvious the 300-hp MDX had longer legs than the 247-hp Cayenne, running away on every straight bit of track.
Super Handling AWD
The chief advantage of Acura's standard SH-AWD system is that it works in conjunction with its defeatable VSA system. The driveline continually receives input from various sensors to delay or effectively eliminate the need to call in the stability-control cavalry to save the day.
Because the system is continually active instead of being merely reactive, it always sends power to the individual wheel(s) with the greatest need or use for it. Most people will never detect the seamless transfer of power, nor would they have imagined they had just preempted VSA. Instead, they'd just presume the MDX was an exceptionally talented vehicle, and it is.
Longer, lower, wider
The MDX's new chassis/unit body is longer, lower and wider than its predecessor and it no longer shares its lineage with the pedestrian Honda Odyssey minivan. The MDX's dimensions are about 2 inches larger in wheelbase, overall length and width, while its height decreases by about a half-inch.
Interior volume and seating measurements remain about the same, which are generous, with some fractions of an inch given and taken in various positions. Total cargo room with all the seats (including the third row) up is just 15 cubic feet. Fold everything flat, though, and the enormous cargo capacity swells to 83.5 cubic feet. But that's just the beginning of the MDX's interior attributes.
Packages within packages
Honda and Acura are notorious for implying that there are no options on any of their vehicles. Rather, each package is rolled into a model's designation as in "Accord-Leather-Navi." That's simply stupid. There are indeed options and packages for which you will pay above a base model's price.
And this holds true for the 2007 Acura MDX: Every new MDX features three-row seating, the 3.7-liter V6, five-speed automatic and SH-AWD plus a leather-wrapped multifunction steering wheel, 10-way adjustable driver- and eight-way adjustable front-passenger seats, tri-zone climate control, eight-speaker 253-watt audio system with XM Satellite Radio and auxiliary jack for personal audio input, and Bluetooth connectivity. Safety is covered by a bevy of airbags, including one for the driver's knees and impending rollover deployment of the side curtains.
The Technology package adds GPS navigation with voice recognition and real-time traffic updates, rearview camera, GPS-linked solar-sensing climate control, 410-watt 10-speaker ultrapremium audio with surround sound and CD/DVD-audio changer. A Sport package perforates and upgrades the leather seats, adds the button-operated MR dampers, exclusive wheel design and auto-leveling xenon HID headlamps.
Finally, an Entertainment package is available in conjunction with either the Technology or Sport packages and includes a rear-seat DVD player with 9-inch flip-down screen, an infrared remote and headphones (movie audio playback can also be routed through the MDX's surround speakers), an input jack for gaming and a 110-volt power outlet.
If there are drawbacks to the 2007 Acura MDX they are its grille and price. Have a look at the nose of the MDX and you'll either think it looks high-tech or highly contrived. That's for the market to decide. As for the price, Acura says the base will hover around $41,000 and we assume the MDX-Sport-Technology-Entertainment model we drove will almost reach $50,000.
Considering base MSRPs of a comparably equipped BMW X5 3.0i ($44,470), the Porsche Cayenne ($42,200) and the Volvo XC90 V8 ($46,400), we think the MDX is priced just right. With all its unexpected performance, standard safety and interior features, plus Acura's attention to detail and reputation for longevity, the 2007 Acura MDX is the current midsize SUV standard for the others to chase — in spite of the metallic grille.
Edmunds attended a manufacturer-sponsored event, to which selected members of the press were invited, to facilitate this report.