What's New for 2008
After a full redesign last year, the Acura MDX heads into 2008 with no significant changes.
The term "performance SUV" comes very close to being an oxymoron. Really, if your number-one goal is performance, a big and boxy sport-utility is usually a poor choice to go about getting it. But for consumers who really like to drive, yet have certain constraints in their life that require an SUV (read: a family), such a vehicle can make a certain amount of sense. Enter the 2008 Acura MDX.
Acura's midsize luxury SUV was redesigned last year. As with the first-generation MDX, it's a car-based crossover SUV with V6 power and seating for seven. But the new model is considerably sportier. It's powered by the largest and most powerful V6 ever to grace an Acura (yes, including the NSX), giving it unparalleled juice and athleticism. With it, Acura promises V8-like performance while still maintaining respectable fuel economy.
On-road handling ability is also high on the MDX's resume. The ute benefits from a stiff chassis and an electromechanical all-wheel-drive system first seen in the RL sedan. This system, dubbed SH-AWD, can not only actively shift torque from front to rear, but also from side to side in order to maximize traction and stability in all situations. Actively controlled dampers are also available, and with them come two driver-selectable modes: Sport and Comfort. The default mode, in a nod to the MDX's mission, is the Sport setting.
Thankfully, there's still plenty of "Acura" to the MDX as well. The interior is attractively designed and solidly constructed, and one can outfit it with real-time traffic navigation and surround-sound audio. Technically, there's room for seven passengers, but the MDX works best seating four adults with the third row folded for cargo. That third row will handle small children, but like most midsize SUVs, it's for occasional use only.
Overall, the 2008 Acura MDX is a well-balanced midsize luxury SUV with solid sporting credentials. In its class you'll find other sport-oriented models such as the Audi Q7, BMW X5, Infiniti FX, Porsche Cayenne and Volvo XC90. In terms of performance, the MDX matches or bests the V6-powered versions of those models, while often undercutting them by thousands of dollars even when equipped with a full list of optional features. True, you could spend more for a competitor's V8 model and get a smidge of extra performance and prestige. But for meeting the oxymoronic "performance luxury SUV" goal while keeping a realistic budget, the Acura MDX is about as good as it gets.
Body Styles, Trim Levels, and Options
The 2008 Acura MDX is a midsize luxury crossover SUV. Base MDXs come equipped with 18-inch wheels, xenon HID headlights, a sunroof, power and heated front seats, driver seat memory, tri-zone automatic climate control, Bluetooth, an auto-dimming rearview mirror and an audio system with a six-disc CD/MP3 player, satellite radio and an auxiliary audio jack. Three optional packages are available to provide additional features.
The Technology package adds a navigation system with voice recognition and real-time traffic, a surround-sound audio system, a rearview camera, premium leather upholstery and solar-sensing climate control. The Sport package includes the features of the Technology package, and throws in an Active Damper system sport suspension, special wheels and perforated leather trim. Finally, an Entertainment package can be had with either the Technology or Sport packages, and includes a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, heated second-row seats, a power liftgate and a 115-volt power outlet.
Powertrains and Performance
The MDX's sole engine is a 3.7-liter V6 rated at 300 horsepower and 275 pound-feet of torque. The engine is mated to a five-speed automatic transmission with manual shift control, and power is directed to all four wheels through an advanced all-wheel-drive system. In testing, we found the MDX can sprint to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. Fuel economy, with a 2008 rating of 15 mpg city/20 mpg highway, is average for this segment. When properly equipped, maximum towing capacity is 5,000 pounds.
Standard safety equipment for the MDX includes antilock disc brakes with brake assist, front seat side airbags, full-length side curtain airbags, active front head restraints and stability control with a stabilizing feature for trailering. In government crash tests, the 2008 Acura MDX earned a top five-star rating in both frontal and side-impact tests. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety gives the MDX a top score of "Good" for occupant protection in frontal offset and side-impact crashes. These crash-test performances are among the best in the MDX's class.
Interior Design and Special Features
With high-grade materials quality and a bevy of electronic features, the seven-passenger MDX's cabin is a comfy and luxurious place to be. We do have some quibbles, however. The center stack's button layout is complicated, and some drivers will take issue with the way the slim steering wheel falls to hand. Versatility comes via a 60/40-split-folding second-row seat and a 50/50-split-folding third row. The third row can be a little hard to get to, and its meager accommodations are for small children only. There are 83.5 cubic feet of cargo space available with the second and third rows folded.
For a three-row SUV, the 2008 Acura MDX does a fine job of driving like it's not one. On curvy roads, the MDX is an eager partner thanks to the SH-AWD. 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. Equipped with the Sport package, the MDX's two-mode dampers soak up the bumps when necessary and firm up when the pace quickens.
The 3.7-liter V6 isn't quite as smooth as we've come to expect from Acura's past V6s, but it's hard to argue about its power. Acceleration is a shade soft until the tach needle builds momentum, at which point the engine pulls with enthusiasm. Downshifting readily when the throttle is prodded, the MDX's manually shiftable five-speed automatic transmission provides transparent and smooth shifts.