Brian Moody , Road Test Editor
Grunge rock, Bill Clinton and Where's Waldo books. Have we slipped into a time warp or do these things actually have something in common? We'll give you a hint: It's the second one -- all have their roots firmly planted in the 1990s, the decade that also produced the crossover vehicle. Later, the luxury crossover surfaced; and today, crossovers of all varieties are giving vehicles like the much-maligned minivan, ancient family wagon and thirsty SUV a run for their money.
Luxury crossover vehicles like the 2007 Acura MDX and Lexus RX continue to be popular, and frequently outsell their sedan stablemates. But the Acura MDX is a standout, and anyone shopping for a luxury crossover should add it to their short list. Years of building luxury/sport sedans have taught Acura well, as the current, totally redesigned MDX acts much like a sedan in all the right ways; it's likely the best-handling crossover on the market. It's also suitably luxurious, considering its $40,000 base price, although we tested a notably more expensive version that includes features like a driver-selectable suspension and a premium sound system. The Panasonic/ELS stereo is easily one of the best-sounding in-car audio systems at any price. Slightly aggressive, solid good looks only enhance the package.
The 2007 Acura MDX is offered with just one engine, a 3.7-liter V6 that's good for 300 horsepower. All MDXs are equipped with a five-speed automatic transmission and Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD). That system is also a child of the '90s, as the current SH-AWD system's forerunner was developed for a car from a simpler era, when Simpson meant O.J. and not Jessica: specifically, the 1997 Honda Prelude Type SH. But the system in its current state debuted in the 2005 Acura RL. It splits torque not only front to rear, but side to side as well.
To complement the stellar all-wheel-drive system, all MDXs with the Sport trim level (such as our test vehicle) come equipped with driver-selectable suspension damping. The result is a vehicle with much of the utility of a traditional SUV, combined with the handling prowess of a sport sedan. The MDX is amazingly sure-footed and adept at tackling corners. Grip is provided by wide 255/55 Michelin tires on 18-inch wheels. The MDX ran our slalom at 62.6 mph, good for a midsize SUV.
For the adjustable suspension, there are two modes: Comfort and Sport. Comfort is best on the highway. Sport, naturally, firms things up a bit and can be fun around town or on twisty roads. But there is a price to pay in Sport mode, as uneven pavement tends to make the MDX feel bouncy.
Compared to other crossovers or SUVs equipped with V8s, the MDX's V6 can feel a little soft when accelerating from a stop. Once it's under way, there's plenty of power, and passing is never an issue. Under heavy acceleration, there is a bit of engine noise, but we doubt this will be an issue for most owners. The MDX gets from zero to 60 in 8.1 seconds, which is fairly brisk for a 4,500-pound crossover vehicle. Shifts from the automatic transmission are well-timed and the shift-it-yourself feature works well, too. Up- and downshifts are smooth and seamless in both manual and fully automatic modes. The EPA estimates the overall fuel economy of the MDX to be 17 mpg. By comparison, both the Honda Odyssey and non-hybrid version of the Lexus RX are rated at 19 mpg.
The 2007 Acura MDX covers the luxury part of the equation just as well as it covers the sporty part. There are quality materials throughout the cabin. The dark faux wood accents are attractive, but the surface is too reflective and seems like a fingerprint magnet.
The front seats are comfortable even on long drives, and there's plenty of room front and back. An eight-way power driver seat makes finding just the right driving position easy. Front passengers are also treated to an eight-way power seat. Technically, the MDX has seating for seven thanks to the all-important third-row seat. Don't think "road trip for seven"; think "short trips to the Cheesecake Factory with only kids in the back row."
There are plenty of storage bins tucked away in nearly every usable corner of the vehicle, including a sizable one up front near the passenger's footwell. The center armrest/storage bin is nice and big, too, but it has two doors that open separately. At first, this makes about as much sense as Madonna's accent; however, the split makes it possible to access stored stuff without dislodging your co-pilot's elbow. It's a nice idea, but it doesn't work so well in execution since there are very few things that actually fit through the half-open slot.
The same goes for the center stack and the audio system controls. They look nice, but there are a lot of buttons in a small space. It all makes sense once you know what you're looking at, but the learning curve is a little steep. The navigation system (it's standard on the Sport trim level) is feature-packed, but it's easy to use and understand and boasts a large screen.
The MDX has the all-important third row of seating, something any family will appreciate. It's a kids-only proposition, and with those seats in place, there is precious little storage area. In all likelihood, most people will keep them folded down 85 percent of the time, a configuration that leaves ample room for hauling weekend luggage and other family gear like a full-size stroller. It's no minivan -- but then again, you're probably reading up on the MDX because you don't like minivans, right?
Installation of child safety seats is no problem, as there's adequate room for them in the second row. Rear-facing car seats will work, but depending on how tall the driver and/or front passenger are, seat travel could be limited. At the very least, you won't be able to recline the seatback much. Still, once that baby moves to a forward-facing car seat, front-seat comfort is not a problem.
Design/Fit and Finish
The MDX was redesigned for 2007, so it has a fresh look. The prominent front end isn't for everyone, although it is in keeping with the nose-y look of all current Acuras. It makes the MDX look like it has a little more attitude than, say, the Lexus RX, which looks soft and feminine by comparison.
Like most Honda and Acura products, the 2007 Acura MDX is screwed together quite nicely. Body panel gaps are tight and there are no glaring oversights inside, where the MDX looks upscale without being ostentatious. Ergonomics are excellent, which is especially notable given the high button count on the dash. Navigation and audio functions are controlled via a large knob in the middle of the center stack, which works quite nicely, too.
Who should consider this vehicle
Anyone who really needs a minivan but wants a tad bit more performance and luxury. Also, those who think the Lexus RX is just too wimpy.
The manufacturer provided Edmunds this vehicle for the purposes of evaluation.
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