For nearly two decades, the Acura MDX has served as the luxury brand's flagship SUV. From humble beginnings as Acura's adaptation of the Honda Pilot, the MDX has evolved into a world-class three-row utility vehicle with a comfortable ride, excellent handling characteristics, and a wealth of advanced safety features.
The current MDX proves that you don't need to take out a second mortgage to get a luxury SUV that can compete with the segment's best. The cabin is a pleasant place to be, boasting supportive seats, fantastic noise isolation, and wide window openings that allow light to brighten the interior. The 3.5-liter V6 underhood is effortlessly powerful and smooth, and estimated fuel economy is similarly impressive. There's even a hybrid version available with increased efficiency and performance. The previous-generation MDX is also family-friendly and introduced the handling-and-comfort emphasis that the current MDX enjoys. At the time, the first-generation MDX was unusual in its unibody construction when most SUVs were still body-on-frame. It is more closely allied with its Pilot sibling than subsequent MDXs.
Current Acura MDX
The Acura MDX is sold in a single, well-appointed trim with progressive add-on packages. Standard features include LED headlights, a power liftgate, keyless ignition and entry, adaptive cruise control, power front seats with heating, leather upholstery, tri-zone automatic climate control and an eight-speaker sound system. Safety features include a multi-angle rearview camera, forward collision warning, and lane and road departure warning.
The Technology package adds amenities such as a navigation system and blind-spot monitoring. The Advance package builds on top of that with front and rear parking sensors, ventilated front seats and a 360-degree camera system, among other upgrades. The Entertainment package can be added to either of the above packages and includes a rear-seat entertainment system and upgraded audio.
The MDX Sport Hybrid offers essentially the same equipment as its non-electrified counterpart, although it comes standard with the Technology package. But the Entertainment package cannot be ordered at all.
This seven-passenger luxury crossover is powered by a 3.5-liter V6 with 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque, running through a nine-speed automatic transmission. Unlike with previous generations of the MDX, front-wheel drive is standard, with all-wheel drive (SH-AWD) available as an option.
For those who want better fuel efficiency, the MDX Sport Hybrid is also available. A 3.0-liter V6 and three electric motors combine to produce 321 hp and 289 lb-ft; power is sent to all four wheels through a seven-speed, dual-clutch automatic transmission. It is considerably more expensive than the 3.5-liter model, but it's also a bit quicker, giving the MDX the performance boost needed to keep up with the Audi Q7 and BMW X5 in all-too-common suburban stoplight drag races.
In reviews of the Acura MDX, we've found it to be a polished performer. It remains one of the more enjoyable luxury crossovers to drive. The steering (in normal mode) strikes a nice balance between light and precise. But selecting Sport mode provides notably better feel and response. The ride is commendable as well, proving quieter at higher speeds and more forgiving over broken pavement than previously.
As expected, the cabin is inviting. The second-row seat slides forward with the touch of a button, easing access to third-row seats that are roomier than in previous generations but still mostly ideal for kids. The entertainment system displays information on two central displays. The user interacts with the upper screen via a knob mounted below the lower touchscreen. This split system is fairly difficult to use; not only do you have to remember which controls correspond to which screen, but the software is also slow to respond to user inputs and some virtual buttons are too small to operate efficiently. With 15.8 cubic feet of cargo space behind its third row, the MDX trails its competition when all three rows are in use. However, its maximum cargo capacity of 90.9 cubic feet is impressive.
Used Acura MDX Models
The current third-generation Acura MDX debuted for the 2014 model year. This redesigned model was several hundred pounds lighter than its predecessor and rode on a new platform that slightly increased cabin room. Front-wheel drive was offered for the first time, and the new 3.5-liter V6 offered better fuel economy thanks to cylinder-deactivation technology that allowed the MDX to run on three cylinders under a light load. Among other upgrades, the avian grille design was softened, the sea of buttons on the center stack was replaced by a touchscreen, and standard paddle shifters drove home its sporty intentions.
Acura has given this MDX a few upgrades since the debut. In 2016, the six-speed automatic was replaced by a nine-speed automatic. Other changes included the addition of Siri Eyes Free voice recognition software, an easy-entry driver seat, and revised availability of the rear-seat entertainment system and the AcuraWatch Plus suite of driver aids. The Sport Hybrid model debuted in 2017.
The second-generation Acura MDX debuted for 2007 and ran through 2013. Apart from a refresh for 2010, changes were minimal. That refresh brought revised styling (which included the infamous corporate grille), a six-speed transmission (replaced the former five-speed unit), a hard-drive-based navigation system and a multiangle backup camera.
Compared to the first-generation model, this MDX provided sportier, more entertaining performance and handling characteristics along with respectable practicality. A 300-hp 3.7-liter V6 and a five-speed (later six-speed, as noted above) automatic transmission delivered spirited acceleration, while Acura's standard Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system improved both traction in bad weather and handling on dry pavement. The secret was its ability to transfer up to 100 percent of the power to just one wheel, depending on conditions. It also allowed the outer wheels to accelerate more quickly through a turn to give the MDX sharper handling on curvy roads.
Standard features were generous, and highlights included leather seating, a sunroof, a power tailgate, satellite radio, a rearview camera and Bluetooth phone connectivity. Optional highlights included a navigation system, an active sport suspension, adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot detection system and Acura's Collision Mitigation Braking System. The latter warns the driver (via visual and auditory warnings) if a collision seems imminent, and if it is, will automatically apply full braking power.
This MDX's mix of sport sedan handling and crossover utility certainly makes it one of the best picks for a used luxury SUV. The only weak point is the third-row accommodations. Though there's respectable room for children or smaller adults (certainly more than in the BMW X5), it isn't as roomy as large, non-premium brand crossovers such as the Buick Enclave, the GMC Acadia or the Mazda CX-9. There is cargo space aplenty, however. When the third row is folded flat, there is 43 cubic feet of space available. Drop both the second and third rows and you'll have 84 cubic feet.
The first-generation Acura MDX bowed in 2001, sharing a unibody platform with the second-generation Honda Odyssey and the first-generation Honda Pilot. It came standard with a 240-hp 3.5-liter V6 and an all-wheel-drive system that automatically transferred power front and back for optimal grip. Three rows of seats were standard in this seven-passenger midsize SUV, and as with all Acuras, there was a high level of standard equipment. A touring package added an upgraded stereo, roof racks and dual power front seats. A navigation system was a stand-alone option.
In 2003, power was boosted by 20 horses. The chassis was also strengthened, the suspension retuned and the brakes upgraded. The navigation option became a package that included voice activation and a rearview camera. A DVD entertainment system became available. Power was upgraded again in 2004 to 265 hp, while the exterior and interior received a midlife freshening. Upgraded electronic features and improved materials brought the MDX's level of luxury closer to Acura's newer products. Meanwhile, side curtain airbags and a tire-pressure monitor increased the MDX's already impressive safety credentials. The 2005 model year saw the addition of standard satellite radio, available Bluetooth on Touring models and an upgraded navigation system. In 2006, new SAE horsepower testing procedures dropped output to 253, but real-world performance did not change.
At the time, our reviewers commented favorably about the MDX's seven-passenger capacity, top crash test scores and affordable price. The downsides included a below-average tow rating, ho-hum interior materials, and a perceived lack of prestige compared to more elegant rivals such as the BMW X5 and Lexus RX. Although this generation is getting rather old, a well-kept, lower-mileage example still makes for a smart family vehicle purchase. Keep in mind that later models have higher levels of luxury features and power. Also note that the first-generation Honda Pilot offers roughly the same package as the Acura. Though less luxurious, it features slightly more interior room (giving it eight-passenger capacity) and, in comparable condition and similarly equipped, should be available for a lower price.
Read the most recent 2019 Acura MDX review.
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