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Smart luxury

 

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Starting Price: $45,025

Above Average: Mechanical package, reliability

Below Average: Luxury appointments

Consensus: The rational option in an emotional segment

Already a staff favorite, Acura’s 3-row crossover has been enhanced for 2017 with a welcome new face, transmission improvements and more driver assist features.The MDX was one of the test's more satisfying vehicles to drive, with its beefy 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V6 providing all the power needed to cruise effortlessly at highway speeds.

Riding on a 111.0-inch wheelbase and measuring 196.2 inches overall, the Acura MDX packs 3-row seating, V6 power and Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system into a relatively compact package.The 9-speed transmission has been much improved compared to the unit in the MDX we tested last year as part of our long-term evaluation fleet; there’s now little to no indecision about which gear should be engaged, and the ratio changes are much more seamless. The front seats provide plenty of support, leaving us none the worse for wear after a long day cruising across the desert. Overall, it scored high across the board, with the only shortcomings found in its rather complex but not overly functional 2-screen infotainment setup. While the MDX doesn't carry all the cachet of some other brands in the test, it does offer a complete roster of comfort and convenience items.

 

2017 Acura MDX

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Highway Driving

In addition to making 290 horsepower, the 3.5-liter V6 puts out 267 lb-ft of torque, plenty of muscle to move this 4,257-pound all-wheel-drive SUV. While that may seem like a lot of mass, the MDX is actually the lightest vehicle in the test. Thanks to the 9-speed transmission with its multiple overdrive gears, the MDX also turned in the highest average fuel economy of the group, completing our two-leg, all-highway mpg measurement within one mpg of its EPA highway rating of 26. Three driving modes, Eco, Normal and Sport, change the aggressiveness of throttle inputs and the weight of the steering. But even in Eco mode, the MDX was able to step off the line smartly and have decent mid-range passing power to make freeway cruising effortless. Another aid in the long interstate stretches is the adaptive cruise control, one of those must-have features when considering a vehicle in this price class.

City Driving  

While offering enough room inside for three rows of passengers, the MDX, thanks to its relatively short wheelbase, has a fairly tight 38.7-foot turning radius, making it easy to wheel about on city streets and in parking structures. Aiding the maneuverability are the rear and all-around vehicle cameras. Blind-spot warnings are also handy in tight quarters, and the warning chime is less annoying than most. The improvements to the 9-speed transmission were more readily apparent in city driving, where light throttle tip-in on last year’s model would produce a bit of indecision about which gear the vehicle should engage first. That’s been remedied, and while the defeatable auto stop/start system is about as seamless as they get, don’t have any steering angle cranked in when the engine stops—the steering goes dead as a doornail.

Interior Appeal

The interior of the MDX is best described as handsome. It’s not plush or expressive, nor does it boast any groundbreaking interior design flair. The cabin is straightforward with a conventional layout, except for the unusual button arrangement for the 9-speed automatic, which takes a bit of adaptation. Once mastered, it does become more intuitive. The materials are fairly high in quality, with perforated Milano leather on the seats and wood grain accents on the doors, dash and center console, along with plenty of soft touch materials. There are a few stretches of hard, matte-finish plastic here and there that only stands out after you’ve jumped into the MDX from the Range Rover or Audi, which have a more luxe look to them.

Infotainment  

Our biggest gripe with the MDX is the 2-screen infotainment system with its lower touch screen that is used to control things like the heated/ventilated seats, fan speed, audio system and navigation. It’s clunky in operation and really doesn’t get much easier to use the more familiar you get with it. There are some redundant controls for turning on and off the HVAC, temperature settings and modes, but you have to use the screen for the aforementioned fan speed, seats and rear HVAC operation. At least there’s a rotary knob that helps with the nav and sound system as well as a separate volume control and several steering-wheel switches.

Rear Seat Room  

Instead of a second-row bench seat, our test vehicle had a center console in the middle row, turning the ostensible 7-passenger MDX into a 6-passenger vehicle. While that console provides additional storage space for the rear seat passengers, it means that you need to use the third row whenever the passenger count goes above four. Buttons on the rear seats make access to the third row a bit easier and the room back there, while not as generous as the Infiniti QX60, was better than the Audi and about on-par with the Volvo XC90. In other words, it’s usable.

Cargo Utility  

Behind the third row, the MDX offers 15.8 cubic feet of storage. The third row is easily dropped using levers on the seatbacks, which opens up the flat-floor load space to 43.4 cubic feet. With the second row also folded down, the MDX can handle 90.9 cubic feet of cargo. The rear power liftgate and relatively low liftover adds to the utility factor of the MDX.

Fuel Economy  

As noted earlier, the MDX posted the best average fuel economy in the test, logging 24.9 mpg. Official EPA numbers have the Acura rated at 19 mpg city, 26 mpg highway for a combined rating of 22 mpg. While much of our test was conducted on freeways and multi-lane boulevards, and considering that we were often cruising at 70 to 75 mph, the overall mileage is impressive for a vehicle with the size and capacity of the MDX.

Resale Value  

As the upscale division of Honda, Acura shares the same solid reputation for high quality, dependability and low-cost operation. Not only does it outperform the other vehicles in its 5-Year Cost To Own, it also promises a good return at resale. The as-tested price of $57,340 is for the top-of-the-line Advance package that includes a long list of features including a full suite of driver assists like blind spot and lane departure warning and lane keeping and collision mitigation. At that price, the 2017 Acura MDX is far and away the smart buy in this category. Whether or not it has enough cachet to satisfy your emotional side is up to you to decide.

Inside and Out: 2017 Acura MDX

 

 

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