Editor's note: This review was written in April 2010 about the 2010 Acura MDX. Little of substance has changed with this year's model. To see what's new for 2011, click here, or check out a side-by-side comparison of the two model years.
For 2010, Acura's best-selling crossover — and one of the first-ever luxury crossovers — gets a bit better in terms of interior features and a whole lot better when it comes to technology. It also receives a slightly new front end that's less jarring than those on other Acuras. But the company couldn't make the MDX any bigger, and it's a snug fit for families — three rows of seats notwithstanding.
Even so, the MDX's driver comfort, fun-to-drive nature and surprising value keep it competitive in a growing segment.
The 2010 MDX gets a new front end highlighted by a slimmer grille that looks more like a beak than a perforated shield, as the previous model's did. The lower bumper also gets thin lower vents that resemble the ones on Acura's TL sedan, but design changes overall are very subtle.
Inside, the major change to the MDX is an upgraded navigation system, which comes in a package with an upgraded stereo. You can compare the 2009 and 2010 MDX here.
The MDX is comparatively small for a three-row crossover, but that smaller footprint makes it more nimble. That makes for a more enjoyable driving experience.
The MDX has a nice combination of spirited handling — partially thanks to Acura's standard all-wheel-drive system — and ride comfort. You often have to sacrifice too much ride comfort for sporty handling, or vice versa, but the lack of this compromise is one of the MDX's strengths.
Only one engine is offered, but it's a good one: a 300-horsepower V-6 that's very spirited. Unlike others in the class, such as the new Lincoln MKT and Buick Enclave, which feel underpowered with their standard V-6 engines, the MDX exudes some muscle and passes with gusto. You'd have to opt for the MKT's twin-turbo V-6 to get similar excitement, and as for the Enclave... well, a more powerful engine isn't offered.
The EPA rates mileage at 16/21 mpg city/highway. I tend to return the city average in almost every car I test-drive due to a heavy mix of bumper-to-bumper commuting traffic and weekend suburban errand-running. In the MDX, though, I returned just 15 mpg during my week of driving it in near-perfect weather, so the A/C wasn't even taxed.
If you move up to an MDX with the Advance Package, which starts at $51,855, you get 19-inch aluminum wheels and a selectable sport suspension. My test vehicle came equipped with the package, and I didn't think the sport suspension offered enough of an improvement over past MDX models I've tested to warrant the added cost. The 19-inch wheels, though, are pretty stunning.
When you buy an Acura you get a nice, above-average luxury interior in terms of appointments, features and materials quality. It's not at the level of the more expensive German luxury makes, but it is a serious step above domestic models like the Enclave and MKT, at a similar price. Even the faux-wood trim looks somewhat real.
I found the driver's seat exceptionally comfortable during long commutes. I drove an Audi Q7 home between nights in the MDX, and its seats weren't any more comfortable, even if some materials seemed higher grade (it was also $15,000 more expensive as-equipped).
The main problem with the MDX is backseat room. While there's enough room for passengers of the adult variety, it's a snug fit for children in child-safety seats. We installed a variety of seats as part of a standardized test, and a full-size convertible seat couldn't fit when facing rearward, which is how all children must be placed until they're a year old. An infant seat could fit facing rearward, but front-passenger legroom was compromised as a result.
My real-world test involved my 26-month-old son, and his full-size, front-facing convertible seat filled the backseat area with its mass. The MDX's seats are high, and it was tricky getting him in the safety seat without hitting his head on the door frame or the headliner. His feet were pressed against the front passenger seat until I moved it forward to a position that allowed me to still fit, but just barely, with my knees pressed against the glove box.
Even with this arrangement, my son was still able to kick the front passenger seat. I've spent a lot of time in the GM family of crossovers, including the Enclave and Chevy Traverse, as well as the MKT (which is related to the Ford Flex), and all of them offer more space for young children in safety seats.
Of course, not every buyer has kids in this age range. Tweens, teens and adults will enjoy the comfortable leather seats in the front and second rows of the MDX. They'll also like the optional rear-seat DVD entertainment system and its large, 9-inch screen and wireless headphones for three passengers.
That means someone in the third row can also listen in. The third row is passable; I could fit, but just barely, and even smaller folks will have a tough time just getting back there.
Since there wasn't much Acura needed to change about the rest of the MDX, the company gave some attention to the aging navigation system. The MDX is the second model to receive Acura's new system, after the new ZDX crossover, and it's more than welcome. I would not recommend Acura's previous navigation system to folks shopping for a good budget buy in the luxury space; the graphics were poor and the navigation clumsy.
While there's still a somewhat awkward center control knob for managing the audio system, voice commands help some, especially when accessing music. The system uses a setup similar to Ford's Sync system: Just plug in an iPod — it only works with iPod and iPhone devices — and use a single button on the steering wheel and your voice. The button prompts you to speak commands like "Play artist Pearl Jam" or "Play setlist Car Songs." I was very impressed with the system's voice-recognition capabilities; it misheard me only a few times and seemed to understand artist and album names more often than Sync does. It also shows a screen detailing all the commands you can issue after you hit the speak button the first time, which is a handy reference.
I was also impressed with the rear entertainment system. I found the picture quality quite good; it compared favorably with my new iPad. You can also attach a video game console or laptop computer.
A base MDX starts at $42,230. Adding navigation as part of the Technology Package brings the price to $45,905, but I think that price is well-justified. Add the rear entertainment system, and the price increases to $47,805. You can't add the rear entertainment system without also getting the Technology Package.
An Insurance Institute for Highway Safety Top Safety Pick in 2009, the MDX doesn't retain that title for 2010 because it hasn't undergone the organization's new roof-strength test. It does still get top overall scores of Good in the IIHS' front, side and rear crash tests.
A collision-avoidance system is optional. It uses radar to determine the location of a vehicle in front of the MDX and alerts the driver with sounds and lights if a collision may occur. If the driver disregards the warning, the system will tug at the driver's seat belt and lightly brake the MDX. If no action is taken and the system deems a collision inevitable, it will tighten the front seat belts and apply the brakes hard to lower the impact speed.
You must select the most expensive Advance Package to get both the collision-avoidance system and blind-spot monitoring.
MDX in the Market
The MDX pretty much defined the luxury crossover segment, so it's nice to see that after all these years there's still a lot to like about it. Other than a cramped interior when fully loaded with people, the MDX has few flaws. It's priced right and features the most up-to-date gadgets for entertainment and safety. Plus, it's fun to drive and not bad to look at, either.
There may be more competition in bigger wrappers these days, but the MDX still defines the class.
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