With a base price of $44,890, including a $940 destination charge, the MDX is priced to compete with models like the Infiniti QX60, Buick Enclave and Lexus GX 460. A fully loaded MDX, however, costs considerably more; our test model had optional all-wheel drive, plus Acura’s Entertainment, Technology and Advance packages, bringing its as-tested price to $59,340.
Audi, BMW and Mercedes-Benz all offer three-row luxury SUVs, but their starting prices are higher — considerably higher, in some cases.
Exterior & Styling
A lot of criticism has been heaped on Acura for its shield-style grille, but that look is now on the way out in favor of the new pentagon-shaped design worn by the 2017 MDX. Inspired by the Acura Precision Concept car, the grille updates the MDX's front-end look.
Perhaps I've just grown accustomed to that shield grille, but I can't say that the new front-end design is appreciably better. Different, for sure, but not better. Where other luxury brands, such as BMW and Audi, have tweaked their already distinctive corporate grilles, Acura is still looking for its design identity. This new look doesn't convince me it's found one.
The MDX is a quiet-riding luxury SUV, and its suspension soaks up most bumps with refined, controlled responses.
How It Drives
The MDX's standard 290-horsepower V-6 is plenty powerful in the city and on the highway, but it's hamstrung by a slow-to-respond nine-speed automatic transmission. While the nine-speed is mostly unobtrusive in city driving (though it did make a few clunking sounds and lurching shifts), it doesn't kick down to a passing gear quickly enough on the highway. Once it does react, though, it skips gears as needed to make the most of the V-6's available power. The transmission includes a Sport mode, but excessive drivetrain jerkiness makes it too aggressive for everyday driving.
The MDX is a quiet-riding luxury SUV, and its suspension soaks up most bumps with refined, controlled responses. You’ll hear more than you expect when the tires hit rough pavement, but the suspension keeps body motions in check without creating a brittle ride. Overall, it rides better than the QX60 and the truck-like GX 460, and it's easier to maneuver than the hulking Enclave. (See their specs compared here.)
Acura's Integrated Dynamics System is standard. While the name might suggest an adaptive suspension, the system's three modes — Comfort, Normal and Sport — provide only progressively tighter steering feel.
Front-wheel-drive MDXs get an EPA-estimated 19/27/22 mpg city/highway/combined, while all-wheel-drive versions are rated 18/26/21 mpg. An optional Advance Package includes stop-start engine technology, which increases both the city and combined mpg estimates by 1 mpg. The MDX's stop-start system restarts the V-6 quickly and smoothly when you need to go again. Power steering isn't available when the engine has cycled off, which makes the steering wheel briefly feel heavy, but the engine kicks back on the moment you try to turn the MDX from a standstill so you can steer. A button on the center console disables the system entirely.
One of the knocks on the Acura brand is that its interiors aren't on par with those from BMW and Audi, but are rather more like high-end trim levels of one of its parent company Honda's models. That hasn't changed with the 2017 MDX, which still feels like a very nice Honda inside.
The similarities come through in various ways, from the things you touch — like the door switches — to the choice of cabin materials. It's a nice place to let the miles pass by, but it doesn't feel ritzy. On the plus side, the MDX is less expensive than a BMW X5 or Audi Q7.
The MDX's driving position gives you good forward views without necessitating a tall step-in height, which improves access for shorter people. Over-shoulder visibility is good, too, thanks to large side windows.
The driver's seat cushioning seems softer than the luxury SUV norm, but it agreed with my legs and back. The three-passenger, split-bench second row is similarly cushioned and reasonably comfortable for adults thanks in part to its adjustability; the seat slides forward and backward, so taller passengers can take more legroom for themselves when the third row isn't in use. The second-row backrest also reclines (but only a little bit) and the seat slides out of the way at the touch of a button for third-row access. Second-row captain's chairs with a center console are a new option for 2017.
The two-seat third row is quite small, limiting its use to young children and shorter adults. Taller passengers can fit in a pinch, but they won't be very happy even for a shorter trip; both legroom and headroom are in short supply.
Ergonomics & Electronics
The MDX packs a lot of technology — especially when fitted with the optional Technology and Advance packages, as was the model we tested — but it struggles to make it all easy to use.
The multimedia system interface, for instance, is one of the more perplexing setups available today. There's an upper dashboard screen that shows things such as a navigation map and audio information. Below it is another display, this one a touchscreen for selecting radio presets, among other things. Below that screen is a rotary knob that operates the upper screen's menus, and there are also buttons near that knob that let you switch between systems like the 360-degree cameras, navigation, phone options, and front and rear entertainment selections. Got all that?
The interface gives you a lot of freedom to control features the way you want, but by failing to rein in the number of ways you can perform different tasks, Acura has made the system needlessly complicated. Other brands, such as Chrysler and BMW, have created better interfaces that use a single touchscreen or a screen and knob controller for most features.
The MDX's push-button gear selector is another example of excessive complexity without much driver benefit. While not as problematic as some electronic gear selectors that make it hard to tell what gear you're in, the MDX's gear selector — which has different-shaped buttons for Park, Reverse, Neutral and Drive — is hard to use by feel alone compared with a conventional selector with detents for each gear. The MDX's setup is something owners will likely get used to in time, but with a worse experience than a conventional shifter and a design that doesn't save any real estate on the center console for additional storage, I'm left to wonder: What's the point?
Unfortunately, the MDX doesn't currently offer Apple CarPlay or Android Auto smartphone connectivity. These systems mirror select smartphone apps on the dashboard screen for easier, more familiar use. The MDX's multimedia system does support Pandora streaming radio, however, and it was easy to pair my iPhone using Bluetooth and stream music both from the service as well as songs stored on my phone.
Cargo & Storage
With the second and third rows folded, the MDX has 90.9 cubic feet of maximum cargo space. That's more than the QX60's 76.5 cubic feet, but the Enclave offers more, with 115.2 cubic feet. Cargo room shrinks to 43.4 cubic feet when the second row is up and 15.8 cubic feet when the third row is in use.
The MDX also has various storage areas to stash loose, smaller items, including a huge bin under the front center armrest. There are also storage pockets in the doors and a shallow storage area under the cargo floor.
The 2017 MDX received a five-star overall rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for its crash-test performance, and it received the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's highest ratings — good and superior — for crash-test and crash-prevention performance, respectively.
Many of the MDX's active safety features are standard, including forward collision warning with automatic emergency braking, lane departure warning, lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control with full-stop capability, and a multiview backup camera. Optional features include a blind spot warning system with rear cross-traffic alert and a 360-degree camera system. The helpful LaneWatch blind spot camera system available on Hondas is strangely not available.
Value in Its Class
You only need to look at the MDX's strong sales — as of September, it was the most popular Acura model of 2016, and it’s one of the better-selling luxury SUVs in general — to see that consumers value what the MDX offers. With three rows of seats, it's well-suited to the needs of growing families. I just wish Acura had come up with simpler controls for parents in front.