What is luxury? And why do you want it? Sometimes, the simplest of questions are the most difficult to answer, and Acura struggles to provide luxury car buyers a reason to want one of its sedans when they’re pondering such queries.
Lots of people do, however, want one of Acura’s two popular crossovers when considering and deciding upon a new luxury crossover SUV. From January to September of 2016, only the Lexus RX outsold Acura’s models within the luxury SUV segment. Granted, undeniably attractive lease deals help to make the compact RDX and midsize MDX attractive to consumers. Still, to achieve that sort of success, there must be something special about them, aside from an affordable payment.
When it comes to the refreshed 2017 Acura MDX, clearly there is. Blending attractive design with impressive practicality in a package that exudes quality and delivers enjoyable driving dynamics, the MDX pleases on all fronts. But is this a luxury SUV, capable of instilling desire, provoking envy and sumptuously coddling its owners while making their lives easier?
From my perspective, the answer is no. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get one, because in most of the ways that matter the Acura MDX is firing on all cylinders.
Design: 9.0 rating
Look at the 2017 Acura MDX, and you see a signal of the brand’s future. The reviled shield-style grille, a design characteristic that persisted a decade, is gone, replaced by a new Diamond Pentagon design that will be added to all Acura models in the future.
Otherwise, the 2017 MDX looks pretty much the same as last year, except for new wheel designs, revised front and rear bumpers, a new hood and a few other tweaks. A bit slab-sided, the MDX is nevertheless attractive. The only change I’d make is to ditch the triangular rear quarter windows for a quadrilateral design.
Inside, Acura makes no major changes. My test vehicle, the MDX Advance with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and a price tag of $56,400, had every factory upgrade except for a rear-seat entertainment system. That included a new Espresso leather color and the new matte-finish wood trim added to Advance models, but the MDX still lacks flashy ambient lighting that has the power to impress after dark. It also still lacks variety when trying to mix and match your favorite paint and interior colors. Paying extra for a luxury vehicle should partially be about choice, should it not?
No matter which of the four interior colors you select, Acura’s execution with regard to materials, surface textures and tones is impressive, and build quality appears to be flawless, the test vehicle’s cabin producing zero buzzes, squeaks or rattles on rough pavement. Indeed, everything looks and feels like top quality, imparting a sense that the MDX will last a long time.
Every interior color also includes black material for the tops of the dashboard and door panels, which cuts sun glare. The dual cockpit dashboard design looks good, but the waterfall-style center control panel is dated, housing a fussy dual-screen infotainment system setup. Neither screen is particularly large, nor is Acura’s approach aligned with modern display conventions established by other luxury automakers.
Comfort: 9.0 rating
Comfort is king within the Acura MDX, but if you’re all grown up you’re going to want to avoid the third-row of seats. Kids will be happier back there, and USB ports will help to keep them occupied and distracted with regard to their banishment to what best serves as a cargo area.
Up front, in the Advance model, heated and ventilated seats beckon, wrapped in soft leather and offering the ability to automatically program activation of the heating and ventilation functions.
You sit in these seats, not on them, and they are exceptionally comfortable. I can’t normally fall asleep in cars or airplanes, but on a weekend road trip the MDX had me snoozing while my wife drove. Furthermore, the center console armrest slides forward for greater comfort, and every spot you might want to rest an arm or an elbow is softly padded.
Advance models come with second-row captain’s chairs separated by a huge, nicely finished center storage console. A 3-person bench seat is an option. A power tilt-and-slide function helps to make it easier to access the third-row seat.
With the exception of seat ventilation, the captain’s chairs provide the same deep-dish seating provided for the driver and front passenger. They also slide forward to create extra legroom for people sitting in the third-row seat, and recline to a small degree. Manual side window shades help to keep sunlight out of kids’ eyes.
Controls: 6.0 rating
Once you’ve got the Acura MDX set up to your personal preferences, chances are that you’re not going to need to fiddle much with this SUV’s deeper infotainment functionality. Still, the company’s dual-screen approach and waterfall center control panel design leave something to be desired.
To Acura’s credit, it has tried to simplify its interiors by grouping functions and displays into a screen nestled between the gauges, a display residing at the top of the dashboard and a touchscreen sitting in the middle of the dashboard. Furthermore, Acura has placed a number of functions on the steering wheel and the control stalks, where they should be easy to find and use.
The result of this approach, however, is dissatisfying.
First, aside from a volume knob, Acura has divested the MDX of standard controls for the radio and climate control system, among the most often adjusted features in a vehicle. At a minimum, the dashboard should include a tuning knob and knobs for adjusting temperature, in addition to the volume knob.
Second, the climate controls are split between traditional switchgear on the dashboard and virtual buttons along the bottom of the touchscreen display. This makes it harder to remember where to find specific climate system functions.
Third, some information can be displayed on both dashboard screens, while other information cannot. Without a clear separation of display and use responsibilities, it can be hard to remember which display is supposed to show what information or provide the proper pathway to specific settings for the MDX’s long list of features.
Now, consider the small size of the center touchscreen display, as well as relatively unsophisticated navigation map graphics, and it is clear that Acura is lagging behind other luxury automakers that are introducing flush-mounted, high-resolution widescreen displays able to show greater detail about multiple vehicle systems at the same time.
Instrumentation is simple, clear and legible. However, the cluster is strangely compact, especially at a time when Acura’s competition is debuting lushly rendered, expansive digital instrument panels that owners can customize with different themes or even to emphasize information over gauges.
Finally, instead of offering a traditional gear selector for the transmission, Acura supplies a set of buttons and switches. They don’t save space on the center console, but my bet is that they will get sticky if you spill a soda or fancy coffee drink on them.
Utility: 9.0 rating
Acura supplies enough space behind the MDX’s third-row seat (15 cubic feet) to stash a stroller, grocery shopping bags, or even a full-size suitcase. Still, you’re going to want to keep the third-row seat folded down for regular access to what is a generously sized area measuring over 45 cubic feet With the rear seats folded down, the MDX swallows more than 90 cubic feet of cargo, making it almost as accommodating as a GMC Yukon Denali.
Practical interior storage space impresses, too. Acura supplies more of it than you probably need, especially with the second-row captain’s chairs and the storage bin between them. Plus, most of the MDX’s trays, bins and slots are lined with material designed to quell vibrations. On a weekend road trip, my family had no trouble finding spots in which to stash our stuff.
Technology: 7.0 rating
Without beating a dead horse, so to speak, I find the MDX’s infotainment system underwhelming in terms of its appearance, layout and operation, especially given the segment in which this Acura competes.
The small lower screen, inset within a trim plate rather than mounted flush to the surface like a smartphone or tablet computer screen, has a dated appearance. The graphics are modern, appealing and sized for easy legibility, but they’re also crammed into a rather small parcel of real estate. The virtual buttons require the use of pressure, too, another departure from the mobile devices people are accustomed to using. The touchscreen also collects fingerprints, though not as rapidly as some systems do.
The large upper screen operated using a collection of buttons and a knob mounted beneath the climate controls cannot match many other luxury automakers in terms of its size, resolution and graphics. Acura definitely needs to make a major upgrade on this front.
As far as convenience systems go, a triple-zone climate system kept everyone happy, and the automatic heating and ventilation functions help to minimize interaction with the touchscreen display. Don’t worry, you can shut those off.
My family and I also appreciated the quick-charge USB port, the surround-view camera display, and the one-touch, third-row entry system. Oddly, Acura does not offer a panoramic glass sunroof option for the MDX, and while this omission did not bother my brood, it is suspect for its absence.
Also, from the perspective of two parents who want their kids to read, or look out the windows, or sing, or talk during longer trips, it sure is nice that Acura separates the rear-seat infotainment system into its own option package rather than including it in the top trim level.
Safety: 8.0 rating
For 2017, Acura makes its AcuraWatch suite of safety technologies standard on the base MDX, which is as it should be when you’re talking about a luxury midsize SUV. Believe it or not, this remains a relatively rare approach to packaging, as most other premium brands require extra expense to get features like a forward collision warning system and automatic emergency braking.
AcuraWatch includes adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning with pedestrian detection, automatic emergency braking, a lane departure warning and lane keeping assist system, and a lane departure prevention system. In addition to these features, my Advance test vehicle included a blind spot warning system, rear cross-traffic alert and a surround view camera system.
While I applaud Acura’s decision to include most of these features as standard equipment, the reality is that the lane departure, lane keeping assist and lane departure preventions systems are hard to count upon. In my experience, the constant nannying quickly becomes an irritation, and Acura’s system sometimes misidentifies lane markings that do not exist while failing to identify lane markings that do exist. Furthermore, and I’m not sure which of the MDX’s technologies caused this tendency, but sometimes the steering attempted to hug a lane marking rather than center the vehicle within the lane.
Ultimately, I shut the steering assist features off. If you need them, you’re either A.) too tired to drive or B.) lacking the necessary skills to drive. Please park, and let someone else take the wheel.
As I always do, I kept the forward collision warning system activated. This system almost always proved accurate and effective when sounding the alarm. Rear cross-traffic alert is an invaluable asset for reversing out of blind parking spaces or even your own driveway during the morning rush that transforms your quiet residential street into a damn racetrack. While I do wish the blind spot warning system placed its visual warning on the mirror instead of the interior trim, the fact is that I acclimated to this departure from the norm in short order.
If these technologies are not enough to convince you that the MDX is safe, check out its crash-test ratings. It gets a 5-star rating in every crash protection assessment conducted by the federal government. As this review is published, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has not officially rated the 2017 MDX, but it is structurally identical to the 2016 MDX, which earned a “Top Safety Pick+” rating.
Where Acura can improve the MDX is with regard to its AcuraLink subscription services technology. Aside from providing automatic collision notification and emergency assistance services, it lacks the functions that parents of newly minted teenaged drivers like to have: programmable vehicle speed and stereo settings, speed and curfew alerts set to your smartphone, a car finding feature so that you can remotely determine where the vehicle is and driving reports showing how the vehicle was used while your precious off-spring were out doing something completely different from what they told you was on the agenda.
Power and Performance: 7.3 rating
Acura’s advertising identity is “precision crafted performance.” Most accurately embodied by the new NSX sports car, this attribute can also be applied to the MDX…up to a point.
Certainly, in most respects, the MDX delivers a sense of precision craftsmanship. And when driven briskly, it supplies impressive performance. But, if you try to drive it like you stole it, don’t expect it to perform like a Ford Edge Sport, or a Jeep Grand Cherokee SRT or a German SUV wearing SQ, M or AMG monikers.
Starting with the MDX’s 290-horsepower, 3.5-liter V-6 engine, it is a genuine delight, proving powerful and responsive and sounding terrific when revved.
Models with the Advance Package are equipped with an automatic engine start-stop system that is designed to help maximize fuel economy. Occasionally, it causes a delay but typically works with refinement and speed, though because I averaged just 20.2 mpg on my test loop I’d say it’s not worth the extra complexity. The EPA thinks I should have gotten 22 mpg.
Most of the time, the MDX’s 9-speed automatic transmission is agreeable, too. Sourced from German supplier ZF, this transmission has been the subject of frequent criticism, especially when it first arrived in the 2014 Jeep Cherokee.
In the MDX, the transmission is occasionally caught flat-footed when asked to downshift for extra passing power, and the Sport mode holds revs too high and for too long. Using the paddle shifters is not terribly satisfying either, in part because there are so many gears to cycle through. The driver is constantly referencing the instrumentation to determine which one is engaged at any given time, and if you’re using paddle shifters, chances are you’re driving in a manner that requires your full attention to the road.
Place the MDX’s transmission in Park on any surface that is not flat, and if you do not set the parking brake the SUV will roll a little bit when you release the brake pedal. In turn, because of the buttons and switches that have replaced the traditional gear selector on the center console, this causes the driver to wonder if he or she actually selected Neutral instead of Park. If your children are already disembarking when the slight rolling occurs, it is doubly troubling.
I’ll summarize thusly: I miss the old 6-speed automatic and the old traditional gear selector. But the engine is terrific.
Ride and Handling: 8.8 rating
Most of the time, you’re going to find that the MDX feels athletic, responsive and fun to drive. From the steering and braking to the ride and handling, this Acura reflects refinement, attention to detail and expert tuning designed to make every trip enjoyable.
Really hustle this crossover, though, and you can spot the deficiencies that prevent it from being a truly sporty utility vehicle. The all-season tires limit grip on particularly tight and twisty roads, and on my mountainous test route the brakes faded rather quickly, requiring extra care when approaching tight curves.
As stated previously, if you refrain from driving the MDX like you stole it, this SUV successfully delivers on the promise of precision crafted performance.
The ride is taut without being too firm, the MDX clearly communicating road texture while filtering bumps and holes and quelling body motion on whoops and dips. Body roll is beautifully controlled, too, giving drivers the confidence to take corners with extra enthusiasm.
Perfect tuning characterizes both the steering and the brake pedal, too. In particular the steering impresses, supplying excellent heft, sharp and accurate response, and little in the way of correction. So turn off the lane departure and lane keeping assist systems and enjoy one of the better electric steering setups in the luxury SUV segment.
Now four years old, the MDX won’t see significant change until the 2019 model year at the earliest, and perhaps not until 2020. Therefore, what you see here is what you get.
From a technological feature and interface perspective, the MDX is rapidly aging. From the dual-screen infotainment system layout to AcuraLink’s lack of available services, this is where the MDX proves least impressive. It simply cannot match numerous competitors on this front.
Where the MDX most impresses is with regard to value. From its list of standard features to a fully loaded sticker price that isn’t much higher than the starting number for competing models from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz, this Acura delivers more for less. Strong residual values make lease payments mighty attractive, too.
Acura can do that because the MDX shares its platform with the popular and less expensive Honda Pilot. In fact, many of the features offered for the MDX can be installed in the Pilot, which demonstrates similar quality and attention to detail if not the Acura’s sportier driving character.
What is luxury? Everyone defines it differently. With the Acura MDX, the answer appears to be a premium look and feel combined with engaging dynamics, soothing comfort, undeniable practicality and a value-rich price tag in comparison to the competition.
Whether such traits satisfy your quest for a luxury SUV is entirely up to you.
Total Vehicle Score:164/200 points
Overall Vehicle Rating: 8.2
For More Acura MDX Information:
Gallery: 2017 Acura MDX Photos
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Source : http://www.nydailynews.com/autos/latest-reviews/ratings-review-2017-acura-mdx-article-1.2855609