First Drive: 2011 Acura MDX SH-AWD

Matt Tierney
#Acura, #MDX

As is the case in other Acuras, the MDX's 3.7-liter is potent and the six-speed automatic smooth, but the true piece de resistance in the powertrain puzzle lies with the standard all-wheel-drive system. Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) system does more than just increase traction on slick surfaces -- it helps the 4500-pound MDX drive like a much smaller vehicle. The trick lies with the system's ability to shuffle torque to the rear wheels. Up to 70 percent of the engine's power can be sent to the rear axle, and in turn, directed to a single rear wheel. That power can be shifted to the outside rear wheel, which helps aid turn in and increase the MDX's cornering speed.

Indeed, the MDX remains planted and confident in a manner quite unlike many of its competitors. The optional Advance Package only furthers the crossover's handling prowess by adding 19-inch aluminum wheels and, perhaps more importantly, an active suspension system with magneto-rheological dampers. Not only does this system constantly adjust damping force to match road conditions and driving habits, but it also allows the driver to choose between comfort and sport settings. The latter proved remarkably taut in corners, although ride quality -- especially in concert with the bigger rims -- does suffer slightly over broken surfaces.

Pick Your Package
Like the remainder of Acura's portfolio, technology isn't relegated to the chassis and powertrain. Base models receive heated front seats, Bluetooth hands-free phone connectivity, tri-zone automatic climate control, a power moonroof, six airbags, and a USB audio input. The Technology lumps in a navigation system with integrated Zagat travel guides, enhanced Bluetooth functionality, and a wonderful ELS audio system capable of playing DVD audio discs in full 5.1-channel surround sound, while the Advance Package adds the nifty active dampers, adaptive headlamps, ventilated front seats, adaptive cruise control, and blind spot detection. If your passengers frequently seek their own entertainment options, the Entertainment Package also tosses in a flip-down video screen above the second row, along with wireless headphones.

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