Let's be honest: the third row of seats in the Acura MDX is laughable. There is virtually no leg- or headroom, relegating these seats for use only by small children or extremely flexible adults. And with the third row raised, cargo room also is diminished quite a lot. Put that concern aside, and the MDX is a great vehicle. It drives much like smaller Acuras, with sporty handling and an excellent V-6 engine. I'm even a fan of the angular, creased exterior design.
My lone criticism would have to be the steering, which at low speeds is very heavy and very slow. When parking or driving at low speeds in town, I felt like I had to expend considerable effort and turn the wheel lot to maneuver. That sensation might be fine in a sports car, but I expect a luxury SUV to be easier to drive.
Jake Holmes, Associate Web Editor
The MDX has long been one of my favorite large luxury crossovers, and it continues to be. Why? Because by and large, it doesn't really drive like one. Despite the fact it shares its platform with the dowdy Honda Pilot and weighs nearly 4600 pounds, the MDX drives like a much smaller, much sportier vehicle. Adaptive dampers at all four corners certainly help, but so does the SH-AWD system, which employs a torque-vectoring rear differential to improve turn-in and cornering speeds.
Like Jake, I am not that fond of the MDX's power steering-it feels surprisingly heavy around town, but it's artificially light and perhaps too quick at higher speeds. Furthermore, it's numb and devoid of feedback, making placing the MDX a bit tricky in tight corners.
It'll be interesting to see if this sporting character carries through to the next-generation MDX, which is due within the next couple years. Acura's small RDX was stripped of its enthusiast-oriented driveline for the 2013 model year in an attempt to find a larger customer base. Seeing as the MDX remains one of Acura's best-selling models, I sincerely hope the brand will retain the MDX's personality going forward.
Evan McCausland, Associate Web Editor
If every Acura were as thoughtfully designed and as spirited as the MDX, the brand wouldn't have any trouble competing with the BMWs and Audis of the world. To start, anyone who says it's merely a Honda Pilot with different styling has clearly never driven either vehicle. The Honda is slow and bulky while the Acura is quick and nimble. It's actually one of the more enjoyable crossovers I've driven. And yet unlike some competitors -- BMW X5, I'm look at you -- Acura does not let the sporting pretensions override the MDX's primary role of providing total comfort. The seats are great, the ride is smooth, and the steering, although a bit heavy, isn't anywhere near as meaty the X5's. The interior is ergonomically hard to fault, at least once you learn your way around the infotainment system (a common caveat with new luxury cars). I only wish the materials were a bit better. The large swathes of wood and the low-sheen dash plastics aren't offensive but neither are they inspiring. I'd have appreciated some of the rich leather trim Acura employs in the swoopy ZDX.
David Zenlea, Assistant Editor
The entire Acura brand gets a bad rap from the enthusiast media for its slightly tortured styling and lack of rear-wheel-drive offerings, but it's my opinion that if you actually drive one, they're really great cars. This MDX serves as one telling piece of evidence: it drives better than a BMW X5. The MDX delivers phenomenal handling by way of its sophisticated all-wheel-drive system and high-tech dampers. The driving experience also benefits from a seating position that is much lower than in the BMW X5, giving the driver more confidence in the MDX's cornering ability. While the steering is a touch overboosted and artificial, it is precise and transmits a decent amount of road feel. The six-speed automatic would benefit from rev-matching on full-throttle downshifts but is otherwise well-mannered. I just wish the third row wasn't such an afterthought. There's a good amount of room back there, but until the second row slides and there's an easier way to get to the third row from the driver's side, the MDX is seriously compromised.
Eric Tingwall, Associate Editor
I have a relative who until recently drove a ten-year-old MDX with more than 100,000 miles on it. I say until recently because he was in an accident and totaled the vehicle. That's the bad news. The good new is that the insurance company gave him $15,000 for a ten-year-old, well-used sport-ute with that many miles on it. Not bad, and a testament to the high resale value of the MDX.
This relative didn't end up replacing his MDX with a new one, but if he had, he would not have been disappointed. The MDX doesn't stand out in any one category, but it does everything well. It is surprisingly nimble for a large vehicle and is perfect for a family with two or three kids who might want to bring along a friend for a short trip in the third row. The last row splits and folds flat for those times when carrying cargo is more important than carrying extra passengers.
The center stack has a few too many buttons for my taste, but I like the fact that there are separate controls for the climate, audio, and navigation systems, rather than bunching them together so that you can only operate them using the central controller.
Amy Skogstrom, Managing Editor
The MDX feels scrappy and sporty compared to the rest of its class. It's not the most powerful, for sure, but not for lack of effort on the part of the V-6, which eagerly revs and has a nice induction note. Is there any discernible difference between sport and comfort modes? I'm not sure.
I've always liked the MDX, ever since I first drove the previous one exactly twelve years ago. It's a nice, upmarket alternative to a minivan: prestigious but not too expensive, luxurious but not ostentatious. You could see yourself putting a wet, muddy dog in the back of this thing, whereas you might not do that in an Infiniti.
I could not find the trip odometer to save my life, but finally did, buried into submenus on the steering wheel and center display. Really? BMW has that front and center and it takes approximately 1.3 seconds to find it and reset it.
The MDX has an excellent driving position and good ergonomics, a general feeling of sportiness and chuckability, and comfortable seating save for slightly difficult third-row access. There's a nice balance of sport, utility, luxury. And, of course, Honda reliability is no bad thing. However, the downsides include the aforementioned third-row access; the center stack is a confusing array of buttons and switches; and the fact that Acura isn't a first-tier luxury brand, for those who care about such things.
Joe DeMatio, Deputy Editor
It's easy to see why the MDX has become one of Acura's most popular vehicles: It's sized just right for most families (how often does the average family put full-grown adults in the third row?), offers a good amount of utility, and is sporty and luxurious enough to satisfy the discriminating buyer. Acura may not be considered a top-tier luxury brand, as Joe pointed out, but the MDX is as appealing as many of its top-tier competitors. It's certainly not perfect -- with a busy center console, below average fuel economy, divisive front-end design, and the aforementioned kids-only third row seats -- but if you are looking for an athletic luxury sport-ute with the added benefit of sterling reliability and excellent resale value, it's likely the best all-around choice in its segment.
Jennifer Misaros, Managing Editor, Digital Platforms