The Acura MDX is the best-selling luxury three-row SUV of all time, and it has undergone a substantial refresh for the 2017 model year. A tweaked beak, optional second-row captain’s chairs, 20-inch wheels, and an upgraded interior with wood trim and leathers headline the most significant changes.
Acura keeps things simple by offering only two main flavors of MDX. The volume seller is powered by a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated, direct-injection V-6 that makes 290 horsepower at 6,200 rpm and 267 lb-ft of torque at 4,700 rpm. A ZF-sourced nine-speed transmission is the only transmission available in this MDX. In entry-level models, it routes power to the front wheels. Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive, which sends power to all four wheels, is also available.
A hybrid MDX is propelled by combinations of one traditional internal combustion engine and three electric motors in a system called Hybrid Sport Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (HS-SHAWD), but we have yet to test it.
We did have a chance to strap data acquisition to an Acura MDX SH-AWD with the Advance package, as well as two rivals in its competitive set, at our 2017 SUV of the Year program. But before we did that, our staff had to weigh in on the new styling.
Read more on the Acura MDX from 2017 SUV of the Year testing HERE.
“This is the look Acura’s wanted and needed to have for years now,” senior features editor Jonny Lieberman said when he first laid eyes on the new Acura Precision Concept design language. “Acura needs more like this,” he continued, referencing the MDX’s new nose. The sharp metallic chevron has been replaced with what Acura calls “a diamond precision pentagon grille.” Others were not so sure the new look is an improvement.
“The exterior has lost some of the wackier design elements and is now best described as unremarkable,” international bureau chief Angus MacKenzie said. “The new grille is an improvement but still not elegant, with a mesh design that looks cheap and cheesy.”
At our test track, our 4,222-pound MDX sprinted to 60 mph in 6.2 seconds on its way to a 14.7-second quarter-mile time at 94.6 mph. Braking from 60 mph took 121 feet. The MDX needed 27 seconds flat to complete our figure-eight racetrack-in-a-bottle test, holding an average of 0.65 g of lateral acceleration.
Context for these numbers comes from the MDX’s chief rival, the all-new, thoroughly redesigned Audi Q7. Like the MDX, the Q7 is a luxury three-row all-wheel-drive SUV with seating for up to eight passengers. The Q7’s 3.0-liter direct-injection V-6 is half a liter smaller than the MDX’s, but it uses a supercharger to more than make up the displacement difference to the tune of 333 horsepower and 325 lb-ft of torque. The Q7’s eight-speed transmission has one less cog than the MDX but clearly isn’t lacking for it.
Despite being 772 pounds heavier, the Premium Plus Q7 we tested hit 60 mph in 5.4 seconds. This lead held through the quarter mile, which came in 14.0 seconds at 100.2 mph. That’s speedy. Equally impressive is that despite the portliness, the Q7 equals the MDX in braking (121 feet) and just nips it through our figure eight (26.4 seconds at 0.68 g).
Although it is significantly smaller and only has five seats in two rows, the Lexus RX is frequently cross-shopped against the MDX. Like the MDX, the RX comes in hybrid trim, and with a 3.5-liter naturally aspirated V-6 in the volume seller. Engine output is similar, as well, at 295 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque. Also similar to the Q7, the Lexus only has eight forward speeds in its transmissions. Despite smaller physical dimensions and the lack of a third-row seat, the 2016 RX 350 F-Sport we tested is more than 300 pounds heavier than our MDX. The additional weight shows up in acceleration, as the RX 350 F-Sport hit 60 mph in 6.8 seconds on the way to a quarter-mile time of 15.1 seconds at 92.7 mph. A 60–0 mph braking distance of 123 feet is essentially a tie, and the Lexus posts figure-eight numbers just a touch behind the MDX: 27.1 seconds with an average of 0.63 g.
In fuel economy tests, the MDX really shines. Its city/highway/combined EPA rating of 19/26/22 mpg is the same as the smaller Lexus RX 350 F-Sport and betters that of the Audi Q7 (19/25/21 mpg). In the real world, the numbers are even more favorable. On our exclusive Real MPG cycle, the MDX far surpassed its EPA rating in each category, logging 20/32/24 mpg. The other two were not able to match the MDX, let alone their own ratings; the best the Lexus RX 350 F-sport and Audi Q7 could manage was 16/27/19 mpg and 17/26/21 mpg, respectively.
We had the luxury of having several editors test-drive the MDX, and the consensus was that the MDX’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system generally lived up to it’s name and made the vehicle “drive smaller than it is.”
“It has a surprisingly nice chassis on winding roads and one of the better FWD-architecture platforms in terms of steering, balance, and grip,” MacKenzie said. “Good power and response from the engine. It has a nicely measured demeanor when driven hard.”
Technical director Frank Markus was more measured in his praise. “Super Handling All-Wheel Drive can certainly be felt pulling the car out of the tightest turns—especially decreasing ones,” he said. “I still think that driving the vehicle with extra throttle to provoke yaw is a strange way of driving, so I am not totally sold on SH-AWD.”
It was even harder to find an editor sold on the performance of the nine-speed transmission; that isn’t surprising given the difficulties we have had with the same ZF unit in our long-term Honda Pilot.
“This powertrain is coarse, and it suffers from so much herky-jerky lash at low speeds that I wouldn’t be surprised to find a trio of broken engine mounts,” senior features editor Jason Cammisa said. “The nine-speed automatic is, as usual, irritatingly slow to respond.”
Drivetrain lash, or the propensity for the transmission to feel like it’s accelerating out of gear before engaging abruptly, also bothered associate editor Scott Evans. Road test editor Chris Walton had similar observations. “The transmission, even in Sport mode, was utterly baffled and held gears too long, upshifted too soon, and downshifted too late,” he said.
To be fair, spirited driving seemed to exacerbate some of the transmission issues; smoothly rolling on and off the throttle would usually but not always deliver the most seamless gear changes.
In terms of ride comfort, the MDX delivered a smooth ride, on-road or off-. “It’s very quiet, and the suspension sops up irregularities,” Detroit editor Alisa Priddle said. “AWD handles the dirt course easily.” Markus also noted the MDX’s implacability at highway speeds. “It has a very quiet cabin and little or no wind noise at 75 mph,” he said. “On the recreation of the California Highway 110, the MDX is much more comfortable than the Q7 was. I sense no gut jiggle.”
The 2017 Acura starts at $44,890 for the entry-level front-wheel-drive MDX. Our $57,340 tester was a MDX with Super Handling All-Wheel Drive and Acura’s Advance package, which adds LED foglights, real interior wood trim, a heated steering wheel, a 360-degree camera system, and the optional captain’s chairs for the second row. The 2017 MDX scored the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety’s highest rating, Top Safety Pick Plus (TSP+), for the fourth year in a row and is on sale now.
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