2008 Acura MDX Review


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DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2008 Acura MDX

Acura is making high-tech luxury it's specialty, and this is best exemplified by its flagship, the MDX crossover SUV. From its introduction for model year 2001 the MDX has offered comfort and convenience, with power and handling abilities near the top of the midsize luxury crossover class. When the second generation debuted last year, the MDX became more of what it always has been, with more power and more technology for engine, chassis, safety, and entertainment in a slightly larger package that showcases the latest developments in Acura's design language.

The old 3.5-liter V6 has been replaced by a new 3.7-liter V6, the largest and most powerful ever in an Acura. Its 300 horsepower bests the old model significantly, and makes it the most powerful six-cylinder SUV currently, yet it runs cleanly, rated LEV-2 by CARB and ULEV by the EPA. Power goes through a five-speed automatic with Sequential SportShift manual-mode shifting to all four wheels all of the time, with amounts varied in real time by the sophisticated electronic logic and controls of the SH-AWD(tm) all-wheel drive system.

During its development, the MDX was benchmarked against its European luxury SUV competitors, and it was even race track-tested. It has a space-efficient transverse front-engine, all-wheel drive drivetrain layout and fully-independent suspension, with adaptive damping available with the Sport package. Brakes are four-wheel disc, with the full complement of safety systems. There is also a full complement of passive safety equipment, and the new MDX has scored top ratings in crash tests. The MDX has a seven-passenger capacity, and the third row is suitable for more than small children.

The basic MDX can be enhanced with a number of option packages, some of which may be combined. The Technology Package is the first level, and adds a voice-recognition navigation system with rear-view camera, an upgraded audio system, the AcuraLink(tm) satellite communication system with real-time traffic information, and GPS-linked solar-sensing tri-zone automatic climate control. The Sport Package includes the Tech, and adds active damping and other suspension modifications, premium leather and interior trim, unique wheels, and auto-leveling HID headlights. Entertainment and Tech adds a rear-seat DVD entertainment system, heated outboard second-row seats, a power tailgate, and a 115VAC power outlet in the front console. And then Sport and Entertainment combines everything. ress fleet vehicle specifications being what they are, I've spent the past week with a Sport and Entertainment-equipped MDX. It has a decidedly high-tech flavor, the perfect SUV for the successful video game entrepreneur. But the cabin electronics are done right, with a good user interface, and do not overpower. It would be just as appropriate as an upscale family vehicle. Truck not spoken here. Especially with the Sport adaptive suspension, the MDX is at the sporty end of the SUV spectrum, but it's still comfortable, with plenty of room for all, even the oft-forgotten third-row passengers. The sports coupe has gone underground at Acura, disguised as the MDX.

APPEARANCE: All Acura styling trends of the past few years have come together on the second-generation MDX. The pointed prow, central crease, and five-sided grille have been corporate hallmarks for years. As has an angular look, but that has become more pronounced since the introduction of the smaller RDX. The new MDX looks, unsurprisingly, like a blend of the original and the RDX, especially from the rear. MDX + RDX = MDX2. The MDX is every inch a contemporary crossover, with car, not truck, styling cues, and its bold lines and well-defined fenders give it a sporty look. It's proportions, wider than high and with large wheels and tires, reinforce that. Don't look for huge chrome bumpers and body cladding, although there are textured, contrast-colored front and rear bumper caps. The plastic under the front bumper is more for aerodynamics than for use as a skid plate.

COMFORT: Inside, the MDX has all of the positive attributes of a crossover - space, versatility, and comfort, plus its own style. Call it high-tech contemporary mid-luxury. For the driver, control layout is very good, with complete power seat and steering wheel adjustment, easily visible backlit LED instruments and good visibility. The driver's seat has two memory position, and the front passenger seat is also power-adjustable. With the Technology Package, or any of the others which include it, comes an easy-to-use navigation system with a simple, intuitive interface. The centrally-mounted screen doubles for the backup camera, a useful addition for safety and convenience. Acura calls the seating arrangement "4+3", meaning that the front and outboard second-row positions, the ones most used, get major attention. Unlike some 2+2 coupes, in which the "+2" part is apparently not designed for humans, the three remaining positions, center second and third row, can comfortably hold at least medium-sized adults. Access to the 50/50-split third row is better than average, as the each section of the 60/40 second row slides forward. Luggage capacity varies with seating, but there is a useful amount even with all seats up. Cabin electronics are first-rate, with standard Bluetooth hands-free phone compatibility, a high-quality audio system that can play all current formats including MP3 and WMA CDs, with a jack for a personal audio player - and that's only the base system. The rear-seat entertainment system features a bright TFT display. Real-time traffic information is available, although it currently is functional only in the 48 contiguous states.

SAFETY: The new MDX uses Advanced Compatibility Engineering(tm) (ACE) body structure and design. ACE distributes frontal collision forces in a way to preserve the integrity of the passenger cabin. It also ensures compatibility with bumpers of smaller vehicles. The hood was designed to minimize pedestrian injury. Dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, driver and front passenger knee bolsters, front active head restraints, front seat-mounted side airbags, and side curtain airbags offer further protection. Four-wheel disc brakes with antilock, electronic brake-force distribution, and brake assist plus Vehicle Stability Assist(tm) (VSA) and traction control help to improve active safety. The second-generation MDX has scored very high ratings in all crash tests.

RIDE AND HANDLING: All examples of the second-generation MDX have a strong, rigid unibody structure with fully-independent MacPherson strut front, multilink rear suspension and the "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive"(tm) (SH-AWD) system. Aluminum suspension pieces reduce unsprung weight for better suspension response. MDXes with the Sport package get active damping and larger stabilizer bars. The dampers are magneto-rheological, which means filled with magnetic fluid that changes viscosity with the application of an electric current. They are computer-controlled and can adjust from minimum to maximum damping force in as little as five milliseconds. This reduces body roll in corners without the need for stiff springs, which would cause a harsh ride. There are two driver-selectable modes, "Comfort" and "Sport". Comfort is soft, and allows a fair amount of body motion. Sport is firm, but not at all uncomfortable, and works wonders in keeping the MDX flat even when attempting to get in touch with its inner sports car. That said, this is a 4500-pound SUV, not a sports car weighing half as much, so the laws of physics will be obeyed. But it is one of the sportiest of SUVs.

PERFORMANCE: Even with its weight - which is light for an SUV - the MDX has plenty of power. As in 300 horsepower (at 6000 rpm), with a torque peak of 275 lb-ft at 5000 rpm. That's 47 hp and 25 lb-ft more than the first generation, and the engine is lighter and runs cleaner. The power increase comes from the increased displacement, a higher compression ratio, and better breathing through intake and exhaust system improvements. It's a single overhead cam design with Acura's VTEC variable valve timing and lift system, which has separate cam lobes for low-speed and high-speed operation. Below 4500 rpm - in most daily use - the engine is tuned for efficiency. Above that point, maximum performance is the goal. The changeover is undetectable. The transmission is a five-speed electronically-controlled automatic with Sequential SportShift manual mode, but Grade Logic and smooth, efficient shifting relegate manual shifting to entertainment, not necessity. Power gets to the ground in all weather and road conditions thanks to the SH-AWD system, which not only variably apportions torque from the front to the rear but also from side to side. Compared to the system in the old MDS, SH-AWD can transfer more torque to the rear for improved traction and is lighter.

CONCLUSIONS: Good use of technology and traditional luxury combine in the second-generation Acura MDX.

SPECIFICATIONS
2008 Acura MDX
 
Base Price$ 47,995
Price As Tested$ 48,665
Engine Typesingle overhead cam 24-valve aluminum alloy
V6 with VTEC variable valve lift and timing
Engine Size3.7 liters / 224 cu. in.
Horsepower300 @ 6000 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)275 @ 5000 rpm
Transmission5-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Wheelbase / Length108.3 in. / 190.7 in.
Curb Weight4587 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower15.3
Fuel Capacity21.0 gal.
Fuel Requirement91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
TiresP255/55 HR18 Michelin Latitude
Brakes, front/rearvented disc / solid disc, ABS,
EBD, BA, VSA standard
Suspension, front/rearindependent MacPherson strut /
independent multilink
Ground clearance5.61 inches fully loaded (exhaust)
Drivetraintransverse front engine,
all-wheel drive
 
PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
city / highway / observed
15 / 20 / 15
0 to 60 mph7.5 sec
Towing capacity 5000 pounds
OPTIONS AND CHARGES
(Sport and Entertainment packages are part of model lineup)
 
Destination charge$670

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