2013 Acura MDX Review By Carey Russ


PHOTO (select to view enlarged photo)
2013 Acura MDX


DRIVING DOWN THE ROAD
WITH CAREY RUSS

2013 Acura MDX

If Acura was a late entrant into the luxury SUV class, with its MDX crossover debuting for model year 2000, the wait was worthwhile and the timing was right. Crossovers were then new and on the way up; old-style body-on-frame SUVs were on their way out. The MDX was the success that Acura's preceding SUV, the SLX (a joint venture with Isuzu, based on the body-on-frame Isuzu Trooper) never was, quickly becoming the top-selling Acura.

That success continues today, despite ever-increasing and ever-tougher competition. Surprisingly, the MDX hasn't changed all that much in the years since its introduction. There have been constant improvements, and the second generation debuted for model year 2007, a touch larger than the original and with a 3.7-liter V6 replacing the original 3.5. Since then minor changes have been constant, most noticeably a facelift to the "power plenum" grille in 2010.

Acura is likely to give the MDX a makeover for 2014, as an MDX concept will be shown at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, tomorrow as I write this. Gotta love the timing and deadlines in this business, but the 2013 MDX is what's available now, and what I was driving through the year-end holidays. With its excellent "Super Handling All-Wheel Drive" (hereafter referred to as SH-AWD) torque-vectoring all-wheel drive system, comfortable and well-appointed interior with good room for five plus third-row jumpseats for two extra children -- with some luggage capacity left even with the third row in use -- it was comfortable and secure on wet, slippery winter roads. It's still among the best in class when it comes to the driving experience, with a finely-tuned fully-independent suspension that lets it be as at home on a winding mountain road as on the Interstate.

As is the Acura Way, the MDX is offered in one specification, with a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V6 engine driving the wheels through a six-speed automatic with paddle-shift manual mode. A power tilt-and-slide moonroof, rear privacy glass, heated outside mirrors, Xenon HID headlamps, a power tailgate, a power tilt- and reach-adjustable steering wheel with leather rim and auxiliary controls, leather seating with heated front seats, split reclining and folding rear seats and two third-row seats, tri-zone automatic climate control, a premium audio system, power everything you'd expect in a luxury vehicle, and storage compartments and cupholders galore, and much more are all standard fare.

Want or need more? There the Technology Package, with premium leather, a voice-recognition navigation system, multi-view rear camera, AcuraLink® emergency communications and real-time traffic and weather. The Advance Package adds active suspension damping, adaptive cruise control, the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), a blind-spot information system, upgraded front seats with perforated leather and ventilation in addition to heating, and other cosmetic enhancements. To either of those may be added the Entertainment Package, a rear entertainment system with a nine-inch VGA display, two wireless headsets with remote control, heated outboard rear positions, and a 115VAC power outlet.

So equipped that would be press-fleet spec and my test example had the Advance and Entertainment packages. Which meant the base price of $43,280 grew to $54,805, but did highlight all of the safety and technology features offered by Acura. There are also factory- and dealer-installed options including ski, snowboard, surfboard, bicycle attachments, a towing package, and a variety of interior cosmetic and usefulness items like mats, organizers, and covers so an MDX can be an exact fit to your needs.

No matter how it is equipped, (not so) basic to fully, Acura's MDX continues to offer a good combination of style, comfort, and handling in a useful package. Fuel economy, at 18 mpg for my week, is average for the class today.

APPEARANCE: With its angular lines and "power plenum" grille, there is no mistaking the MDX's manufacturer. It's muscular, but not muscle-bound. Angular lines do not mean barn-door aerodynamics, as during development, the MDX was subjected to careful wind tunnel testing to ensure stability at speed and in crosswinds, with minimal wind noise. A partial undertray is to improve aerodynamics, for stability and fuel efficiency, not a skid plate. Taillights and the center stop light use LEDs for long life and brightness.

COMFORT: There is little question as to parentage inside as well, even without the Acura logo prominently displayed on the steering wheel hub, especially when outfitted with the navigation system. The design is flowing and moderately complex, but never distracting. Materials are first-class, as expected in the heart of the luxury crossover/SUV class, with leather seating and door trim, textured soft-touch materials on most surfaces, and the full complement of modern comfort, convenience, and safety systems either standard or available. The "wood" trim is simulated, really plastic - but given the amount of plastic clear finish over the wood in most modern vehicles with that, is there really much difference?

Front seat comfort is very good, and a power-adjustable steering wheel means simple adjustment for the perfect driving position for any driver, a plus for safety. Front seats are heated in all, with fan ventilation with the Advance package. Seat heaters work quickly, as does the cabin heat -- often not the case in vehicles with large interior volume. No, I didn't try the seat ventilation much in December!

The extra width of the second-generation MDX is especially noticeable in the rear seat. Split 60/40, with the seatback angle adjustable on each side as well as foldable, it's wide enough for three adults, helped by a flat floor. It is contoured for the outboard passengers, so most comfortable for them, but the center position should be tolerable for a short trip. Third-row seating is standard, and the two jump seats easily fold flat into the cargo area when not in use…which is likely to be most of the time as they’re really meant for people under five feet or so, and not for long periods? Three couples for dinner? No problem, if someone is short.

The space-saver spare tire is mounted outside, underneath, as in a pickup or old-days SUV. That allows a bit of storage under the load floor, with the jack. And if you do get a flat 1) there is at least a space-saver tire, not a likely-useless can of sealant, and 2) you won't need to put whatever is in the cargo area somewhere else.

SAFETY: Acura's Advanced Compatibility Engineering unibody structure, with impact-absorbing crumple zones front and rear, protective door beams, and careful design to channel any crash energy around the central cabin and further increase strength without excess weight through the use of high-strength steel provides the basis for passive safety. This is further aided by a full complement of airbags, front knee bolsters, and active head restraints. Active safety is addressed by first-class suspension tuning and powerful antilock disc brakes. The Advance Package adds blind-spot information, CMBS, and adaptive cruise control.

RIDE AND HANDLING: It's unusual for a luxury crossover with adjustable or adaptive damping to have the "Sport" mode the default. But class-leading handling has always been an Acura specialty. The Advance Package's Active Damper System uses magneto-rheological shock dampers to change damping force by sending an electric signal through a magnetic fluid that changes viscosity with varying current. The default setting allows flat cornering, even in spirited driving, and minimal body motion under acceleration and braking. It's not at all uncomfortable, and I left it there except for a short test of Comfort mode. This allows more body motion, and so weight transfer, but doesn’t really change response to small irregularities -- which is good anyway.

PERFORMANCE: Over the years the MDX's drivetrain has gone from a 3.5-liter, 240-horsepower V6 matched to a five-speed automatic to today's 3.7-liter, 300-horsepower V6 matched to a six-speed automatic. Maximum horsepower is developed at a high 6300 rpm, far above what you'll use in most daily driving, with maximum torque, 270 lb-ft, at 4500 rpm. The VTEC variable valve-control system ensures plenty of available torque much lower, for good acceleration from low speeds. The transmission shifts smoothly and quickly, with normal and sport modes and the option of manual shifting via steering wheel-mounted paddles. Normal mode is best for most use; sport works better on steep mountain roads as it keeps revs higher and holds gears longer. And almost negates any need for manual shifting. Fuel economy, EPA 16 mpg city, 22 highway, is typical for a medium-large crossover, as was the 18mpg I saw for my time with the MDX.

CONCLUSIONS: As ever, the Acura MDX is sportier than your average luxury crossover, with no loss of comfort or convenience.

SPECIFICATIONS
2013 Acura MDX

Base Price			$ 43,280 base,
				 $54,805 with Advance and
				 Entertainment packages
Price As Tested			$ 55,700
Engine Type			SOHC 24-valve aluminum alloy V6 with
				 VTEC variable valve control)
Engine Size			3.7 liters / 223 cu. in.
Horsepower			300 @ 6300 rpm
Torque (lb-ft)			270 @ 4500 rpm
Transmission			6-speed automatic with manual shift mode
Wheelbase / Length		108.3 in. / 191.6 in.
Curb Weight			4627 lbs.
Pounds Per Horsepower		15.4
Fuel Capacity			21 gal.
Fuel Requirement		91 octane unleaded premium gasoline
Tires				P255/50R19 103H
				 Michelin Latitude Tour HP
Brakes, front/rear		vented disc / solid disc,
				 ABS, EBD, BA standard
Suspension, front/rear		independent MacPherson strut /
				  independent multilink
Ground Clearance, inches	unladen: 8.2 laden: 5.6
Towing capacity			5000 lbs with Towing Package
Drivetrain			transverse front engine,
				 full-time all-wheel drive

PERFORMANCE
EPA Fuel Economy - miles per gallon
    city / highway / observed		16 / 22 / 18
0 to 60 mph				6.7  sec

OPTIONS AND CHARGES
Destination Charge			$ 895

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