Acura’s excellent European vacation
IntroductionAcura MDX – First Drive: Stylish Moms and Driver Dads are unlikely to ever find themselves barrel-assing the 2007 Acura MDX down the highway at 90 mph in an intense thunderstorm, but can rest assured that this new luxury suv is up to that task, and more, based on our first-hand experience. But before we get to that part of the story, let’s talk about Acura’s excellent European vacation, taken during the redesigned Acura MDX’s gestation period.
Someone at Acura gets it: “If you design your car to be confident at Nurburgring then everyday emergencies normal drivers see can be handled easily.” Evidently, they also understand that convincing the boss to let them run development mules around Germany’s most famous road racing course: 1.) is a great way to see Europe on the company dime, 2.) creates a chance to take a break from the spouse and kids due to “work” and 3.) beats the hell out of playing Gran Turismo 4 from the living room couch. Thus, we’ll let that quote go uncredited, but mainly because we forgot to write down which Acura engineer or product expert said it and not because we don’t want anyone at Acura to get an expense report denied.
Suffice it to say that, thanks to multiple laps of the Nurburgring, the new Acura MDX is designed to handle much more like a car than a traditional SUV. The MDX is agile, responsive, and fun to drive – things that the old MDX wasn’t, and just what Acura needs to capture the interest of more male buyers, known as Driver Dads in dull, stuffy marketing meetings. However, Acura hasn’t set out to build the equivalent of a Mercedes-Benz ML63 AMG. Oh no, such a rough-riding brute would definitely turn off Stylish Moms buzzing around gated subdivisions everywhere, from Hunter’s Ridge and The Enclave at the Bluff to Creekside Farms and Hidden Valley Ranch. Wait, that’s salad dressing.
Back to Stylish Mom, and you know you had one. Acura needed to keep Stylish Moms happy, because that’s who is currently gaga over the original MDX. So the Acura folks also spent some time hanging out in St. Moritz, soaking up the culture, the architecture, the lifestyle – y’know, so they could make something appealing for Stylish Mom back in Dallas, not because they just wanted Acura to pay for a trip to the Swiss Alps. Such a cynic, aren’t you? Just because you expensed an extra Maker’s neat on that last trip to San Jose, don’t think everyone is out to get a freebie. Sheesh.
Be thankful Acura spent so much time in Europe, because the new MDX is a terrific luxury crossover suv that pushes all the right buttons, male or female, young or old. It looks great inside and out, drives capably on dry and wet pavement, and can even handle a little bit of mild off-roading. It’s powerful, comfortable, technologically advanced, designed to achieve top safety scores, and costs less than $50,000 when fully equipped. Whether you’re a Stylish Mom or a Driver Dad, the 2007 Acura MDX demands a test drive.
Model Mix The 2007 Acura MDX comes one way – loaded. Options are grouped into the Technology, Entertainment, and Sport Packages. Prices are expected to range between $41,000 and $48,000 when the MDX goes on sale in fall of 2006.
Choosing a new 2007 Acura MDX is easy, once you’ve decided if you want the Technology Package, the Entertainment Package, or the Sport Package. Prices have not been finalized at this writing, but Acura says a basic MDX will cost around $41,000 and a loaded MDX will top out around $48,000. Yeah, we called it basic, but the standard MDX is far from that. In addition to its all-new 3.7-liter V6 engine and Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive system, the 2007 Acura MDX includes the usual – and expected – list of luxury suv standards. Highlights include a third-row seat, a power sunroof, heated outside mirrors, power and heated front seats, keyless entry with personalized memory, and a 253-watt stereo with a six-disc CD changer, an auxiliary input jack for an iPod or other MP3 player, and XM satellite radio.
As good as the standard MDX might be, the really good stuff is optional, and we’d bet that most MDXs will be equipped with one or more of the additional-cost packages. Opt for the Technology Package, and the MDX gets a DVD navigation system with voice recognition, a rearview camera, and Zagat Survey restaurant reviews and ratings; a triple-zone, solar-sensing, GPS-linked climate control system with a humidity sensor; HandsFreeLink Bluetooth wireless communications with a phone book import feature; and AcuraLink satellite communications with real-time traffic reporting. As if that’s not enough, the Technology Package also includes a stunning 410-watt Acura/ELS Surround audio system with Dolby Pro Logic II, a DVD-Audio player, and 10 speakers.
To this, MDX buyers can add the Entertainment Package, which is more than just a DVD player and a rear LCD screen. The Entertainment Package also includes heated outboard rear seating positions, a remote-linked power tailgate, and a 115-volt power outlet in the center console just like the ones in the wall at home. That makes it so much easier to plug in the PlayStation for long road trips to Vegas with the guys…uh, we mean, to the Grand Canyon with Stylish Mom and the Munchkins.
The Entertainment Package is also available in conjunction with the Sport Package. The Sport Package includes the same goodies found in the Technology Package, and kicks things up a notch with unique 18-inch alloy wheels, an Active Damper sport-tuned suspension, perforated leather upholstery, textured interior trim, and self-leveling Xenon headlights. Buy the Acura MDX with Sport and Entertainment Packages, and you’re looking at spending around $48,000. Driver Dads should have no trouble selling this to Stylish Moms – just explain that the kids won’t be as prone to motion sickness with the Sport Package’s “special” suspension.
Nuts and Bolts
Nuts and Bolts Technical highlights for the 2007 Acura MDX include an all-new, 300-horsepower V6 engine, a Super Handling AWD system, an Active Damping suspension, and the largest wheels and tires ever offered by the company.
Despite consumer concerns about fuel economy, Acura has sacrificed a few MPGs for added HPs. There still isn’t a V8 engine in the luxury automaker’s arsenal, but the 2007 Acura MDX really doesn’t need one thanks to an all-new 3.7-liter V6 with variable valve timing. Driver Dads take note: Boasting a 6,500 rpm redline, oil-jet cooling, aluminum cylinder sleeves, a high-flow exhaust system, and a 5,000-pound towing capacity, this engine generates an even 300 horsepower at 6,000 rpm and 275 lb.-ft. of torque at 5,000 rpm. For those keeping score, that’s 47 more horsepower and 25 added lb.-ft. of torque, plus 2,000 pounds of extra towing capacity. Also, under hard acceleration, the MDX is tuned to deliver a sporty intake growl but remains quiet when cruising. Stylish Moms need only to know that the new MDX is faster, and that means it’s easier to get on the freeway or merge with traffic.
Acura hooks this new engine to a grade-logic five-speed transmission with a shift-hold feature and sequential SportShift. Huh? Whaa? Grade logic is transmission software that can tell if you’re driving up or down a hill, and it holds a lower gear to provide extra power and to keep the transmission from shifting up and down while climbing, or to add engine braking while descending. The shift-hold control engages automatically using similar software that determines when this is appropriate – usually when Driver Dad is introducing the Munchkins to the laws of physics.
The transmission delivers engine power to Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), a sophisticated AWD system that first debuted on the current RL luxury sedan. Under normal conditions, the power is split 90 percent to the front wheels and 10 percent to the rear wheels, but under certain conditions as much as 70 percent can flow to the rear wheels with 30 percent going to the front wheels. At this extreme, the “Super Handling” part of the equation comes in to play. Acura’s unique AWD system can deliver that 70 percent of engine power to one or the other of the rear wheels to maintain maximum grip and performance. The system works brilliantly, as we learned on a rain-soaked race track. More on that later.
Acura’s European vacation gave its engineers newfound appreciation for tight, responsive steering, line trace (the car’s ability to stay on the intended path), and proper suspension tuning. Thus, the 2007 Acura MDX gets torque-sensing, variable rack-and-pinion steering guiding standard 18-inch wheels connected to a front strut suspension and a multi-link design in the back that manages to preserve a four-foot cargo area width between the wheel wells for carrying the all-important sheet of plywood. Added wheel travel and greater use of aluminum in the front suspension adds up to a more compliant ride and a reduction in unsprung weight, and Acura says it has also improved pitching and linearity of roll resistance – translated, this means the body doesn’t bounce around as much as before. Ride comfort, too, is said to be better, despite the addition of the biggest tires that Acura has ever offered on any of its models at P255/55R18.
To meet the goal of exceeding German handling, the MDX Sport gets an active damping suspension that continuously controls roll and pitch, reduces squat and dive, and responds quickly to changing road and driving conditions while still providing what Acura engineers call a “magic carpet ride.” Delphi, the former General Motors supplier that is operating under bankruptcy protection, supplies the Acura MDX’s magnetic fluid shock absorbers, which are similar to those used for GM’s Magneride suspension. Acura swears up and down that it specifically tunes these shocks for use in the MDX, and that the result is different from what GM plops into a Buick Lucerne. What makes Acura’s active dampers worth the extra cost is that a Comfort switch allows the MDX Sport to provide a cushier, Lexus-like ride when desired but in Sport mode, the default setting for the system, Acura says the MDX exceeds the Porsche Cayenne’s handling capability.
Acura has the Porsche in its sights when it comes to braking, too. The 2007 MDX gets the biggest brakes ever offered on an Acura, 13-inch vented rotors up front and 13.2-inch solid discs in back. ABS, EBD, and Brake Assist are included as part of the system, as is Acura’s Cooperative VSA (C-VSA) stability control system. C-VSA can recognize when the MDX is on a slippery surface and automatically engages the SH-AWD to reduce the need for braking while maximizing grip. This sophisticated stability control system also includes trailer stability assist, which automatically retards trailer oscillation when towing.
Safety and Technology High-tech features abound in the 2007 Acura MDX, from its full complement of safety gear to its cutting edge navigation, entertainment, and communications systems.
Like pretty much every car manufacturer, Acura designs its vehicles to get five-star crash-test ratings from the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). The difference is that Acura posts the results of these crash tests on its window stickers at the dealership, so it’s extra-invested in making sure the actual results match its rosy computer-modeled predictions.
Thus, Acura has developed Advanced Compatibility Engineering (ACE) body structures, which distribute crash energy around the passenger cell to keep occupants in one piece. Other safety features include dual-stage, dual-threshold front airbags, side-impact airbags for the front seats, and side-curtain airbags with rollover sensors for all three rows of passengers. Active front head restraints limit the potential for whiplash in a rear collision, the MDX’s structure has been engineered to capably protect third-row occupants in a rear crash, and a tire pressure monitor is standard. Plus, the MDX is equipped with ABS, EBD, Brake Assist, and a stability control system that can help stabilize a trailer when towing.
With all this safety gear aboard, the Acura MDX provides the kind of peace-of-mind that allows everyone to enjoy the optional high-tech features contained in the Technology and Entertainment Packages. Film fans will enjoy the nine-inch rear LCD screen with wireless headphones, and gamers will like the ability to hook up a favorite system juiced by the front 115-volt outlet. Audiophiles will want the Technology Package specifically to enjoy the kick-ass Acura/ELS sound system with 5.1 channel surround sound, 10 speakers, Dolby Pro-Logic II, and DVD-R/RW playing capability. It’s also got XM satellite radio, and there’s an input jack for your iPod just in case you didn’t have enough choices already.
Other goodies in the Technology Package include AcuraLink with real-time traffic, a smart maintenance minder, and service reminders. A feature called HandsFreeLink connects a Bluetooth-enabled cell phone to the MDX’s integrated communications system, and you can download your cell’s phone book right into the MDX’s voice-activated navigation system. The navigation system also comes with a rearview camera that operates when reversing, displaying objects behind the SUV on an eight-inch, in-dash screen. Finally, the Technology Package includes a GPS-linked, humidity sensing, triple-zone climate control system.
Finally, on every Acura MDX, personal customization of several vehicle features is linked to individual keyless entry fobs, allowing multiple drivers to tailor specific settings for the seats and mirrors. The MDX’s gauge lighting also automatically adjusts to ambient light. And let’s not forget the standard SH-AWD and the available Active Damping suspension.
Design With striking styling that looks more Germanic than Japanese, the 2007 Acura MDX succeeds at being bold yet cleanly styled. Inside, the MDX looks just as good thanks in part to top-quality leather, but the control layout is a bit daunting at first.
Acura stylists spent time in Milan and St. Moritz before returning to America and putting pen to paper to design the 2007 MDX, visits to these land-locked European cities having wrought the decision that a futuristic luxury super yacht would be the inspiration for the new suv because it represented the “purest expression of luxury and performance.” Perhaps you were expecting the four-wheeled equivalent of Atomic skis or a Caraceni suit? Whaddaya think, mon, these guys went to the Carribean?
Acura wanted the MDX to be bold and clean, a luxury sports sedan combined with truck-like utility. The front end is certainly bold, with a distinctive Acura five-point grille, coupled with a tapered profile and tail that evoke the Audi Q7 and Mercedes-Benz GL-Class in equal doses. Add in the sexy fender blisters (and really, how often are blisters referred to as sexy?), and the end result is an SUV that looks anything but Japanese. Standard wheels on the MDX are decorative brushed aluminum, while Sport models have a unique design in a tinted silver, which I don’t like much because they just look dirty all the time.
Longer and wider than the competition from BMW, Lexus, and Volvo – and lower than the old MDX – this new Acura is riding on a completely new platform that isn’t shared with any other Acura or Honda product…yet. Profitability in the automotive sector is usually dependent on platform and component sharing, and we wouldn’t be surprised to see the next generation Honda Pilot’s DNA strand imprinted with MDX. The Acura’s body makes healthy use of high-strength steel and aluminum; 60.4 percent vs. 13 percent for the old model. People concerned about the environment should know that 90 percent of the MDX’s parts can be recycled.
For the MDX’s interior design, stylists spent months in Antarctic research labs to see how complex electronics could successfully intersect with austere, simple environments. Nah, just kidding. They did, however, devise a “4+3 philosophy,” though technically the MDX seats eight if two people are unfortunate enough to get crammed into the center sections of the second and third rows. Speaking of the third row, it comes with nested headrests so there’s no need to remove them before flattening the seatbacks for added cargo space.
As for the dashboard, Acura wanted it to be stylish, but not at the expense of functionality. Designers settled on a driver-focused cockpit and what they called a “personal passenger zone.” In practical everyday use, getting used to the control layout is a bit daunting at first. There are many buttons and labels on the MDX’s instrument panel, but an owner would quickly acclimate to the simple, well-marked buttons and control knobs. The stereo – which in the Technology Package rocks with crisp, clean, crystal clear sound – and the climate control are not bundled with the navigation system, a design choice that adds to the perceived clutter. Still, I’d rather have a bunch of hard keys and knobs to push and twist than menus through which to scroll and sift.
For its part, the navigation system is very easy to use and program, more so than expected given the real estate separating the controller and the eight-inch screen. Once you learn the proper voice prompts, the navigation system can be programmed by voice, but a control toggle, and by the touch-screen – your choice.
Acura infuses the 2007 MDX with quality materials, but the wood trim is obviously fake. For a price that can approach $50,000, we think real wood should be on the menu. What’s not on the menu is a keyless ignition system, which is no big deal to the people on our staff but might not meet the needs of the people who might actually buy the MDX. Leather upholstery is standard – sorry, PETA – and Acura went out of its way to ensure that the hides possessed a natural texture. Sport models get perforated leather that Acura says is the best quality in its class.
Comfort I spent three high-speed laps around a race track riding in the 2007 Acura MDX’s third-row seat – all 235 pounds and six feet of me – and didn’t need a motion sickness bag or a chiropractor after the experience. Still, the front seats are a much better place to be.
Comfort is king in the 2007 Acura MDX, if you’re sitting up front in the lovely leather-lined seats, and on a day with comfortable temperatures and humidity levels because an obvious option for a luxury SUV is missing from the new MDX – cooling fans for the seats. It’s also lacking one-touch down functionality for the rear windows, which is something you can get on an $18,000 Volkswagen Jetta.
If you can overlook these two omissions, you’ll be quite happy with the new MDX’s comfort levels. The front seats are wrapped in soft leather with supportive cushions underneath, and the front passenger’s seat is adjustable for height which goes a long way toward making long road trips enjoyable. Adults riding in the second-row seat might feel a bit snug if they’re tall, in part due to a lack of leg space but also because the outboard positions get more bolstering than normal. The result is rear passengers that won’t get tossed around as much during a spirited drive. Don’t forget that the rear seats are also heated when the Entertainment Package is ordered, increasing comfort on a colder day.
Acura deflects criticism about the space in the MDX’s third-row by saying it’s designed for children up to age 12, but will accommodate adults for short trips. Nevertheless, I crawled in, all 235 pounds and six feet of me. Once I got situated, my legs were flush against the second-row seatbacks but there was a little bit of toe space available, head room was decent, and the seat itself offers a modicum of support. Entry and exit were pretty easy, too, and I even spent three high-speed laps around a race track riding in the way back. Under these conditions, the active suspension’s ability to control pitch, dive, and squat – coupled with a smooth driver – made a motion sickness bag during high speed handling unnecessary.
Comfort factors go beyond the Acura MDX’s seating and suspension. The triple-zone, humidity sensing, air filtering climate control effectively battled Pennsylvania’s muggy summer weather. The power tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel help the driver find a perfect driving position, and the front windows and sunroof benefit from one-touch opening and closing. Slick “bomb bay” center console doors make accessing the main storage bin easy. We did, however, miss parking assist sensors on the bumpers. Sure, there’s a reversing camera with the Technology Package, but parking assist is still nice to have.
Loading the MDX is as easy as riding in it, especially with the power tailgate that comes in the Entertainment Package. Once the tailgate is raised, there’s 15 cubic feet of cargo volume behind the third-row seat. Drop that seat down into the floor, and 42.9 cu.-ft. of space is available. Fold the second row and the MDX can swallow up to 83.5 cu.-ft. of cargo. Not only that, but four-by-eight-foot sheets of plywood will slide right in between the rear wheel wells.
Driving Impressions Driving the Acura MDX and its competitors from BMW and Porsche back-to-back on a track during intense thunderstorms taught us that the Acura is more than comfortable and attractive – it’s a terrific foul-weather driver.
As a weather fanatic, I’m the guy who always wants a storm to come along. And because I always want storms to come along, I’m a perfect travel companion because my wish is rarely granted. In fact, I once drove from Los Angeles to Boston, right through Tornado Alley, in the middle of the most unstable month in the center of the U.S., and didn’t see a single drop of rain. Just my freaking luck.
On the day we test drove the Acura MDX in western Pennsylvania, a day which had about two hours of track time built into the schedule, I did not want a storm to come along. So, of course, about 20 minutes after we began lapping the BeaveRun road racing course, thick, charcoal-colored skies rife with brilliant cloud-to-ground lightning and booming thunderclaps rolled in, accompanied by a torrential downpour. Just my freaking luck.
Well, this turn of events turned out for the best. What good is a road test of a new SUV on a nice dry race track, anyway? Fortunately, Acura never called us in, so we raced from the MDX to a Porsche Cayenne V6 to a BMW X5 3.0i and back to the MDX in the rain, the thunder, and the lightning, and we learned that the Acura MDX is one capable foul-weather conveyance.
Though the German-bred Cayenne felt most at home threading the kinks, hills, and bends of Beaver County’s premier motorsports park, in part because its Pirelli tires hydroplaned less than the Acura’s meaty Michelins and gripped better in the dry, it was the Acura MDX that felt quickest while displaying the least amount of body roll combined with incredibly effective brakes and sharp steering. The X5, well, it was clear that it needed a redesign. Acura’s SH-AWD system acquitted itself well on the rain-soaked track, letting us accelerate with confidence out of turns that had the Porsche and BMW scrabbling for grip.
While driving on the rural country roads surrounding BeaveRun before the foul weather arrived, we discovered that the MDX’s 3.7-liter V6 is quick, strong, and sounds great when revved. The transmission shifted smoothly, and the SportShift manual feature was quite responsive for up or downshifts. On real-world roads, the active suspension was impressive, offering a clear difference between the default Sport setting and the available Comfort setting, but we detected some head toss on uneven surfaces and over scarred back roads we noted some suspension crash at the front of the MDX. Steering effort levels also seemed a tad bit stiff at lower speeds and it lightened up significantly when cresting a hill, but at higher speeds was perfect. The brakes were responsive, almost touchy, and quite effective at arresting velocity. The wide tires gripped well in the dry and the wet, but tugged and hunted a bit on rumpled pavement. What was our fuel economy for the street-driving portion of the test? We got 15.5 mpg, but this included prodigious testing of the MDX’s acceleration.
Unfortunately, we missed a demonstration of the MDX’s off-road credentials at an off-road driving academy due to an early return flight to California. However, since the MDX maintains the approach, departure, and breakover angles of the current model, and it can ford 19 inches of standing water while keeping the cabin dry, Acura says it retains its medium off-road capability. We will be sure to put the MDX to the test later this year when full production models are available.
FAQs and Specifications
FAQs and Specifications There’s plenty to praise and little to criticize about the new 2007 Acura MDX. If you’re spending up to $60,000 on a luxury SUV, make sure to stop by the Acura dealer and test drive the new MDX.
What are the best things about the 2007 Acura MDX?
Power, handling, comfort, style, and utility are the best things about the new Acura MDX, which is good since that’s why most people buy luxury SUVs. That it kicked ass on a race track during a thunderstorm also proves that it’s not just a fair-weather friend.
What are the worse things about the 2007 Acura MDX?
Complaints about the new Acura MDX are few: it needs cooled front seats, park assist sensors in the front and rear bumpers, and automatic down/up operation added to the rear windows. The front tires can tug and hunt a bit on grooved pavement, the steering effort levels could use revision to provide added assist at low speeds, and the fuel economy isn’t great.
If I’m shopping for a luxury SUV, should I test drive the 2007 Acura MDX?
Anyone planning to spend between $40,000 and $60,000 will want to drop by the Acura dealer to check out the new MDX.
Test Vehicle: 2007 Acura MDX with Sport and Entertainment Packages
Price of Test Vehicle: $48,000 (estimated)
Engine Size and Type: 3.7-liter V6
Engine Horsepower: 300 at 6,000 rpm
Engine Torque: 275 lb.-ft. at 5,000 rpm
Transmission: Five-speed automatic with SportShift manual shift feature
Curb weight, lbs.: 4,551
EPA Fuel Economy (city/highway): 17/22 mpg
Observed Fuel Economy: 15.5 mpg
Length: 190.7 inches
Width: 73.6 inches
Wheelbase: 108.3 inches
Height: 68.2 inches
Leg room (front/second row/third row): 41.2/38.7/29.1 inches
Head room (front/second row/third row): 39.2/38.6/35.7 inches
Max. Seating Capacity: Eight
Max. Cargo Volume: 83.5 cu.-ft.
Max. Towing Capacity: 5,000 lbs.
Min. Ground Clearance: 7.3 inches
Competitors: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Cadillac SRX, Chrysler Aspen, GMC Yukon Denali, Infiniti FX35, Jeep Commander, Land Rover LR3, Lexus RX 350, Lexus GX 470, Lincoln MKX, Mercedes-Benz M-Class, Porsche Cayenne, Volkswagen Touareg
Photos courtesy of Acura