2017 Acura MDX Elite 6 Passenger Road Test Review

 Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.


Adding the cool factor back that most family haulers lack 

This is a premium sport utility I can easily warm up to. After all, a luxury SUV should make its owner feel rich, or at least richly pampered, and this top-line MDX Elite 6 Passenger is one nicely tailored ride.

After ogling the stunning open-pore hardwood trim and beautiful satin-finish aluminum across the Elite's instrument panel, doors, and centre console, take a closer look at its unique seat upholstery, complete with off-white piping and stitching on perforated Ebony Milano black hides. It's all a cut above. And the second-row is as luxuriously appointed as the one up front, with individual captain's chairs divided by a wonderfully detailed metal, wood and leather centre console. The usual third row sits behind, giving this particular MDX six-occupant seating instead of the standard seven.


 

Compared to most in this class this MDX' second-row is limo-like, with room to stretch out, seat heaters for cold winter days, side window sunshades, a 16.2-inch movie screen, HDMI input jacks for games, three individual USB ports and more.

Life is still better up front, three USB ports of its own, seat heating as well as cooling, a surround-view camera system, and control of the 12-speaker 546-watt Acura/ELS Surround stereo with Dolby Pro Logic II, smartphone streaming, satellite radio, and more.

Front and rear parking sensors are also part of the Elite upgrade, a good thing as you wouldn't want to scratch its upgraded body-colour lower fascias and side sills or its stunning diamond-finished 20-inch alloys. Two sets of triple-stacked LED fog lamps complete the Elite model's visual improvements, small details that make a big difference.


 

Standard and optional equipment levels reveal superb value 

This said all Acura MDX trims are worthy of attention. For just $53,690 the base model includes standard V6 power, an advanced nine-speed automatic with paddles, SH-AWD, full LED headlamps with auto high beams, remote start, proximity access, pushbutton ignition, a power-adjustable steering column, adaptive cruise control, an auto-dimming rearview mirror, standard tri-zone auto climate control, a multi-angle backup camera, text message and email reading capability, a 10-way powered driver's seat with two-way lumbar and memory, a powered front passenger's seat, heated front cushions, a heatable leather-wrapped steering wheel, leather upholstery, powered moonroof, a powered liftgate, and the list goes on.

All this is great, but it's the MDX' assortment of standard safety features that truly surprises. Along with the usual standard active and passive safety gear it gets AcuraWatch, a suite of auto-sensing and driver-assist technologies that includes road departure mitigation, lane departure warning, forward collision warning, lane keeping assist, and collision mitigation braking with pedestrian detection, all of which helped the mid-size luxury SUV earn the IIHS' best possible Top Safety Pick Plus rating for its fourth year running, while it also gets an NHTSA five-star crash test rating.


 

My Elite also included much of the mid-range $57,190 MDX Navi's equipment such as puddle lights, rain-sensing wipers, enhanced HVAC with humidity control air-filtration and a sun position detection system, eight-inch infotainment with navigation, AcuraLink telematics, blindspot monitoring with rear cross traffic assist, and more, while items pulled up from $60,190 MDX Tech trim include a 115-volt AC power outlet, proximity sensing access for all four doors, perforated Milano hides, second-row seat heaters, side sunshades, auto-leveling headlamps, auto-dimming power-folding side mirrors, etcetera. Up the ante with everything previously noted and you've got the $65,790 MDX Elite, while my Elite 6 Passenger doesn't cost a penny more despite its nicer second-row buckets and fancy centre console.

While all the features are impressive, it's the quality of finishings that let you know you've arrived. It's loaded with soft touch synthetic surfaces, fabric-wrapped roof pillars all round, and nicely crafted switchgear, some of the steering wheel and centre stack dials even made from knurled metal for extra style and grip, while the Elite's stunning metals, woods and leathers lift the MDX up into an entirely new level of top-tier refinement.


 

The MDX is renowned for superb driving dynamics 

That's especially true with the drivetrain. The i-VTEC and direct-injected V6 measures 3.5 litres and puts out a gutsy 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque, resulting in one of the strongest base engines in its class, while the standard nine-speed auto is a dream. First and foremost there's an array of buttons and pull switches where the regular shift lever used to go, a layout that quickly becomes second nature. My Elite tester also included auto idle-stop, which shuts down the engine when it would otherwise be idling and then automatically restarts it when ready to go, a smooth operation that reduces consumption and emissions. The gearbox itself is equally smooth, whether cruising through town at low speed or taking to the open road, where the MDX' long legs stretch out down the highway or steering wheel paddles improve control through circuitous mountainside two-laners.

The MDX is renowned for its handling prowess, the original helping to change perceptions of Japanese performance way back at the turn of the millennia when it arrived on the scene. It carved up a canyon road with the best from Europe, but it wasn't until the second-generation MDX arrived in 2007 that it led the pack. That's when Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) was added, a full-time, fully automatic all-wheel drive system that not only provided front to rear torque distribution, but also independently regulated torque between the left and right rear wheels so as to optimize exactly where grip was needed. SH-AWD can even deliver all of the torque to a single rear wheel, important if the other one is lacking traction, while the system also reduces understeer during fast-paced cornering by using the same apportioning process to deliver torque to either outside wheel. Acura even improved it last year with a new twin-clutch rear differential. Hence, a big three-row SUV that really handles, making weekend getaways and longer road trips a true joy for the one behind the wheel, combined with a comfortable, compliant ride so not to upset anyone else along for the ride.

It helps if you set Acura's Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) to Comfort mode first, or alternatively to Sport mode for getting the most out of the suspension's amplitude reactive dampers and Agile Handling Assist brake torque-vectoring technology, IDS sharpening throttle response, allowing higher engine revs between shifts, adding steering weight, and relaying more torque to the outside rear wheels amid corners for better turn-in, while even making the powertrain sound sportier, this an altogether more capable performer than all previous MDX iterations.


 

Acura's new styling immediately modernizes the MDX' look 

It looks good too. This new 2017 model gets a larger, bolder, trapezoidal grille, filled with a glossy black mesh insert that fans out in a circular geometric pattern from Acura's stylized "A" badge at centre. Very cool, but the brand's standard LED headlights remain the real eye candy. Additional modifications from front to back result in an extensive and attractive refresh; nicely done Acura.

The MDX is a large mid-size SUV, so most families will fit in with ease, including the dog. Unlike many in the class, there's usable cargo space when all three rows are in use, Spot getting 447 litres to himself when the rearmost row is upright. That's around the same volume as a mid-size car's trunk, albeit vertically apportioned (which Spot will appreciate), while he'll get up to 1,230 litres of romping room when those 50/50-split seatbacks are lowered. Dropping the second row opens up 2,575 litres of puppy play space when completed. Of note, the rear centre console doesn't stick up to interfere with anything you might want to load in.


 

When those seats are upright Acura provides easy "One Touch Walk-In" pushbutton access to the third row that automatically pops the second row seatback forward and slides the entire seat in the same direction; there are buttons on the base of each second-row seat and on their upper backsides for rear passengers to let themselves out. Smaller adults and most kids should be quite comfortable. Front and second-row seats are as roomy as most anyone could want, while visibility from the driver's seat is superb all around.

Colour choices aside, the only two Elite options include no-cost Saddle Brown Milano leather with black stitching and piping instead of the standard black with white I tested, which will automatically force you to choose between genuine olive ash or black limba hardwood inlays, while available accessories include various 20-inch alloys, numerous running boards, roof rack crossbars, 3,500- and 5,000-lb towing packages, and more.


 

Fun to drive yet efficient too 

When under heavy loads your MDX won't be able to take advantage of standard cylinder-deactivation, which shuts down three of the engine's six cylinders when cruising. Acura is the only premium brand that offers this well-proven feature, which no doubt aids the MDX in achieving its combined city/highway rating of 11.0 L/100km. Elite trims with the previously noted auto idle-stop feature do a bit better despite their heavier equipment load, achieving an impressive 10.7 L/100km combined.

If you're considering a mid-size luxury SUV I probably don't need to recommend the MDX, because it's likely on your shopping list already. If for some reason it's not, it should be. After all, it was the bestselling dedicated three-row model in its class last year. Its popularity makes sense. It's good looking, well made, reliable, safe, fun to drive, beautifully finished, and when upgraded to this Elite 6 Passenger model it offers a cool factor that most family haulers lack. It's difficult to argue against that.

 

Story credits: Trevor Hofmann, Canadian Auto Press 
Photo credits: Karen Tuggay, Canadian Auto Press 
Copyright: Canadian Auto Press Inc.


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