Review: 2017 Acura MDX
– Detroit, Michigan
Crossovers are hugely important to Acura, because it’s where the luxury brand makes its money. So far this year, 65 percent of all Acura sales were crossovers or SUVs. Spending time behind the wheel of the MDX is a great reminder why they’re so popular: it gives buyers who need a three-row family model a taste of luxury, performance, and technology without breaking the bank.
This year, the Acura MDX receives a visual refresh and more active-safety and convenience features. But just like the pre-refresh version, the MDX continues to appeal because it’s such a well-rounded, luxury family conveyance.
- The optional engine stop-start feature is notable for how unnoticeable it is in everyday driving. This is the first time I’ve driven an MDX with Acura’s ‘Idle Stop’ feature, and I love how little it jolts the car and how little noise it makes when the engine shuts off or restarts. You can also purposefully keep the V6 running during short stops, like when creeping through traffic or waiting at a stop sign. Depress the brake pedal only lightly at a stop and the engine won’t turn off; a warning in the trip computer advises pressing more firmly if you’re stopped for longer and want to shutdown the engine to save gas.
- I actually like the new look. Don’t get me wrong, Acura still struggles to make classically pretty crossovers, but the new face on the 2017 MDX is futuristic and modern, rather than simply unusual. The skinny LED headlights look downright cool, and I find this new, chrome-ringed grille much less garish than the old chrome-blade design. This Black Copper Pearl paint wouldn’t be my first choice, though.
- The Acura MDX is really, really comfortable. Just like the RDX we recently reviewed, its suspension easily flattens out Metro Detroit’s busted pavement and makes commutes totally forgettable. That is, after all, the goal of a luxury car like this: to make driving so relaxed and easy that it fades into the background. The cabin is quiet, too, so long as you don’t stand on the right pedal and wake up the V6.
- Big V6 engines may be passé as automakers switch to downsized turbos, but this 3.5-liter is a great reminder of the virtues of displacement. Dip into the throttle and there’s no waiting before the engine perks up. Keep it pinned, and there’s a great, sporty snarl to accompany the healthy 290 horsepower and 267 pound-feet of torque.
- The unusual electronic shift controls don’t offer any benefit over a normal shifter. I’m not opposed to button-based shifting, but Acura’s weird arrangement makes it easy to confuse the buttons. Case in point: I selected Reverse instead of Neutral in the car wash, which could have been disastrous had another car been behind me in line. This was after driving the MDX nearly 200 miles, by which time you’d think I’d have acclimated to the shift buttons. Remind me, what was wrong with a PRNDL lever?
- Where’s the flair? The inside of this fully loaded MDX has some chrome and leather, but its overall design layout is no fancier than what I’ve seen in Hondas. When I get in a BMW or Audi or Mercedes-Benz SUV, I see gorgeous design and feel high-quality materials everywhere I touch. The MDX is very nice, but, as its relative-bargain price suggests, it’s not quite as fabulous as some German rivals.
- Across the board, rival three-row crossovers offer much prettier, more functional infotainment systems. Acura’s white-on-blue graphics and labyrinthine menu structure feel like they’re from a different century than the bright, responsive touchscreens in other new crossovers. It’s also worth noting that the MDX doesn’t support Apple CarPlay or Android Auto; love them or hate them, the smartphone technologies are rapidly becoming de rigeur in new cars.
Photos: Jake Holmes / Motor1.com