Test Drive: 2015 Acura MDX

Here is a short list of things you won’t find on Acura’s MDX.

The MDX is a well-conceived, well-designed and very well built machine for larger families led by parental units with egos too fragile to buy an even more practical Honda Odyssey.

1) Excessively swoopy, over-the-top styling that stands out from the crowd.

2) “Murdered-out” trim and obscenely large 22-inch wheels painted black.

3) A drivetrain featuring turbos, hybrid battery packs or constantly variable transmissions.

All of the aforementioned gratuitous nonsense would presumably detract from what Acura’s upsized SUV is all about and what people love about it. Indeed, the MDX is a well-conceived, well-designed and very well built machine for larger families led by parental units with egos too fragile to buy an even more practical Honda Odyssey. Or maybe those too self-important to be seen in a more affordable Honda Pilot.

Okay, that’s a little harsh, but there are a number of excellent choices in this class of vehicle that can contain a pioneer-sized family and the MDX is just one of them. Plus, when spec’ed up to our Elite trim, it is a pricey choice, albeit one that offers a lot of luxury.

It’s a popular pick amongst Canadian shoppers too, finishing strongly in fourth place last year in the sales race of the robust luxury mid-size SUV category, right behind the Lexus RX, Audi Q5 and the MDX’s smaller RDX sibling. In fact, in 2014, Acura Canada sold about as many MDXs as they did all of their cars combined, so clearly Honda’s upscale brand is doing something right with their big crossover.

After a week behind the wheel, it turns out Acura is doing plenty right with the MDX. To begin with, the styling is unlikely to offend anyone. It’s fairly plain and innocuous, yet refreshingly uncomplicated. With the multi-lens LED headlights serving as the key styling element tying the MDX to the Acura brand, it’s otherwise fairly generic – and when trying to appeal to large groups, this is a safe bet. Following a few years of distressing styling misdirection highlighted by large shiny Acura-beaked cars, conservative is a better way to go.

The MDX’s universal styling and the popularity of the rig had me actually trying to load my purchases into the back of someone else’s identical MDX on a recent trip to Costco. After readying myself to unleash a barrage of hateful words toward the uncooperative power lift gate, I noticed the vehicle I was about to verbally assault wore a license plate different from my test vehicle, which was parked two rows over. By some miracle, the rightful owner of that MDX didn’t see me and call the cops.

Inside the MDX, the Elite trim level is immediately defined by the beautiful, satin finish chunks of Spanish olive trees adorning the dash and console. This is a nice touch that really helps sell the luxury persona Acura’s striving for in this model.

The heated and cooled leather seats are another luxurious touch, and they’re both comfortable and supportive, keeping away aches and pains on long journeys while enabling a commanding view for the driver. Second-row passengers are treated to heated seats of their own while they watch the 16.2-inch widescreen that flips down from the ceiling to play movies or video games. That second row also reclines and slides forward to allow access to the third row – a cramped perch best left for the young’uns.

Everyone on board, and indeed most folks within a kilometre radius of an Elite trim MDX can enjoy the tunes belted out of the powerful 546-watt, 12-speaker sound system. With as quiet as the MDX is (thanks to acoustic glass and plenty of insulation), the right musical choice can be thoroughly enjoyed out on the open road.

This system is part of the infotainment unit that includes navigation and a nine-inch display. Very similar to the unit found in a number of contemporary Honda models as well, Acura’s dual-screen-plus-a-rotary-dial controller is far more convoluted to operate than many of the industry’s best systems currently available. Even after several months of a long-term test, Senior Editor Yarkony found it more irritating than intuitive.

Acura also fits a number of active safety tech features found on the flagship RLX models to the MDX, such as Adaptive Cruise Control with Collision Mitigation Braking and Lane Keeping Assist System. These systems deliver on their respective promises, though they are somewhat slower to react than similar systems found in other cars. For instance, when changing lanes to pass slower moving traffic, the MDX will need to be fully in the lane, then assess the situation to make sure the lane ahead is fully clear, then begin to accelerate up to speed. Meanwhile traffic is rapidly approaching from behind. Other systems seem to begin accelerating a little bit quicker in the same situation.

The surround view camera system is a useful addition, especially when backing into tight spots or parallel parking since visibility to the rear and rear quarters is limited. Despite its capacious interior, the MDX does not feel as large to park as one might expect.

One interior quality lapse that reared its head: at the end of its week with autoTRADER.ca, the climate control “buttons” on the touchscreen repeatedly flickered on and off during the trip back to Acura, suggesting that either the MDX was sad to be leaving us, or there was some sort of a software glitch in the system.

A friend of mine is a diehard automotive enthusiast – the kind who dreams of owning a high-powered, two-seat sports car, and knows just how to drive it. He has two young children and opted for an MDX as his primary family machine. He has also recently admitted that he is really enjoying his ownership experience and thoroughly appreciates the serenity of the machine on family trips. Plus, the ample cargo space and flexibility surely allows packing of even the most superfluous baby stuff for weekend getaways. To top it all off, his Acura has proven to be every bit as reliable as he had expected it to be.

Part of what keeps my car-nut friend happy with his MDX is that while it is no sports car, it is really pretty decent to drive, doing a fair imitation of an Acura TL sedan in the way it conducts itself in spirited motoring. Yes, it’s taller and rolls around more, and of course the added weight means that an MDX will not accelerate or stop, as quickly as the more svelte sedan, but for a midsize crossover, the Acura is no embarrassment to the brand.

The 3.5L V6 dispenses 290 horsepower and 267 lb-ft of torque at a relatively lofty 4,500 rpm. Fortunately, the Acura is free revving and sounds pretty good doing so, and delivers enough motivation to keep the MDX passing two-lane dawdlers without much strain, even with a full load of passengers. When left to cruise at highway speeds, the Acura’s engine is quiet and smooth.

Mated to the V6 is a traditional six-speed automatic transmission that is down a ratio or two compared to many of the luxury brand utes these days, but not for long – for 2016 the MDX will be getting Acura’s new nine-speed automatic. That being said, the six-speed is an agreeable unit, shifting smoothly and swiftly in “Normal” mode, and with more gusto when the Integrated Dynamic System (IDS) button is pushed for “Sport” mode. Acura can be applauded for the effort of putting paddle shifters on the steering wheel, but really, nobody is ever going to use them.

Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) is standard on all Canadian MDXs and will primarily serve to help cottagers get down snowy laneways rather than help turn aggressive lap times or go off-roading. Still, when pressed on a few tight on-ramps, the MDX maintained it composure surprisingly well, and stayed feeling secure and planted – qualities surely to be appreciated by an owner in a panic situation.

The Acura MDX can represent a decent value or an expensive proposition depending on the price point you’re shopping and the trim level selected. An MDX “Navi” package rings in at $55,290 and represents a mid-point in the pricing hierarchy. It strikes me as the best value for what’s likely to be a family hauler. Many of the desired amenities are found here, without some of the high-tech safety nannies and incremental luxury upgrades that most of us could reasonably do without. Our test car, in “Elite” trim, is over $64,000.

A buyer of a similarly optioned German machine will be shelling out nearly $10–15K more. But the frugal minded will look to the top-trim mid-size crossovers from non-luxury branded companies and find an alternative that is equally capable as the MDX, and offers nearly all the features and style for $15-20,000 less than the top-shelf MDX.

Acura’s MDX continues on through 2015 every bit the quiet, comfortable and capable machine that made it such a popular choice in 2014. It is sure to remain a top seller for Acura dealers as consumers continue to appreciate its clean styling and excellent build quality. But with so many solid competitors chasing the same lucrative market segment, competition is only going to get increasingly fierce and the MDX had better not rest on its laurels for long.

Warranty:
4 years/80,000 km; 5 years/100,000 km powertrain; 5 years/unlimited distance corrosion perforation; 4 years/unlimited distance 24-hour roadside assistance

Competitors:
Audi Q7
BMW X5
Ford Flex
Infiniti QX60
Land Rover LR4
Lexus RX 350
Mercedes-Benz GL 350

2015 Acura MDX Elite
2015 Acura MDX Elite
Base Price $64,290
Optional Equipment None
A/C Tax $100
Destination Fee $1,995
Price as Tested $66,385
Optional Equipment
10 0
Scoring breakdowns 7.4
7 Exterior Styling
7 Performance
8 Interior
8 Comfort
7 Fuel Economy