Maybe you've seen Acura's conceptual "Made for Mankind" commercial that claims its quest was to build the "world's smartest luxury SUV for mankind." Wow, that's a lot of baggage for a midsize SUV to carry. We found this new-generation MDX's many strengths to be a little more down to earth.
Appearance: Our fully loaded tester came in an elegant and striking Forest Mist Metallic that we both immediately liked — it's gray with a hint of green. (The Eucalyptus interior also had a hint of green.) This third-generation MDX has also inherited the Jewel Eye LED headlights from its cousin, the Acura RLX sedan. Some may find them a bit much, but it's really the SUV's sole concession to bling.
Performance: The 3.5-liter V-6 puts out 290 horsepower that makes for strong and steady acceleration and even a modest exhaust note. The 6-speed automatic is smooth, but a little slow on shifts. There also are SportShift paddle shifters. The Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is worth the extra money. We found the MDX's road-hugging handling to be carlike. The suspension can be adjusted in three modes: comfort, normal or sport.
Interior: This MDX now rides on a new platform that has slightly increased the space of its quiet, comfortable and tech-laden cabin that puts the driver's needs first. The thick, leather-wrapped steering wheel is pleasant to the touch, gauges are easy to read, and the controls are intuitively placed and within easy reach. Lyra especially liked the thumb knob for the volume control on the steering wheel and the armrest bin, which is large enough to store a purse. The On-Demand Multi-use Display in the center stack has a two-screen system: The eye-level one is for display only, and the bottom is a touchscreen for audio, climate and navigation controls. The AC fan control is on the touchscreen and is not a physical dial. We both found this extremely impractical. The second-row seats can slide back 2 inches for extra legroom. There is a one-touch button that easily slides these seats forward for access to the third row. Still, it's clumsy for an adult to climb back there, which only reinforces that "way back" is for kids only.
Tech: There were enough bells and whistles in our tester to make us consider that driverless technology is indeed on the horizon. The prime example is the Lane Keep Assist System. When it's on, the car senses lane markers and tries to keep the vehicle in the center of the lane. It works better in highway traffic than city because of fewer interrupted lines. There also are Lane Departure Warning, Forward Collision Warning and Collision Mitigation Braking System (which slows down the car and tightens seat belts when it senses an impending crash).
Our 3 favorites
Cargo: With second and third rows folded, there's 90.9 cubic feet of space. There's also a hidden rear-deck bin.
Color: The green is subtle and sophisticated.
Movies: The kids can watch two separate programs on a 16.2-inch ultra-wide display.
Bling: Jewel Eye LED headlamps are elegant.
Ride: Smooth and solid. Quiet too.
Lane Keep Assist: Neat, but you still need to pay attention.
The bottom line: The new MDX does just about everything well and has a lot to offer a busy family. Peter's main complaint: Acura still is in search of its luxury identity and hasn't quite shed its just-a-well-appointed Honda feel.