It hit me as I worked my way through traffic on the freeway: Acura’s redesigned MDX is more like a car and less like a utility vehicle. It’s an evolution that makes sense because utility vehicles have become the go-to vehicle for families, and most never leave the pavement or gravel road. Upscale utility vehicles are morphing into tall sedans.
This is the third generation MDX and it rides on a chassis platform designed to make the vehicle easier to use. The 2.8-inch longer wheelbase improves entry to the back seat, the rear step-in height is nearly 2 inches lower and the front seat hip point is 1.2 inches lower. Overall, the MDX is a bit narrower and lower, yielding a slightly smaller frontal area that is more aerodynamically efficient. It was extremely quiet at highway speeds.
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The new design is unmistakably an Acura, although the beak-like grille has been refined and toned down. That swath of aluminum on the face is still the most disappointing element of the new look, but the rest of the vehicle is so nicely styled that it’s worth overlooking the grille. The exterior has tight panel gaps and subtle bulges that hint at muscularity without appearing cartoonish.
Underneath its skin, the new model is greatly improved in its drivability, ride, handling and numerous technological advancements. Acura says it designed the new model to create “synergy between man and machine” where the pairing of “useful technologies and luxury features” results in making driving simpler, more efficient and more enjoyable.
The proof is in the driving, and I found it to be most enjoyable. An impressive lack of wind and road noise contributes to serenity on the highway and that makes long journeys less tiring.
Prices start at $42,290 for front-wheel drive and $44,290 for Acura’s Super Handling All Wheel Drive. The Technology package with SH-AWD begins at $48,565. Add an entertainment system and the base price grows to $50,565. SH-AWD with the tech package, entertainment system and the advance package is $56,505, and that is model I drove.
The 3.5-liter V-6 delivers its 290 horsepower in a linear way. The six-speed automatic transmission can be shifted manually if so desired. Fuel economy is rated at 18 miles per gallon in the city and 27 on the highway although my highway mileage hovered around 25 mpg.
The all-wheel-drive test vehicle, from Acura’s press fleet, was equipped with the technology package that includes navigation, rearview camera, blind-spot warning, lane departure warning and forward collision warning. It also had the advance package that warns the driver of a potential collision and begins applying the brakes to reduce the vehicle’s speed. Acura stresses that the system will not apply enough braking force to prevent a collision. Advance also adds lane keeping assist, where a camera mounted in the upper portion of the windshield reads lane markings and assists the driver in staying in the middle of the lane.
Super Handling All-Wheel Drive is an excellent system that splits power front-to-rear and side-to-side. The side-to-side split is beneficial for starting out with two wheels on a slippery surface, such as a snow-covered road shoulder, but it also helps the vehicle turn on dry pavement.
The cabin is plush and cozy, thanks to a combination of soft textures, leather and woodgrain trim. The front seats are among the best I have sampled this year. They have excellent lumbar support and a wide range of adjustability. Instrumentation is simple and direct. Two LCD screens dominate the center stack. The radio touch-screen was frustrating at times because tuning to a station requires more steps than just grabbing a knob and twisting it. The Elliot Scheiner sound system is one of the best around.
Three rows of seats are standard. The second-row seats have 5.9 inches of fore/aft travel to accommodate the needs of second- and third-row passengers. One touch of a button moves the second seat forward for access to the third seat. It was hard for me to get into the third seat. Once there, the space was tolerable for a short drive, but the third seat is best saved for children.
The base price of the test vehicle was $56,505. Destination charges brought the sticker price to $57,490.
Four years or 50,000 miles, with a six-year, 70,000-mile powertrain warranty.