Think of a seven-seat SUV and the chances are that a Land Rover Discovery or BMW X5 will pop into your head. Not a Honda, though, because Honda doesn’t sell one, not in the UK at least.
However, it does in North America, where it offers both the Honda Pilot and the related Acura MDX. We’re testing the Acura in California.
What’s an Acura?
Think of Acura as being to Honda what Lexus is to Toyota, and what Infiniti is to Nissan: an upmarket sub-brand designed to compete with the premium Germans. That’s why the NSX concept was revealed at the Detroit show as an Acura NSX earlier this year. Acuras aren’t available in the UK, but they are sold in North America and China. And despite feeling new and unfamiliar to us Brits, the Acura brand first appeared back in 1986, meaning it actually pre-dates both Lexus and Infiniti.
Where does the MDX sit in the Acura line-up?
Acura has three SUVs: a smaller five-seater called RDX, and the BMW X6-style ZDX, which sits on the MDX platform but ditches seven-seat practicality for a coupe profile. That means the MDX is the largest, most practical Acura you can buy. In America, it costs $43,280, where the comparable BMW X5 35i retails at $47,500. That’s a decent saving, and the Acura comes very well equipped too: rear-view camera, power tailgate, and that third-row of seats are all standard.
Any diesels, then?
No, this being a predominantly North American product, and North America still being the land of comparatively cheap gasoline, the MDX goes with a 3.7-litre naturally aspirated V6 that’s mated to a six-speed auto gearbox. The engine serves up decent levels of performance, but the 2084kg kerbweight and lack of turbocharged torque means you need to work it hard if you’re getting a hurry on, at which point it’s generally refined nature loses a little of its sheen. The torque converter auto is smooth and shifts fairly quickly.
How does the Acura MDX handle?
The MDX is set up to be a comfortable ride, which actually suits the proposition perfectly – leave the sportier stuff to those ZDX owners – so it’s a cushy if sometimes slightly rolly ride through the corners. Again, this is unlikely to upset the MDX customer, but its four-wheel drive system is actually quite dynamic and responds well when you attack a series of bends. You’ll crave a firmer set-up if you want to exploit this further.
What’s it like inside?
The MDX’s cabin is very plush, with leather and soft-touch plastics and a swoopy dash architecture that makes it feel far more premium than the Hondas we get in the UK. The optional, rotary-dial-controlled infotainment system is generally intuitive and very clearly laid out, but it’s annoying that the sat-nav defaults to turning the map in time with the compass when you zoom right in, even if you’ve set it to face north at all times.
The part-time third row of seats are easy to fold out from the boot, and pretty easy to access by folding forward the second row of seats. There’s more space back there than there is a BMW X5’s (optional) third-row pews, too. The reversing camera and squared-off dimensions make the MDX easy to park, and it looks far more compact and less imposing on the street than a Land Rover Discovery, which offers similar amounts of interior space for seven passengers.
The MDX is a good, practical family car, one that marries the versatility of a large people carrier with the added benefit of four-wheel drive and a more premium, upmarket feel. It’s just a shame that there’s nothing comparable in Honda’s UK line-up – the CR-V is a five-seater only – that Honda has no plans to bring it here and that the lack of any diesel powerplants makes it pretty irrelevant to us Brits.
Still, that didn’t stop arch-rival Infiniti, did it? But should the product planners be reading, factoring in a diesel MDX for the UK wouldn’t be the daftest idea in the world.