► US market-only seven-seat SUV
► Made by Honda, badged as Acura
► How does it compare with Europe’s best?
What is it?
A seven-seat Honda SUV named MDX. Only the MDX is not on sale in the UK, and it’s not really a Honda, it’s an Acura. You might have heard of this upmarket premium arm; Acura does for Honda in the US what Lexus does for Toyota, and the MDX is based on the Honda Pilot platform.
Acura claims it’s the best-selling seven-seat SUV of all time, with over 700,000 sales since 2000 putting it ahead of stalwarts including the Audi Q7 and gargantuan Infiniti QX50. There have been over a million Land Rover Discoverys produced since 1989, but not all have been fitted with three rows of seating.
Anyway, a recent trip to the US gave us the chance to see what all the fuss was about.
Facelifted for 2017
The third-generation of the seven-seat Acura MDX debuted for the 2014 model year, but it’s been facelifted for 2017. The most notable alteration for this facelift is the replacement of the beaky front grille with a more conventional design inspired by the Acura Precision Concept; less distinctive perhaps, but there’s no doubt it looks better. There’s also a new bonnet, LED headlights, side sills and new front and rear bumpers.
All MDXs now come with AcuraWatch driver-assistance gadgets including Collision Mitigation Braking, Lane-Keeping Assist, Adaptive Cruise with Low-Speed Follow and Road Departure Mitigation. Most of this worked away in the background during our time at the wheel, but the blind-spot monitor was over-cautious, bleeping away when it picked up cars in the other lane that we’d already clocked in the mirrors and were falling away rather than gaining on us.
What’s the spec?
Previously you were looking at a naturally aspirated 3.5-litre V6 as the only option. A hybrid is now also available, but we tested the V6, which continues to make 290bhp and 267lb ft. However, fuel efficiency improves a little thanks to the Advance model’s stop/start system, up from the previous 18/26/21mpg on US city/highway/combined figures, to 19/26/22mpg. It drops to one bank of cylinders during gentle driving, but it’s hard to feel the transition.
Standard specification is quite generous, and includes a reversing camera, power tailgate, LED headlamps, Siri Eyes Free connectivity (have texts read out to you and respond without taking hands from wheel or eyes from road), Bluetooth and digital radio. But there’s still plenty to fork out for: sat-nav, blind-spot monitoring, rear-seat entertainment, adaptive cruise control…
What’s it like inside?
We tested the top-spec Advance model. In this trim, the seven seater actually becomes a six seater, with second-row bench replaced by a pair of captain’s chairs with a large elbow rest between. The second row seats are positioned higher than the fronts, giving a good view forward, but those measuring 6’2” have only just enough headroom. However, you can slide and recline the seats back and forth, and there’s no doubt this is a relaxing way to spend a journey.
Row three can be laid flat or easily popped up on demand. It’s a bit of a squeeze for full-size adults, both to climb back there and sit down, but it’s perfectly usable for short trips and more than roomy enough for pre-teens. A button on the back of row-two seats slides and tilts them forwards, making getting out straightforward.
Black marks for the infotainment, though: it looks a generation out of date, and operation is too unintuitive. The Germans are leagues ahead here.
How does it drive?
On the road, the MDX can be configured in various drive modes. Body control is pretty tight, the handling agile and grip strong enough in Dynamic mode, but it’s far from sloppy when left in Normal and rides fractured freeways smoothly. The over-riding impression, whatever the mode, is of a comfort-focussed, refined SUV that doesn’t fall to pieces when you push it a little harder, rather than something that’s particularly fun to drive.
Buyers can spec front-wheel drive or the Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive system that’s fitted to our car. SH-AWD quells wheelspin from junctions very effectively, and adds extra driver engagement when you drive harder thanks to the rear-biased feeling.
The V6 is smooth enough around town, but howls loudly under heavy throttle with far less acceleration than the din suggests, and lacks the low-down flexibility we’re so accustomed to with European turbodiesels. The nine-speed auto also felt a little thumpy and unsure of itself on part-throttle loads.
The gear shifter has changed since we last drove the MDX, from a conventional auto stick to a panel full of P, D, R and N buttons. It saves space on the centre console, but isn’t nearly as intuitive – you don’t want to be looking down at buttons part-way through a flustered three-point turn.
Better to stick with the regular shifter and invest instead in the infotainment, which now looks very dated and lacks the intuitive operation of more modern systems.
This is a highly comfort-focussed SUV that feels designed for cruising US interstates. For many, that will be all that’s required. But the last generation managed to both appease those drivers, while also keeping frustrated dads happier when the roads got twistier. We’d like more dynamic engagement.
That said, there’s much that means the new MDX will slot easily into your life: it’s spacious, versatile, comfortable and very nicely put together. We just wish it had a bit more personality, more torque and that blend of comfort and dynamics that define the best SUVs from the Germans and the Brits.
The Acura MDX remains a solid proposition for busy families, with room for seven (or six in Advance trim) within its relatively compact proportions. It’s comfortable, easy to drive and agile enough, but a more flexible powertrain and updated infotainment are both required to keep it in contention.
Click here to read CAR’s drive of the 2012 Acura MDX.