Regular readers of this space, a hearty thank you to all 10 of you, will recognize a certain preference for enthusiastic power, comfortable and flexible cabins, plus adroit (sporting) handling and nimble ride dynamics, or put another way — a vehicle that is engaging and fun to drive, yourself. Tickling the nerve endings at the base of the spine is vastly superior to the robotic electronic driving aids, touchpads, console-mouses or self-driving/braking/steering systems that the manufacturers are rapidly embracing.
So, it seems rather fitting that the latest Acura MDX three-row crossover, the fourth-generation flagship model (excepting, of course, the Ferrari-like NSX sportscar) from Honda’s luxury division, is a stellar driver in a sea of mediocrity while embracing a tech portfolio that brings this six- to seven-passenger wagon well into the 21st century.
Skipping the 2021 model year completely, the latest MDX wears handsomely embellished styling that masks a crossover that is longer, wider and packing both more cargo room and more passenger space in each row. The middle section is now removable in row number two, which slides back and forth, so you can choose whether you want five or six people to accompany you — knowing that the third row is still best reserved for children.
LED lighting all around plus a decidedly improved stance also mask a seriously improved chassis. Pitching the former MacPherson struts for a proper double-wishbone design up front, as well as a stronger multilink suspension in the rear, and then adding a torque-vectoring rear differential for rear drive and Super-Handling AWD system, plus a new electric steering rack, renders, well, a chassis combination that delivers superb responsiveness and the athletic prowess that Acura cut its teeth on in this market with the original Legend and Integra cars 33 years ago.
Precise, properly weighted steering feel, the supple ride and the confidence to push the MDX all reflect how much different this big wagon is from its predecessors.
The powertrain is on-board, too, with a free-revving 3.5-liter V-6 spinning out 290 hp running through a new 10-speed automatic. Eager to satisfy, the MDX drives with a verve that more than previous Acura/Honda owners can appreciate. The hybrid model is gone, for now, yet a Type S MDX debuts this summer — the first Acura crossover with this sporting badge. The MDX Type S will feature a turbocharged V-6 with an additional 65 hp, larger 21-inch wheels, Brembo brakes, plus more expressive styling. The turbo will erase the low-speed torque gap that is sometimes evident, however no bets on improved fuel economy, as our sampled AWD Advance achieved modest fuel efficiency at the pumps — returning 19-21 mpg against EPA ratings of 19/25/21 on suggested premium fuel.
Almost exactly the same size as the Audi Q7, Hyundai Palisade, Ford Explorer and Genesis GV80, the MDX starts at $47,925 (a $2,400 increase over 2020) with our very nicely optioned Advance SH-AWD stickering for $62,175. Max tow ratings are 5,000 pounds.
Front bucket seats here are very supportive, with memory controls and heating and cooling action. Rear seating flips, folds, slides and adapts to a flat cargo deck as necessary. No power folding buttons, yet it is an easy reach for manually folding and retrieving the split third row seats. A full-width cargo well resides under the flat deck.
From the helm, there is a new digital instrument cluster, LED lighting all around, plus the addition of a heads-up display for the driver. A new ELS Studio 3D audio system for all, remote engine start, as well as a panoramic sunroof with shade are just some of the luxury pieces.
The center cluster contains conventional buttons and controls for triple-zone climate adjustments, while a new, wider display screen atop the dash is controlled by the Acura True Touchpad on the console, easy-to-use steering wheel dials and buttons, as well as Alexa. Yes, Acura has brought Alexa (plus other apps) along for the drive to help with audio selections, navigation directions and other tasks, which is all good because the touchpad is too distracting to use while driving.
Contrasts: there are USB ports in the third row area, but no lane-watch cameras. Acura is offering Cabin Talk to better communicate with rear seat occupants, plus optional drive modes, but no locking button to keep AWD engaged for sticky snowbank removal. The HID display on the windshield is a welcome addition, but there is an annoying glare from the surround-trim, and when the mapping could not determine what the speed limit was on certain routes, it would display nothing, or, 100 mph.
That last piece is OK here, as the new made-in-the-USA MDX is a driver-friendly family wagon more than capable of handling the demands of Autobahn-like speeds. Great new look, excellent chassis, plus added tech to meet the demands of an ever-changing and very competitive field define this MDX.
Next week: Dodge Durango SRT Hellcat