2015 Acura MDX Elite Review
The 2015 Acura MDX luxury SUV is distinctive from the front, tamer from the sides and rear, and fantastic inside.
THE PROS & CONS
WHAT’S BEST: Fantastic interior materials, chassis tuning, interior space
WHAT’S WORST: hard-to-access third row
WHAT’S INTERESTING: Light emitted from Jewel Eye headlamps is coloured to look like real sunlight.
Rather than saying the MDX would never be without Acura, you may actually be better off with “Acura would never be without the MDX.”
It has been the brand’s bestselling model for years and Acura has taken that to heart continuing to improve it, and improve it some more.
2015 marks the second year of the model’s third generation, and it’s nothing if not distinctive when seen from the front. The one detail that defines pretty much the whole front fascia has to be the Jewel Eye headlight treatment; that’s five bulbs of LED brightness for each headlamp, and they’re tinted so when at night, the road ahead is supposedly bathed iN something that resembles natural sunlight. I don’t know if I’d go that far, but they’re nevertheless effective in their brightness.
This type of detail is no bad thing; used to be the MDX, like the rest of Acura’s line-up was defined in almost comical fashion by the beak-like font grilles they all had. That’s been reduced, making those Jewel Eyes stand out that much more.
The rest of the car’s lines aren’t quite so distinctive; or maybe that’s just because the front-end is so distinctive that the rest pales in comparison. It’s probably also because if you ask a car designer, they’ll tell you that SUVs and trucks are some of the toughest vehicles to design; the requirements of each segment mean that really, the front end is all you have to work with.
So I suppose we can forgive the MDX for its slabby sides and bulbous bumpers.
Inside is a bit of a different story. In short, inside the MDX is a great place to be, thanks to an airy cockpit (no full-length moonroof option, though), ultra-comfortable wing-backed seats and enough tech to make any Apple Genius Bar attendee blush. Our tester’s Elite trim adds other niceties; the real olive wood trim is gorgeous to look at and to touch, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen a rear entertainment screen as wide as this one. Since it doesn’t hang down too low, it doesn’t interfere with your rear view out so much. A pair of wireless headphones is also included.
The Elite trim also adds ventilated front seats, 12-speaker premium audio, surround view camera parking aid, engine auto start/stop (which gets it better fuel economy in the city than other trims) and 10-way power adjustable front passenger seats (it’s an 8-way set-up otherwise).
There are also two display screens, the lower display is a touch-screen set-up used for all your infotainment and climate needs, while the upper display can be used to display a multitude of info. We used it mainly as our navigation screen during the test, which is probably what most people are going to do. The touch screen also means that Acura was able to lower the button count on the centre stack (all the way from 41 to 9), which was incredibly busy on the previous generation model.
Usually, I’m one to lament the lack of proper knobs and buttons in favour of more touch surfaces (I just don’t find them as precise and easy-to-use), but since you still get a knob for your volume control and toggle switched for your climate control, I can forgive Acura this time around.
As far as storage goes, the sticky platform on the centre console that’s oh-so-perfect for mobile devices is great to have (and the rubberized surface doesn’t cheapen the interior like you’d think), and the way it slides back to reveal a deep storage bin is very well integrated. It’s nice to not have to remove your cell from the surface in order to access the bin.
The hidden compartment below the rear cargo floor is a great addition, too; it’s especially handy when you’ve deployed the third row, which reduces your overall cargo capacity to 447 litres, from 2,575L with both the third and second row folded, and 1,277L with just the third row stowed.
The first two rows have plenty of room (front seat passengers get 1,055 millimetres of leg room, 2nd row occupants, 973 mm). the 2nd row even slides fore and aft, so those in the third row—that comes as standard, no matter the trim—have a little more room to breathe (their legroom is officially rated at 697 mm). They get their own cup holders, too; two of them. The seats themselves are fairly robust, and look pretty much like they’re meant to be used at least semi-regularly.
That’s all well and good, but trouble arises when you actually try and access them. Now, it’s probably not as bad for the d-men from your child’s hockey team—who are likely the most regular occupants—but for larger people, the squeeze between the second row and the door pillar is a little tight. And, unlike the Infiniti QX60’s sliding/tumbling second row, the Acura MDX’s seats only tilt forward and slide. It just doesn’t leave enough room. Again, though; that’s probably only a real issue if you plan on stuffing larger adults back there.
The feeling and view from the driver’s seat, however, will likely make it a little easier to forget all about that.
That’s because the MDX has to be one of the best-driving vehicles in the segment. It’s a little tall, so there’s bit of body roll, but the ride itself is smooth, even without the magnetic dampers that the previous generation had; those are no longer this time ‘round.
Instead, the MDX features what Acura calls Amplitude Reactive Dampers, which feature dual valves that serve a dual purpose. The larger valve helps absorb bumps and cracks, while a secondary valve is on-hand to improve stability. It’s a less-expensive way to go than the magnetic system.
To help handling, Acura has refined the performance of its Super-Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system; it features torque vectoring that allows power to be transferred between the two rear wheels to help tighten your radius around turns, and curb understeer.
Yes, these are aspects that would really only present themselves if you’re really pushing it, but know that SH-AWD is also helpful when it comes to stabilizing the MDX at highway speeds, even more so if the highway you’re on happens to have a turn or two. Or many; the Acura MDX can handle it and most owners probably won’t push the MDX past 7/10ths of its ability. That’s how well-engineered it is.
Along with being well-engineered, it’s well-engined, too; power comes from a 290 horsepower i-VTEC V6 that also makes 267 lb.-ft. of torque. Since it does use VTEC valve management, you do have to rev it a little to get to peak power levels (peak hp comes at 6,200 r.p.m., torque at 4,500 r.p.m.), so you’ll want to be wary about fuel consumption before really hoofing it.
That’s okay though, because when power is needed in real-world situations (passing at highway speeds, entering the freeway and so forth), there’s none of the delay you’d get from a turbocharged engine; just a nice, smooth torque delivery that will have you humming along in no time.
The nine-speed automatic helps in this regard; sometimes, when you’ve got ratios upon ratios like this, we find that the transmission spends a lot of time shuffling between gears. It’s not so much the case with the MDX, and when they do start to switch, it’s a fairly imperceptible affair.
If you want a bit more of a kick in the pants, then you can select “Sport” mode by pressing the button marked “IDS” below the shift lever. That sharpens throttle response, allows the transmission to hold on to revs for a little longer, adds noticeable weight to the steering rack and sends more power to the outside rear wheels in curves, for sharper turn-in. It even allows more engine noise to enter the cabin. Select “Comfort” mode for the opposite effect.
Other Acuras get the option of an eight-speed dual-clutch ZF automatic—and if performance is what you’re after, then that may be the way to go—but for easy motoring the nine-speeder is just fine.
Overall, the Acura MDX is more than “just fine,” however. It’s a fantastically refined luxury SUV that sits not just at the top of Acura’s line-up, but at the top of the segment in general.
The interior comes well-equipped, the powertrain is harmonious and the ride—while perhaps just a little firmer than some of the competition—is nevertheless confidence-inspiring. There’s a lot to like about this vehicle.
2015 Acura MDX Elite Review
BODY STYLE: Luxury SUV
DRIVE METHOD: Front-engine, all-wheel-drive, nine-speed automatic transmission
ENGINE: 3.5 litre SOHC V6 (290 hp, 267 lb.-ft.)
FUEL ECONOMY: 12.2/9.1/0.7L/100km (city/highway/combined)
CARGO VOLUME: behind third row seat 447 litres (15.79 cu. ft.); behind second row seat 1,277 litres (45.1 cu. ft.); second row folded 2,575 litres (90.94 cu. ft.)
PRICE: $63,990; as tested $65,985 including $1,995 shipping fee
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