The Acura MDX offers a quiet, taut ride and great acceleration. The all-wheel drive system adds to driving fun with its security, and with a set of winter tires the MDX will do very well in snow.
Acura's 3.7-liter V6 dishes up 300 horsepower (more than any competitor's six cylinder) and with a new six-speed automatic delivers decent fuel mileage for a 4600-pound vehicle. The engine is silky smooth and quiet, and when you floor it there's a satisfying growl as there should be. It's more of a high-revving engine than a torquey one, so you have to use the revs to climb hill or pass, but it's no problem, with the transmission and shift logic perfectly programmed.
Fuel economy for the MDX is an EPA-estimated 16/21 mpg City/Highway on premium unleaded. With our load of six soccer players and 70-mph running, we got 17 mpg on the highway. Among its competitors, only the five-seat Lexus RX and RX hybrid offer better mileage on gasoline; the diesel Q7, X5, GL and ML all do from 2-5 mpg better.
MDX uses independent suspension all around, a setup tuned more toward the BMW-enthusiast end of the spectrum than pillow-velvety Lexus style. Steering is nicely weighted and the car goes exactly where you point it. Driving it up a winding road, where the all-wheel drive pushes the car around a bend like a giant, gentle hand guiding it, is fun and rewarding.
While the plain MDX is good, the Advance car is even better. It comes with larger (19-inch) wheels and the same width tires, normally a recipe for better handling/poorer ride, but also includes an active damper system. These shocks are the same design used on top-performance Corvettes, Cadillacs and Audis and use magneto-rheological fluid to change their firmness almost instantly. In addition to the comfort/sport modes, the Advance car also gets thicker antiroll bars, especially in back, so it corners flatter and changes direction better. Pushed to its limits the MDX acquits itself well in terms of handling dexterity and braking, and its acceleration betters many V8-powered SUVs.
The 2011 MDX Advance we drove included the blind-spot warning system that works from 6 mph. Curiously, when we tested the 2010 MDX, the system never came on, apparently because there were no blind spots. But on our 2011 MDX, the warning light in the sideview mirror overachieved; it flashed on before the passing car moved into the small blind spot, and stayed on long after the car was alongside of us. The problem here is that it loses credibility and you ignore it and it becomes useless. When we tested the Jeep Grand Cherokee, the blind spot system worked about perfectly. We did some research and learned that the blind-spot sensor is in the rear bumper, tuned to where a blind spot might likely be, not necessarily where it actually is, which will depend on the positioning of the sideview mirror. And a correctly adjusted sideview mirror will be positioned based on the angle of the rearview mirror inside the car. This explains why different drivers will have different results with the blind-spot system, and why the warning flash won't necessarily be true.
Our 2011 MDX also had radar-based adaptive cruise control to maintain following distance and, if needed, apply the brakes. It worked beautifully for us. We set the cruise control at 70 mph in a 65 zone, and it applied the brakes a number of times to maintain the correct distance to the cars ahead; when the car pulled out of the way, the MDX accelerated back up to 70. We drove for more than an hour, into the city, and never had to use our feet. Although we kept our brake foot at the ready, because the system won't do quick or aggressive braking.
We also carried six high-school soccer players on a 200-mile trip, and they loved it, never complaining about tight quarters. Smallest guys in the two-seat third row, of course.
MDX carries a maximum tow rating of 5000 pounds, though we'd carefully consider weights and frontal area carefully for any trailer approaching that weight. Some of the larger competitors have higher ratings, up to 7000 pounds, worth noting if your boat is more than 3500 pounds without its trailer.