The 2011 Acura MDX is essentially unchanged from 2010: It's still a well-appointed, comfortable and highly ranked mid-size SUV that features an atrocious front grille that looks like some sort of oversized Second World War medal.
Acura would never admit this, and I have no way of proving it, but I'd bet money that the front-end treatment of the MDX is so off-putting, it's likely a deal-breaker for some prospective buyers. The same applies to all the other models in the lineup that have it as well. That said, the MDX is one of Acura's top-selling models.
As well, it gets high marks from organizations like Consumer Reports. In its 2011 "Best And Worst Cars" survey, the magazine ranks the MDX second in the upscale SUV segment (behind the Lexus RX 450h). It's a "recommended" buy, according to Consumer Reports, and the magazine likes its agility, braking, fit and finish and crash-test results, among other things.
What it doesn't like is the excessive road noise and wonky controls, which takes the words right out of my mouth. Honda/Acura likes to extol the virtues of its Active Noise Cancellation system in its various models, but, not to put too fine a point on it, it doesn't cut the mustard. Compared to many other models in the segment of the market, the MDX displays far too much road noise when it's under way and, for an upscale SUV, has surprisingly poor NVH (Noise, Vibration and Harshness).
Perhaps it's the tires, but whatever it is, something needs to be done. With a vehicle of this calibre, you shouldn't have to raise your voice when conversing while driving on the highway, but that's the way it is. The road noise and poor NVH isn't an all-consuming racket, but a vague background white noise kind of thing. It's not massively intrusive, but there, nonetheless.
And a word about the controls. In a nutshell, there are just too many of them and they seem to require constant monitoring. For example, I never could get the power mirrors to stay put. I would adjust and set the memory function over and over again, yet every time I used the vehicle, I had to re-set the mirrors. A small thing, perhaps, but annoying. Acura re-did the switchgear and controls of the MDX last year, but they still need work.
Power is not an issue, however. The 3.7-litre V-6 propelling the MDX delivers 300 horses, smoothly transmitted via a six-speed automatic transmission (new as of 2010) and, as usual for Honda/Acura, the drivetrain is beyond reproach. Honda got its start building engines way back when and they just don't come any better. Fuel economy could be better, though: 13.2 litres/100 km in town and 9.6 on the highway, and the MDX requires premium gas.
The MDX also has Acura's Super Handling All-Wheel-Drive (SH-AWD) feature, which enhances its handling considerably. This is not an off-road aid and does nothing to get you through the rough stuff, but it will help with accident avoidance and handling and, anyway, full-time AWD is a good thing to have no matter what form it takes, in my opinion. Besides, who's taking their MDX off-road on a regular basis? Acura has read this market perfectly.
Elsewhere, the MDX has 2,364 litres of cargo space with all the seats folded flat. That's a little more than the Lexus RX 450h, for example (2,273 litres) and roomy enough for this kind of vehicle. Again, I just can't see the MDX being put to work carrying things like lumber, furniture, garden supplies and so on. More likely, it'll be accommodating luggage and dogs.
For its $52,690 base price, the MDX comes well-dressed. The usual upscale modcons - such as leather interior, power tailgate, power tilt/telescoping steering, remote entry, heated front and rear seats, satellite radio, headlight washers, and so on - come standard with the base model, and my tester, the Elite version, adds a back-up camera, roof rails, larger 19-inch wheels and tires, auto-levelling headlights and ventilated front seats, among other things.
It also has Acura's collision mitigation braking and blind spot information systems. The former features a built-in sensor that anticipates a collision and prepares the car accordingly by tightening the seat belts and engaging the brakes to reduce the severity of the accident, while the latter can detect vehicles in the vehicle's blind spot and activates a small light in the outside rearview mirror. This is becoming a common feature throughout the industry and is a good thing any way you look at it. For the Elite package, you can add $10,000 to the base price.
2011 Acura MDX Elite
Type: Mid-size luxury SUV
Base price: $52,690; as tested, $65,041
Engine: 3.7-litre V-6
Horsepower/torque: 300 hp/270 lb-ft
Transmission: Six-speed automatic
Drive: Full-time all-wheel
Fuel economy (litres/100 km): 13.2 city/9.6 highway; premium gas
Alternatives: Audi Q7, BMW X5, Lexus RX 450h, Lexus RX 350, Mercedes GL350, VW Touareg, Porsche Cayenne V6, Volvo XC90, Lincoln MKT, Infiniti FX35, Jeep Grand Cherokee