2012 Acura MDX Road Test

Acura's big beast straddles the line between affordable family hauler and full-luxury SUV.

What It Is
The MDX has been Acura's best-selling vehicle since it joined the automaker's lineup in 2001 and it shows once again in the latest model year variant. No major changes are expected for the 2012 model year either.

Best Thing
Interior comfort is second to none courtesy of plush leather seats, multiple soft-touch points, and other ergonomically friendly features.

Worst Thing
Fuel economy is comparable to a light-duty pickup truck, which can spell trouble with today's CAFE standards.

Snap Judgment
In a class chock full of heavyweights the MDX is a solid player and a best-seller since its introduction in 2001.


Even in Los Angeles, where traffic is a way of life, you can never leave early enough to get somewhere. For example, if Los Angeles International Airport (the Mecca of all things traffic) is your destination, you'd better add another 45 minutes to your overall commute. It's no secret traffic is about as enjoyable as getting a root canal without Novocain, and I knew what I was getting myself into when I had to head over to LAX to pick up a friend who was visiting for the weekend. But I won this round, all thanks to my weekend ride, an Acura MDX.

For those of you who may not be familiar with Acura's full-sized luxury SUV, it has been the automaker's best-selling vehicle by a wide margin since its introduction back in 2001. In a lineup that struggles to separate itself from its conventional sibling Honda, the Acura MDX leads the charge to differentiate the two brands.

For a starting price of nearly $44,000, the 2012 Acura MDX returns quickly on the investment. If you look at other competitors like the Buick Enclave or Ford Flex, both offer more room but less refinement. German rivals like the Mercedes-Benz M-Class and BMW X5 offer up a more prestigious brand, but cost more and sacrifice interior space. While all of the aforementioned have a particular benefit, the MDX is a solid blend of technology, luxury, and a comfortable ride that makes it a compelling choice in the luxury crossover market.

What We Drove

It's hard to miss the Acura MDX, even in a parking lot full of vehicles. The robust profile demands attention, sitting with its 18-inch wheels under high-arching wheel wells. That applies to the 2011 Acura MDX we tested (note that although we drove a 2011 model, the 2012 is mechanically identical, and we've quoted 2012 prices below), as the behemoth of an SUV looked like someone wedged it into an open parking spot at Automotive.com's office when we first saw it.

The SUV's overall size may be a welcoming sign for someone who just saw their bank account tapped for at least $44,925, including the $895 destination charge, as one would hope more money equals more space and features. If you're looking to purchase, or are on the fence about getting an MDX, the adage of more money getting you more gizmos and luxury holds true in this case. Like its corporate cousin Honda, Acura offers distinct models, rather than option packages. Thus, our test vehicle's final price with the Advance Package came to $53,550. The package adds just about every high-tech feature you could ask for, including active cruise control, heated and cooled front seats, an adjustable suspension, blind spot information, and collision mitigation system.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Standard safety features on the Acura MDX include ABS brakes, emergency brake assist, rear door child safety locks, and stability and traction control. The LATCH points in the second row can accommodate two car seats at a time, and when put through crash tests, the Acura MDX scored a rating of "Good" from the Insurance Institute for Highway safety in all categories, the highest possible score. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration also awarded the 2011 MDX with high remarks, four stars in the passenger-side and rollover testing. The driver's side and side impact front and rear categories were not rated by the NHTSA.

The Commute

The daily commute to Automotive.com's offices in Southern California is filled with traffic and slow moving vehicles. That being said, all that time spent waiting gave us some time to see how the MDX reacts to a populated area. Without question the MDX's sole purpose is to transport well-to-do families and their goods on solid pavement, and never deviate from its course. Under the hood of all MDXs is a 300-horsepower 3.7-liter V-6 engine mated to a six-speed automatic transmission. Despite its size and appearance, the MDX isn't built for off-roading, and towing isn't recommended either.

While traffic isn't ideal when you want to stretch the MDX's legs, the bumper-to-bumper conditions proved to be a non-factor as the copious amounts of technology and other features can keep anyone busy. The MDX wasn't the quietest vehicle to ever enter our test fleet, but with the windows up almost all outside noise was gone or drastically reduced. Before we knew it traffic was moving again and we could finally see if anything wobbled or swayed when operating the MDX at a low speed. When lumbering slowly along, the MDX has no trouble bringing its full-bodied self to a complete stop, but from higher speeds our test car shuddered slightly before buckling down and coming to a complete stop. When traffic cleared up, we found acceleration responsive courtesy of the hearty 3.7-liter V-6 engine situated under the hood.

Despite its size, maneuvering the full-size MDX through the bustling Los Angeles International Airport was about as simple as touching your nose with your tongue. While not the biggest vehicle we've ever tested, the as-tested price tag in the mid-$55,000 range ensured we took extra care when merging into traffic and switching lanes. The Blind Spot Information System was hard at work helping us navigate the horseshoe configuration of LAX's concourse. Once we cleared the traffic that constantly clogs the inner bowels of LAX the MDX returned to form gliding over the loud concrete that coats Southern California's interstate freeways.

The Grocery Run

As a close cousin to the Honda Pilot and Odyssey family haulers, it's no surprise that the Acura MDX shined brightest when it was filled with groceries and other homey goods. The MDX features a cargo capacity of 15 cu.-ft. with every seat in its normal position; that expands to 83.5 cu.-ft. with every seat folded down. We put this to the test and stuffed the cargo area with the normal weekly goods needed and the MDX swallowed everything up without an issue. Even with the seats up we were able to find space for a bag or two here and there, but you'll need to fold at least half the third row to accommodate a week of groceries for a typical family. Throw in a few full size pieces of luggage in the cargo area behind the second row of seating and four adult passengers, the MDX won't bat an eye-lash; when tasked with picking a friend up at Los Angeles International Airport, it had no trouble fitting in a few pieces of normal sized luggage and an extra passenger.

A Few Photos of this Vehicle

Click thumbnails for detailed view

Like any large, high-riding vehicle, the MDX will prove to be a climb for children under a certain age. Once there they'll find plenty of room of course, and if you opt for the DVD system--not on our test vehicle--they'll be entranced for the length of whatever trip you happen to take. In a way, Acura clearly had children in mind when designing the MDX, as the third row is strictly a kids-only affair.

The Weekend Fun

The 2011 Acura MDX's 3.7-liter V-6 engine offers up more than enough vigor to pull this big crossover down the road. Mated to a six-speed automatic with sportshift paddles mounted behind the steering wheel, the MDX has a spritely ride for such a full-bodied vehicle. However, the real enjoyment shows up in the MDX's "Super Handling" all-wheel-drive system (SH-AWD). The MDX's all-wheel-drive system delegates power to the outside wheels when taking a turn enabling sharper handling. This is good news for those shopping for a luxury SUV as the majority look for rear- or all-wheel-drive. Even with all-wheel-drive the MDX pulls itself down the road with the help from its front wheels but switches back to all four when entering a winding road. But even in suburbia, it showed when dashing onto a sharp offramp from the freeway.

The big crossover's behavior inspired us to take the MDX to as many serpentine roads as possible to test out the super-handling all-wheel drive system. After some extensive time navigating some windy roads, we concluded that the MDX is enjoyable enough to drive that the journey is half the fun of whatever trip you take. When entering and exiting a turn the MDX sloshed around ever-so-slightly but it quickly evened out for a smooth ride once again. The steering did feel a little unresponsive in sharp turns but that's to be expected with a vehicle that's as long as the MDX. The 300-hp V-6 engine had no issues pulling the vast SUV up the steep mountain roads, and each gear shift felt velvety smooth.

Summary

We came away from the latest MDX impressed and content. The stout engine, robust body style, and interior features commanded our attention at first glance and kept it throughout the duration of its stay with us.

The Acura MDX consistently proved to us why it's a popular choice among those looking for a luxury SUV. Driving was more agile than we first gave it credit for and the 3.7-liter V-6 engine provided more than enough power. If you're in search of a luxury SUV and are looking for the best balance of features, cachet, and price, you owe it to yourself to give the Acura MDX a good, hard look.

Spec Box

Base price: $42,930
As tested: $55,340
Fuel Economy
EPA City: 16 mpg
EPA Highway: 21 mpg
Intellichoice Five-Year Cost of Ownership: Average

Notebook Quotes

"This just might be Acura's best vehicle, in that it fulfills its mission better than any other vehicle in the brand's lineup." -Keith Buglewicz, News Director
"The MDX has little wrong with it and lots to love, but somehow the $55k price tag seems about 10k to high. Still, it's a beautiful car, great in the city or for road trips." -Matthew Askari, Associate Editor
"Like the RDX, the MDX looks more lithe, more athletic; a sprinter or a light-weight boxer than a power lifter, than its competitors." -Joel Arellano, Assistant Editor

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