Many people would scoff at the notion of driving something like an SUV on a race track, but as long as somebody else is picking up the tab on tires, I'll gladly hotlap just about anything. While the MDX wasn't designed to be a track monster, it was designed to be able to competently cope with the most challenging situations that one might encounter on track; the idea being that if the vehicle can handle these in stride then it can also easily handle "everyday emergencies" that one might encounter on the street. With this in mind, we set out to explore the limits of Acura's dynamic family hauler.
On BeaveRun's north track, we were able to compare the MDX to a V8-equipped Volvo XC90, a BMW X5 3.0i, and a Porsche Cayenne 3.2. To cut to the chase, the only vehicles worth their salt there were the MDX and the Cayenne. From a dynamic standpoint, the Volvo reminded me most of an American luxury car from the '80s. The pedals were positioned awkwardly and I can't remember the last time I wrapped my fingers around a steering wheel rim that was that thin, but I'm pretty sure it was a Something deVille. The XC90's brake and steering feel fell well short of par, and it pitched and understeered mercilessly, but I have to say I did enjoy standing on the throttle and hearing and feeling its 311hp 4.4L V8 ripping through the smooth 6-speed automatic's ratios. It's too bad the rest of it was such a disappointment. Speaking of letdowns, up next was BMW's 2006 X5. In my mind, the X5 has always represented the pinnacle of conflicting ideals from the BMW stable, but to this point I'd never been able to sample one on track. Now that we got that out of the way, my initial perception has been cemented. To its credit, the cockpit is typical BMW - driver oriented and generally a nice place to be, but from an actual driving perspective, the X5 just didn't cut it. And whoever thought a power to weight ratio approaching 21lbs/hp would be a good idea? Acceleration is nonexistant. The Cayenne's motor also labored mightily against its 4800lb curb weight, but it wasn't as wheezy as the X5 and it managed to partially redeem itself with its eager turn-in and a track-tuned suspension that allowed it to maintain momentum. Unfortunately the Cayenne's turn-in response was misleading, as it gave the impression that the Cayenne would easily pivot around every apex, but the truth was that almost as soon as the nose pointed itself inward, it would take an understeering vector the moment you'd begin to apply power.
Now, on track the MDX was clearly the best of the pack. Unfortunately it didn't quite match the Cayenne's turn in response or general steering feel, but the MDX's SH-AWD really paid dividends through several of the track's turn sequences, particularly the quick 1-2-3 segment, 5 and 6, the high speed turn 8, and 10-11. Also appreciated were the MDX's massive 13.0"/13.2" (F/R) brakes that repeatedly hauled the MDX down from speed with no drama or fade. That's good, because even though the MDX was the lightest of the four vehicles we tried, it still weighs over 4500lbs, and that's not an insignificant mass when you're traveling in the triple digits. For all that weight, the MDX changes directions fairly impressively, and grips the surface to an unexpected degree, but make no mistake about it, this isn't a sports car - you are always aware that you're at the helm of a large vehicle.
Acura's VSA system is pretty good by itself. But when you pair it with the surefootedness of the SH-AWD system, it behaves so transparently you almost don't notice it on track. Acura has enhanced the system so that it actually cooperates with the SH-AWD in order to minimize brake and throttle intervention. The cooperative effect works quite well, and successfully extends the boundaries of VSA's transparency.
The MDX's 3.7L V6 performed pretty well on the track, but exiting some of the turns I found myself wishing for tighter gear ratios to get the motor back up on cam quicker. The 5AT shifts quickly and smoothly but it's pretty clear that the MDX would benefit immensely from a 6-speed automatic with tighter ratios. This would have the added benefit of virtually silencing any calls for a V8.
With the 2007 MDX, Acura has successfully nudged its SUV upmarket. Pricing is expected to come in starting at around $41000 for the base model, topping out at $48000 for a fully loaded Sport model. That sounds like a sizeable jump from the 2006 model, but when you consider what you get for the price, it's quite competitive. Performance is way up thanks to the SH-AWD, active damper system, and uprated V6. While the 3.7L V6 is competitive with some of the lower end V8 competitors, it could be even more competitive with a more advanced transmission. With a dramatically upgraded interior and extensive feature list, the 2007 MDX also delivers the goods when it comes to comfort and convenience, while safety and utility have been improved as well. Acura expects to sell 60,000 MDXs per year. That represents roughly 20% of the entire mid premium CUV market and is an ambitious goal, but we think the MDX is well equipped to make a strong run at it.
|2007 Acura MDX|
|Date of Test:||July 17, 2006|
|Test Location:||Western Pennsylvania|
|Miles Driven:||~150 miles|
|Onsale Date||October 17, 2006|
|MSRP||Est. $41000 (base) to $48,000 (Sport + Entertainment)|
|Projected Volume||60000 units|
|EPA Mileage Estimates (city/hwy):||17/22 mpg|
|Smooth, powerful and reasonably efficient drivetrain|
|SH-AWD, Active damper system join forces to create a very capable handler|
|SH-AWD could be tuned more aggressively|
|Slightly pinched leg/toeroom in 2nd row seating|
|Acura needs a 6-speed automatic pronto|
|A great choice for "executive dad" with a $50k budget for a luxurious and sporty family hauler|