2017 Acura MDX Elite Review and Road Test

2017 Acura MDX Elite

Incremental updates serve to make Acura’s best-seller even better.

Words by: Adam Allen

dsc01276

Hey, look! Dual exhausts are back!

When Acura’s current vintage of MDX hit the streets in 2014, it was missing something- the dual exhaust outlets that the previous two generations before it proudly sported. Now they’re back, and although their appearance has zero effect on the MDX’s performance- or anything, for that matter- but as enthusiasts we warmly welcome them back.

I’m having a hard time telling the 2014 model from the refreshed 2017 example you drove…

Don’t worry, we’ll unearth all the changes for those who aren’t familiar with every minute detail of the MDX- after all, we did say the changes were incremental. The front end has received most of the attention, and is now more “executive athletic”- Acura’s words, not ours. The unlamented Acura shnoz received rhinoplasty in 2014 begetting a more attractive design, and the evolution continues with the new Diamond Pentagon grille and revised Jewel Eye headlamps. The front fenders and hood have been massaged slightly as well, and it is handsome if not significantly different than before. Out back, a revised bumper and skid garnish along with the aforementioned return of the dual exhausts round out the changes. On the inside there’s a few new convenience features like an electronic parking brake with automatic brake hold and a full suite of driver-oriented safety kit called AcuraWatch, now standard on all MDX models. The biggest change you can’t see is the 9-speed automatic transmission that replaces the old 6-speed unit. This gearbox will make the MDX a smidge faster in the sprint from 0-100km/h and return slightly better fuel economy as well.

Do these changes influence how the MDX drives?

While styling tweaks have no discernible effect on how a car drives, the AcuraWatch safety system will certainly make sure you’re paying attention, sounding tones and flashing lights if it thinks you might be headed for trouble. As we do with virtually all the cars we drive, we turned them all off in favour of a more serene driving experience. And serene it was, because the MDX is perhaps the quietest and best riding vehicle in its class, at least to our ears and keisters. Even in Sport mode, the Acura calmly makes its way over washboard roads with nary a peep from the structure or interior panels. In the entire Acura portfolio, only the RLX is more refined. The carry-over 3.5 litre V6 engine is as smooth as ever, but we wish it was able to muster more than 290 horsepower. The 9-speed gearbox is somewhat of a mixed bag; you get more urgent acceleration and better fuel mileage than before, but sometimes it’s caught out in low speed driving- perhaps there’s simply too many speeds for the transmission’s brain to choose from. Using the shift paddles as we’re wont to do is a bit underwhelming because their actions do not summon gearchanges as fast as it does when left to its own devices. And while the absence of a conventional gear lever on the console does free up real estate, some of us found the buttons slightly frustrating to use. You get used to it, but if you’re forced to make a quick three point turn in with oncoming traffic bearing down on you you’ll long for the old Park-Reverse-Neutral-Drive setup.

Tell me more about the interior.

The big story for 2017 is the availability of captain’s chairs in the second row of seats, some upgraded wood trim and the bevy of driver safety systems included in the AcuraWatch suite of tech. Elsewhere it’s the same story as before, which is to say everything is nicely finished and feels quality. The seating areas are comfortable (even the third row is decent enough for adults on short trips) and are upholstered in soft, fragrant leather. There’s a screen of ample size that folds down from the roof to keep the little ones entertained on long hauls, and it’s got wireless headphones that will isolate those up front from hearing Frozen’s “Let it go” for the millionth time. What we most appreciated wasn’t an updated piece of hardware or some snazzy new feature, but rather that of superlative tranquility. The MDX does the hushed refinement thing particularly well and to our ears, besting its rivals by a healthy margin. It’s also gifted with a structure that feels unwaveringly solid- even when we crossed over haphazard railway crossings, nary a peep could be heard.

What might go wrong?

One of our bones to pick isn’t exclusive to the MDX but rather an issue across the Acura lineup, and that is the two-tiered infotainment system. While we aren’t sure why those in charge of Acura interior design insist on that type of setup, after seeing what the MDX’s can manage using just one screen successfully, you wonder why they bothered. While we’re griping about the infotainment system, we wish that commands weren’t hobbled by a less than snappy response to inputs. Not only that, but the resolution of the interface could use a refresh- it just looks subpar, and a bit out of place in a vehicle at this price point. And although it was quite simple to connect our phones, the Bluetooth system would often drop calls or simply not connect at all. Mechanically speaking, gripes are few- as we said earlier, the transmission will sometimes stumble at low speeds. The MDX also misses the mark with its engine stop/start system- it fires back up with a clumsy shudder.

Should I buy an MDX?

As this is written, the Acura MDX is still among the best choices within the luxury CUV segment. That leadership role isn’t safe, however- the competition is getting better and better. Even the Mazda CX-9 we drove recently is as good or better than the MDX in many ways and they don’t even directly compete with one another. If there’s a void on your driveway that needs to be filled by a vehicle that shrugs off inclement weather, will take the kids and their gear to and fro and have the luxury appointments to spoil Mom and Dad, you’re going to want to take an MDX for a test drive.

 

 2017 Acura MDX Elite — Specifications

  • Price as tested: $65,790
  • Body Type: 4-door, 7 passenger CUV
  • Powertrain Layout: Front engine/all-wheel drive
  • Transmission: 9-speed automatic
  • Engine:  3.5 litre V6, SOHC, 24 valves with iVTEC
  • Horsepower:  290 @ 6,200 rpm
  • Torque (lbs-ft.): 267 @ 4,700 rpm
  • Curb weight: 1,950 kg (4,299 lbs)
  • Observed Fuel Consumption: 13L/100km (18 mpg)