In the cabin
The rest of the cabin tech appeared no different than during our previous stint with the MDX. The impressive 10-speaker ELS surround-audio system works better in the smaller cabin of the , but especially while checking out the factory demo disc that was still in our test car, it perked our ears up in the MDX as well. Listening to everything from live sports to jazz to news, the crispness seemed palpable and with the surround center adjusted to the driver's seat we detected elements of familiar songs we'd lost to lesser systems.
The rear-seat DVD system includes the ability to hook up music players or game systems via RCA jacks, and the included cheapo wireless headphones can be augmented or replaced (thanks to three headphone-ins on the rear of the center console). Given the ELS system's ability to make the most of DVD audio and video discs, the ability to play DVDs through the main audio system is key. Auxiliary components can also be played to the front while another source plays into the rear headphones, all controlled from the front center console. Unfortunately, the console is a morass of flush-mounted, non-differentiated buttons, which require a glance during too many operations. The steering-wheel and voice controls are again recommended.
Seating overall is well-executed, although the third row is not really suitable for adults. The front passengers get heated seats and dual-zone climate control. Middle-row passengers get their own full set of climate controls and seat-heating for the two outside spots. Storage is good with a big center armrest bin and an extra opening on the passenger side of the main console with a sliding cover. With both rear rows folded down, cargo space is nice and flat.
Materials are nice, with durable-looking leather and pliable plastics on the soft surfaces, polished wood accents, and a refreshing lack of anything shiny. Our car's dark grey seats and black wood trim were particularly soothing.
Under the hood
Unlike many of its competitors in the luxury-SUV realm, the 2008 Acura MDX makes do with a V-6 rather than a heartier V-8 engine. Performance is therefore rather lackluster given the vehicle's size. Acceleration is adequate from rest, although cruising efficiency (not to mention overall prestige) would benefit from at least another gear in the five-speed automatic transmission.
The engine does produce a solid 300 horsepower thanks to displacement (at 3.7 liters, Acura's largest engine) and tech niceties like variable-valve timing and a two-stage intake manifold. The combination means that the MDX is able to meet ULEV-II emissions standards and gets EPA fuel-efficiency ratings of 15 mpg in the city and 20 mpg on the highway. During our time with the car, we calculated an 18.5 mpg average over 331.8 miles of mixed driving, in close agreement with the trip computer's 18.3 mpg estimation.
As in our earlier stint with the car, we found the SH-AWD system provided an excellent degree of stability and enhanced handling characteristics when pushed hard. The system runs 90 percent of the power to the front axle during normal cruising, but can shift up to 50 percent of the power to the rear during hard cornering, with all of that going to the outside wheel under extreme conditions. The MDX also offers an Active Damping system, which toggles Comfort mode on and off depending on the driver's preference for ride versus handling.
A cool if slightly distracting feature is the SH-AWD readout in the trip computer area between the main analog gauges. This screen shows bar graphs representing power levels going to each wheel and can be entertaining to (carefully) watch while working down a curvy stretch of road.
At just under $49,000 including destination charge, the 2008 Acura MDX can still be said to offer good value for the money, keeping seven passengers comfortable and entertained while returning great highway manners and reasonable economy. As a less expensive alternative, the offers the tech basics and equal seating room.
Some of the interior systems are in need of an update, but we suspect the MDX will get a similar redesign of its infotainment package as we saw on the 2009 Acura TL. Everything in the MDX works, but little of it is cutting-edge at this point, and it's not really befitting Acura's image as a company at the tech forefront. As such, the MDX earns a moderate rating for cabin tech. We rate it about the same for performance tech, giving it points for the all-wheel-drive system. Design is the area where it really hurts, as we aren't fans of the exterior, and the switchgear is a bit too abundant.