The 2007 Acura MDX, a significant model upgrade over the previous year, reinforces the tech roadmap the company set forth in its RL and RDX cars. The MDX is an SUV, complete with three rows of seating, yet it takes on Acura technologies such as Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) and live traffic reporting used in the RL and the RDX. While there are some slight interface improvements for accessing the tech, the car drops behind the competition in some significant ways.
The MDX uses Acura's new pointed grill and raked front bumper design, giving it a boatlike appearance, a fairly unfortunate direction in Acura styling taken even further in the ridiculous looking concept shown at the Los Angeles Auto Show. It looks fairly compact from the outside, yet has a good amount of room for front- and middle-row passengers. Access to the rear seats requires some climbing around, which would prove difficult for people with bad backs or stiff joints. With the third row seats up, cargo space is virtually nonexistent.
The Acura MDX we tested came with the Sport and Entertainment packages, which is everything Acura offers. That means it includes navigation, Bluetooth cell phone integration, and a top stereo, all of our favorite cabin tech toys. It's a relatively big car, but it's only available powerplant is a 3.7-liter V-6. Honda just doesn't do V-8s. The automatic transmission only has five gears, which seems primitive compared to all the cars with six-plus automatics.
Test the tech: snow trip
Coincidentally, we got our hands on the Acura MDX the same week we had planned a trip to Lake Tahoe, a winter wonderland compared to never-below-freezing San Francisco. So, it was a pretty easy choice to take the MDX up and see how it handled on slippery roads, snow, and a long highway trip into the mountains. On the trip, we made significant use of the navigation system, entertainment, climate control, and SH-AWD.
To start off, we used the voice-command system to enter the address of our weekend getaway. Being somewhat experienced with Acura navigation systems, we sped through it fairly quickly: pushing the voice button on the steering wheel, saying a command, getting a result on the LCD, then cutting off the voice help by pushing the button again to say the next command. We could have probably done it faster by using the big knob on the center stack, but voice commands are so much cooler.
The route the car picked was exactly what we would have chosen on a map. Because we were smart enough to leave around noon on a Friday, the live traffic reporting showed green lines, meaning free-flowing traffic, all the way to Sacramento, where we had a small section of yellow, or 20 to 40mph traffic. In Tahoe, the navigation tried to lead us up a street that was closed due to snow and ice, but we checked the navigation map and saw we could get on our road from a different direction. As we proceeded around the closed road, the nav system recalculated our route promptly.
It hasn't been a particularly snowy season on the California/Nevada border, so we didn't have to contend with heavy snow on the roads. But we did want to, so we drove off the road to a snow-covered meadow and proceeded to try out the traction. Even with highway tires, the car did well. We could feel slip starting here and there, only to be compensated for by a combination of traction control and the SH-AWD. With temperatures around freezing, the car's heated seats and climate control came in handy. The front seats get dual climate control, while the middle-row seats have a single climate control zone. The front and middle row seats are also heated. During a "freeze-out" test where we had the windows down during a 20-minute drive in the evening, front- and middle-row occupants were kept comfortable, while the third-row passenger was subjected to a continuous blast of freezing cold air.
In the cabin
Acura's Technology package for the MDX is very similar to the package in the RL and the RDX. With the MDX, it also comes as part of the Sport package and includes navigation with live traffic reporting, the exceptional ELS/Panasonic stereo, and Bluetooth cell phone integration. In our review of the RDX, we complained about the haphazard mess of buttons around the steering wheel and the stack. Acura cleaned it up a bit for the MDX, using a nice triangular design for the hub of the steering wheel that makes multiple buttons easily accessible. The center stack joystick/knob can be a bit difficult to figure out when trying to find satellite radio stations or tracks on an MP3 CD.
The cabin materials aren't as luxurious as what we've seen in the Infiniti FX45 or the Lexus RX350. Strangely, the dashboard material looks cheaper than it feels. Ours had a pebbled light brown plastic-looking cover, which was ugly, but it also was soft to the touch. The wood grain accents are nice, and the switch gear has a quality feel to it, but the cabin comes off as midrange more than luxury.
Acura's voice-recognition system is the best in the business, easily recognizing our commands and offering good feedback on the LCD to let us know the next command options. At least, that's how the navigation, audio, and climate voice system works. The voice-recognition system for Bluetooth cell phone recognition is a completely different system. It's also good at recognizing commands, but it doesn't provide the same level of feedback on the screen. And because there are two voice systems, there also are two sets of buttons on the steering wheel for activating voice recognition. We would prefer to see a more integrated system, with one button to activate voice recognition and top-level voice commands for entering the phone system, navigation, climate control, or audio.