2011 Acura MDX Advance review:

2011 Acura MDX Advance

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However, we have no idea how that system sounds because our MDX Advance came equipped with the Tech Package, bumping the standard audio rig in favor of a 10-speaker, 410-watt ELS system with Dolby Pro Logic II. The ELS system sounded fantastic at moderate volumes with bass that almost never distorted and high-end reproduction that was almost too clear for our Bluetooth-streamed MP3s--A2DP Bluetooth streaming being also added as a part of the Tech Package. During our testing, we noticed audible harshness at the top end of some tracks streamed from our Bluetooth-paired HTC Thunderbolt that wasn't present when the same passages were played from CDs or DVD-audio discs.

Also part of the Tech Package is Acura's HDD-based navigation system, which performed quite well, with snappy routing and response. The entire system is controlled using Acura's rotary controller, a large knob that can be rotated, pushed in eight directions, and depressed like a button to make selections and browse the map. The navigation system includes traffic data and weather updates as part of its AcuraLink communication system and even incorporates GPS data into the climate control system.

The HDD that holds navigation-system data also has a 15GB partition for storing audio files ripped from CDs.

The Tech Package increases your audio source options by creating a partition of the navigation system's hard drive for ripped audio CDs, the aforementioned Bluetooth audio streaming, and USB and iPod connectivity. When an iPod or iPhone device is connected, the MDX's voice command system can queue up songs and playlists with simple voice commands, such as "Play artist: the Beastie Boys." This is a nice feather in the cap of the Acura's voice command system.

As we've seen in previously tested Honda vehicles, Acura's voice command system is robust, allowing almost every onscreen interaction and a few offscreen interactions--such as adjusting the climate controls--to be handled with a spoken voice command. However, the Acura voice command system is also needlessly complex. Because it seeks to replicate touch commands with voice rather than handle true voice recognition, accessing simple functions can take way too many steps and require the driver glance at the screen far too many times while driving. For example, inputting a street address can take as many as 10 discrete spoken commands. Likewise, voice command for hands-free calling isn't true voice recognition and the system cannot understand commands such as "Call Brian at work" without a manually assigned voice tag.

The ELS audio and satellite-linked navigation system of the Tech Package are nearly identical to those of the 2012 Acura TL SH-AWD that we recently tested. Check out that review for Senior Editor Wayne Cunningham's impressions.

Adding the Entertainment Package nets you a motorized, ceiling-mounted display and heated rear seating.

Adding the Entertainment Package puts a second optical drive in the dashboard for DVD playback and puts a motorized 9-inch LCD on the MDX's ceiling for rear seat entertainment. This system also includes an IR remote control and two sets of wireless headphones for rear seat passengers. The entire system can be controlled from the back seat or commanded--but not viewed--from the front seats with an override. The front passengers are given the option of dual-zone audio playback or allowing the DVD system to take full advantage of the MDX's 5.1 surround-sound system. During dual-zone playback a standard source is piped through the front speakers while the rear speakers are muted to allow DVD audio to play through the wireless headphones.

In sum
If you checked out the 2012 Acura TL review and thought, "I'd love to drive a sport sedan, but I really need more space," the 2011 Acura MDX is exactly the car for you. It loses surprisingly little in performance compared with the TL that most people would notice on public roads, while also offering seating for seven or a massive rear hatch for bulky items if you stow the third row of seats.

The MDX's third row of seats fold flat to offer enough space for your average CNET editor, but getting getting in and out can be tricky.

The MDX starts at $42,580, but if you want any of the performance, comfort, or safety technology we've been raving about, you'll need to step up to one of the higher trim levels. To get the killer ELS audio system, hard-drive-based navigation, and better digital audio source options, you'll need the $46,255 MDX with Tech Package. For the safety technology suite with ACC, CMBS, and blind-spot detection, you'll want the MDX with Advance Package and the Tech Package options, for $52,205. The Entertainment Package--which adds the rear seat entertainment system as well as heated second-row seats and a 110-volt outlet in the center console--can be added to either the Advance or Tech packages for $1,900. Add an $860 destination fee to reach our as-tested price of $54,965.

We spec'd a new BMW X5 xDrive35i Premium with similar options and the total came to a whopping $72,075. Maybe the BMW would be a better drive through the twisties, but from the driver's seat of the Acura MDX we can't imagine it being $17,000 better. Against competition such as the Infiniti FX35, the gap in price is significantly decreased, but we're sure that most drivers in the market for one of these Japanese luxury SUVs would be happy behind the wheel of either.

Tech specs
Model 2011 Acura MDX
Trim Advance with Entertainment Package
Power train 3.7-liter V-6, 6-speed automatic, SH-AWD
EPA fuel economy 16 city mpg, 21 highway mpg
Observed fuel economy 13.8 mpg
Navigation HDD-based navigation with traffic and weather
Bluetooth phone support basic voice command, phonebook sync
Disc player CD/DVD/DVD-Audio/MP3/WMA
MP3 player support analog 3.5mm auxiliary input, USB/iPod connection
Other digital audio standard XM satellite radio, Bluetooth stereo streaming, HDD-based jukebox
Audio system 410-watt ELS, 10-speaker, 8-inch subwoofer
Driver aids rearview camera, blind-spot information, adaptive cruise control, Collision Mitigation Braking System
Base price $42,580
Price as tested $54,965

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