I have to admit a certain bias: I really don’t understand the appeal of SUVs. They made more sense when they really were sport-utility vehicles: bare-bones, tinny, tough trucks for hauling serious gear into the hunting camp, and then you could hose down the tailgate after you’d cleaned your catch on it. That makes the idea of a “luxury SUV” even more of an oxymoron. Acura’s entry into this crowded segment is the MDX. It’s one of the better in its class, but it’s still burdened by the drawbacks inherent to the breed: poor mileage, high centre of gravity, and passenger space that, for all the vehicle’s bulk, isn’t much more than a station wagon.
The Canadian-built MDX – which shares its basic platform with Honda Pilot – receives a freshening-up for 2004 in its headlights, taillights and front fascia. Under the hood, the 3.5-litre V6’s horsepower increases to 265hp from 2003’s 260, while torque rises a hair to 253ft-lbs from 250. It’s thanks to a new dual exhaust system that enhances flow while surpassing emissions regulations. It’s a smooth, fairly powerful driver, save for a left foot rest that could be set at a better angle — it’s too flat to be comfortable on a long haul. The wheel is small and fits the hands perfectly, and turns are tighter than I expected in something this size. It handles much more confidently than many of its competitors, but with its height, it still creates a feeling of detachment: there’s little road input, and it’s easy to stray into triple-digit speeds without realizing it. It’s no wonder drivers all but brew their morning coffee while they’re commuting.
There’s four-wheel independent suspension, and a system Acura calls VTM-4, for Variable Torque Management. Under normal conditions, MDX is front-wheel-drive. If the front wheels slip, power transfers to the rear wheels. The system can also be manually locked (via a button on the dash) to provide full all-wheel-drive when taking off on a slippery surface, to a maximum of 28km/hr. MDX comes in a single trim level, at $50,300, which includes all of the expected goodies: four-wheel-discs with ABS, stability and traction control; front, side and side curtain air bags; tire pressure monitoring system; keyless entry; heated, leather 8-way power seats for driver and passenger; Bose stereo system with wheel-mounted controls; trip computer; power moonroof; automatic headlights; and rain-sensitive wipers (that should swipe a bit further on the driver’s side; they leave a wide swatch that’ll turn into a blind spot with road salt).
My tester came with the only available option, the $5,300 “Tech Package”. That gives you a navigation system with bilingual voice recognition, rear-seat DVD, and most useful of all, a rearview camera. Put the truck in reverse, and the navigation screen shows what’s behind you. You need it, too: like most SUVs, MDX’s liftgate is high enough to hide children or pets when backing up. The passenger mirror also automatically swings down in reverse, to make docking – er, parking easier.
MDX is rated as a 7-passenger vehicle, with three rows of seats, but you’ll want to reserve the last row for smaller children or people you really don’t like. The second row slides forward for easy access, but it’s still a tough climb to get all the way back, and legroom becomes just a fond memory. With all seats upright, cargo space is a mere 40cm, but lower them and you can open MDX up to a flat 190cm. The rear seats must have their headrests removed for them to fold, but there’s under-floor storage for them. Grocery bag hooks would be a useful addition, and the liftgate requires a firm hand to latch it closed.
In combined driving, MDX returned 15.4L/100km, and that’s premium grade, please. (One of the few changes for 2005 is a larger tank.) Warranty is 3-year/60,000km basic and 5-year/100,000km major component, with 3-year/unlimited mileage Roadside Assistance. Luxurious and well-appointed, MDX presents a comfortable cabin and a smooth ride – if you think you really need a thirsty, oversized, too-tall upscale station wagon. Sorry. I just don’t get it.