Mountain Wheels: Acura’s expansive MDX offers plenty of flash | SummitDaily.com

Mountain Wheels: Acura’s expansive MDX offers plenty of flash

Andy Stonehouse
Special to the Daily

The new Acura MDX is indeed a sterling example of what happens when all of the right stuff happens to a marginally large, three-row luxury SUV.

For 2015, the accolades match the MDX's ongoing evolution: It's a Kelly Blue Book best buy, and has gotten the nod from Kiplinger's and U.S. News & World Report. I can also say, "It's a darned fine Japanese luxury SUV."

And while most of the details that bedeck the MDX have not changed in this 2015 model — the big swap-out happened a year back, considerably updating the MDX experience — this galoot of an import does all the right things, has a charmingly distinctive look and still hovers a bit near total technological overload.

To wit, the most curious and frankly frightening development I've experienced in an automobile in the last decade is Acura's lane-keeping assist technology, which will actually drive the car for you. It's smart enough to know that this is an absolutely terrible idea and that if you totally take your hands off the wheel and make a sandwich, the system will turn off after a few seconds and blink lights and require real wheel input. But in those moments where the car actively steers itself, especially around corners, I see the future of automated vehicles and it terrifies me.

The rest of the MDX experience is less heart-stopping by comparison; there are a load of Honda/Acura-specific eccentricities that certainly set the MDX apart from other vehicles of this size and stature, but I can make a pretty compelling case that Acura's mix will continue to appeal to an audience comfortable with choices starting at $42,565 and going up from there.

The core attributes remain, those being a 3.5-liter V-6 engine, a direct-injected, 24-valve affair that makes 290 horsepower and can generate something in the range of 27 highway mpg, even with the optional Super Handling All-Wheel Drive system. All MDXes are rounded out with a six-speed automatic transmission that can be sequentially shifted by those who like to custom shift their automatic transmissions.

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The MDX's overall driving character has become a little more blasé as the vehicle's size has increased, and total weight now hits 4,332 pounds with all the options. It does indeed drive like a bigger box, with a softened handling feel and comfortable suspension. MDX's onetime sprightly character, many years ago, is instead now a bit more akin to a Ford Explorer; the 290 horsepower is sufficient and good enough for passing, but is not exactly explosive.

TASTEFULLY STYLED

The modernized look to the MDX has many touches that do differentiate it from the competition, including five-lens, bug-eye bi-xenon headlamps that are so bright they will cause oncoming traffic to flash their own lights at you. Acura tastefully downsized its gigantic chrome warrior-shield-style nose, with a bit of mesh grille beneath; the chrome trim and highlights around the rest of the body are tastefully understated.

Interior details have also evolved with the times, remaining sharp and contemporary.

Seating is pillowy but amply supportive, and the center console and armrest functionality is well designed and spacious.

Rear seating is a bit theater-like and may put your passengers' faces up above your head.

Accessing the smaller third row is easy; push a button on the top corner of the second-row seat and it slides forward for entries. Second- and third-row seats also fold entirely flat for 68.4 cubic feet of storage.

One of Acura's notions is to split the entertainment and control functionality into two separate screens, the lower one of which is now dimly lit until you poke it to help control the navigation, radio and such. The upside is that the secondary touchscreen control panel helps eradicate what seemed like nearly 100 buttons on the older MDXes. That makes for a sometimes awkward newfangled experience of needing to get to a touchscreen menu to control air flow; apparently, someone thinks people don't like simple, physical air-flow and temperature controls, and I do not share that opinion. Other audio and navigation inputs are relegated to a slow-to-scroll spinning control wheel/joystick.

2015 Acura MDX with SH-AWD

MSRP: $42,765-$56,980

Powertrain: 290-HP 3.5-liter V-6; six-speed automatic transmission

EPA figures: 21 mpg combined; 18 city, 27 highway