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2011 Acura MDX ReviewThe Good
The 2011 Acura MDX provides a luxury crossover with three rows of seats, superb power and handling and enough available gadgets to make a technophile weep with joy.The Bad
As with many crossover SUVs, the 2011 MDX’s fuel economy is anything but economical (especially when filling up with the recommended Premium), and the interior center stack’s numerous buttons and controls can be daunting at first glance.
The CarGurus View
Acura rolls out an impressive crossover SUV in the beaky-shaped 2011 MDX. As a luxury vehicle with recommended high-octane gasoline and poor fuel economy, the MDX does not come cheap, and the addition of packages of options does not help its bottom line. However, with seating for seven in three rows, combined with power, handling and gadgets to spare, the MDX is a family-friendly option without the stigma of a minivan.
At a Glance
With significant upgrades in style and substance introduced in 2010, the 2011 Acura MDX returns this year as a carryover. Given the luxurious ride delivered by this midsize crossover SUV, however, Acura is well within its rights to bask in its own glow this year.
Although the 2011 MDX is a midsize crossover, all reports indicate that it behaves much more like a car. Along with superb handling and power, it adds luxurious interior details (e.g., standard leather and woodgrain trim), high-tech features (even in the base), three rows of seats, over 80 cubic feet of cargo storage and up to 5,000 pounds of towing capacity. There is little to complain about in this crossover, and indeed, reviews are hard-pressed to find anything to criticize. Poor fuel economy is the number-one issue—not a surprise given the class—although the recommendation for Premium 91-octane gasoline may strain the family’s budget. Other faults lie in the MDX’s cramped third row and the overwhelming number of buttons and controls on the center stack (although they become more intuitive with practice). Overall, however, the MDX offers a winning combination of utility, luxury and fun.
This year’s MDX continues to offer numerous standard features in its single trim. The Base, however, can be upgraded with three options packages: the Technology Package, the Advance Package and the Entertainment Package (which can be added only in conjunction with one of the other two available packages). The Technology Package adds features such as navigation with voice recognition (which can also control the upgraded audio and climate control system), real-time traffic and weather, a multi-view rear camera, GPS solar-sensing temperature control, XM radio and Acura’s Song By Voice, which allows you to select music from an iPod or hard drive using voice commands. The Advance Package provides the features found in the Technology Package and adds heated and ventilated front seats, larger wheels, the Active Damper System, auto-leveling headlights, adaptive cruise control, a blind-spot information system and collision-mitigating brakes for additional comfort and safety. The Entertainment Package can be bundled with either of the other two packages, providing heat to the outer seats in the second row, a center console outlet, and a rear DVD entertainment system with wireless headphones.
The 2011 MDX again offers a single engine, the 3.7-liter SOHC VTEC V6, which Acura states will continue its mission to offer the power of a V8 in a smaller and more fuel-efficient package. And the V6 delivers the goods in at least one of these areas, with 300 hp at 6,300 rpm and 270 lb-ft of torque at 4,500 rpm. Fuel efficiency, however, is not overwhelming, with an EPA estimated 16 mpg city/21 highway. Acura also recommends 91-octane Premium gasoline for the 21-gallon tank, which will add some ongoing owner expense.
The MDX comes with a standard 6-speed automatic transmission. The Sequential SportShift offers two automatic modes—Drive or Sport—and can be used either as an automatic or manual, with racecar-like paddle shifters mounted on the steering wheel. Technology such as Advanced Shift Hold Control, Grade Logic Control, Cornering G Shift Control and Hill Start Assist prevent unwanted shifting and maintain smooth gear changes whether driving uphill, around corners or, as Acura puts it, engaging in “spirited driving.”
The MDX’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD) system provides a full-time all-wheel-drive system, distributing torque not only between the front and rear axles but also shifting the power between the left and right rear wheels. Combining the SH-AWD with Vehicle Stability Assist and traction control makes for easy handling of the midsize crossover regardless of surface or weather conditions. Buyers should also note that the SH-AWD comes standard even in the Base MDX, thus avoiding an additional cost.
Ride & Handling
The Base MDX offers a four-wheel independent suspension, with MacPherson struts in the front and a multi-link independent suspension with trailing arms in the rear. Stabilizer bars increase in size with the addition of the available Advance Package, which also provides the Active Damper System. The Active Damper System offers two modes: Comfort and Sport. These are designed to adjust the suspension dampers either to insulate the driver from what Acura calls “road inputs” or to offer a firmer, stiffer ride with more emphasis on handling and body control giving, well, a sportier ride. The optional suspension adjustments have not received universal praise, however. Critics note that the comfort setting, while absorbing bumps well, can also produce some body wallow, and the sport mode can make the ride too stiff for some. In fact, consumers might well find the base suspension the perfect middle ground. The Advance package does, however, boost the MDX’s already stellar steering responsiveness and handling as well as its control over body lean in the corners. In general, the MDX is considered a joy to drive, with car-like handling, a transmission that shifts smoothly and engine power that is up to most tasks and at ease on any terrain.
Cabin & Comfort
The interior of the MDX may well be compared to the cockpit of an airplane, given the vast array of buttons and controls on the center stack. Although reviews note that the controls do eventually make sense and their placement is, in fact, intuitive, the initial learning curve may be daunting and time-consuming.
The rest of the interior, however, is built to provide spacious luxury, comfort and technology, even in the base. The MDX provides standard seating for seven in three rows. The comfortable and supportive front bucket seats provide sufficient side bolstering and offer standard heat (as well as ventilated cooling with the optional Advance Package). The driver’s seat has 10-way power adjustment (8-way adjustment for the front passenger seat). The seats are covered in standard leather, which is upgraded to Milano Premium leather with the Technology Package and ventilated, perforated Milano Premium full-grain leather for the front seats with the Advance Package. A 2-driver memory feature recalls several preferred settings for the driver’s seat, tilt-and-telescopic steering wheel and side mirror positions, as well as climate control and audio presets.
The second row provides similarly styled bucket seats at the outside positions and comes equipped with heat in the Entertainment Package. The back of the second-row's center seat can also be folded down for use as an armrest with cupholders. The third row of seating does not offer the same level of comfort, however. In general, reviews agree that the third row is cramped for adults and should remain a kids-only zone, especially since the second row may not slide forward far enough to make it easy for anyone but a child to climb into the back. The second and third rows can fold flat, however, and, with a 60/40 split in the second row and a 50/50 split in the third row, there are a number of possible configurations for hauling people and/or cargo. This is crucial since the MDX provides only 15 cubic feet of cargo room with all three rows in place (3 cubic feet more than the 2011 Honda Civic). With the second and third rows folded flat, however, this increases to a spacious 83.5 cubic feet.
Standard technology in the MDX includes trizone automatic climate control, a multi-information display (MID), Bluetooth HandsFree Link for compatible phones, HomeLink to consolidate remotes, cruise control and power windows and locks. The steering wheel incorporates the controls for audio, cruise, hands-free phone, the MID and, when equipped with the Technology Package, the voice recognition system. The automatically adjusting day/night rear-view mirror also displays the image from the rear-view camera.
The MDX comes with the standard Acura Premium Sound System with 253 watts pumping music through 8 speakers. In addition to a 6-CD changer, the system includes an AM/FM tuner, XM radio, an auxiliary jack and speed-sensitive volume (which increases the volume level as the speed of the car increases).
The technology ante is upped, however, in available options packages for the MDX. The Technology Package adds trial subscriptions to real-time weather and traffic with the hard-drive navigation system. Information is displayed on an 8-inch screen and includes Zagat restaurant reviews and information. The screen also displays images from the rear-view camera. An interface dial can control the navigation functions in coordination with the traditional button controls and voice recognition—giving drivers flexibility in the way they control these features. Climate control now literally follows the sun. The navigation system’s GPS tracks the MDX’s position in relation to the sun, while a solar sensor calculates solar intensity and adjusts the inside temperature based on the heat gained. The stereo also gets a boost with the help of the Acura/ELS Surround system (named for Elliot Scheiner, a Grammy-winning recording engineer and producer who consulted with Acura on the system). The upgraded stereo has 10 speakers with DVD-Audio, a USB audio interface for an iPod or flash drive, a 15GB hard drive for music storage, and Song By Voice—a voice-recognition system used to control music selection from the HDD or iPod.
The Entertainment package (available in conjunction with either the Technology or Advance Packages) adds a rear 9-inch screen that lowers from the MDX's ceiling. Second- or third-row passengers can listen via the stereo speakers, wireless headphones, or 3 audio jacks.
While the additional features found in the options packages are certainly bonuses, reviews are impressed not only by the quantity of technology, but also by the overall build quality, styling and feel of the 2011 MDX. With soft-feeling materials and a high-end look found in the wood-grain trim and standard leather seats, the Acura MDX adds luxury to its power and technology.
The 2011 MDX comes equipped with a number of standard safety features, including antilock disc brakes with electronic brakeforce distribution and brake assist systems to increase braking effectiveness. One road test found that the SUV took 123 feet to decelerate from 60-0 mph—a respectable distance in the class. Vehicle stability assist is standard, as is individual tire pressure monitoring, with data displayed on the multi-information display on the instrument panel. The MDX provides six standard airbags: two front, two front-side and two side-curtain airbags which cover all three rows of seating. An Occupant Position Detection System in the front passenger seat will deactivate the front side airbags if the height and position of the passenger indicate it would be unsafe to deploy. An available Collision Mitigation Braking System comes with the Advance Package and works to reduce the chances of a frontal crash. Using a radar transmitter in the front grille, the system monitors the proximity and speed of vehicles ahead of the MDX on the road. If the MDX gets too close, the system produces audio and visual alerts for the driver. If the driver fails to react appropriately, the system will tighten the front seatbelts and applies the brakes to minimize the force and speed of the collision.
The MDX also comes with a standard rear-view camera that activates automatically when the vehicle is shifted into reverse. When equipped with the navigation system, the image is displayed in the 8-inch screen. Otherwise, the image is displayed in the rear-view mirror. The camera offers several modes, giving a normal view (for objects below the rear window sightline), wide-angle view (giving a 170-degree view) and a “top-down” view for parallel parking or hitching up a trailer. The blind-spot information system, available in the Advance Package, engages only over 6 mph and triggers a side-pillar light to alert drivers when they have activated the turn signal in the direction of a vehicle in the MDX’s blind spot.
The 2011 MDX has been tested using the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s new 2011 standards. The SUV fared well, with a perfect five stars for the driver in a frontal barrier crash and four stars for a female passenger in the same test. The Combined Side Barrier and Pole tests rated the MDX a perfect five stars for the front and rear. However, the side crash resulted in a Safety Concern—a safety issue that does not factor into the calculations used to award stars. During a side barrier crash, the NTHSA noted fluid leaking from the fuel system—a potential fire hazard. The rollover test rated four stars, with a 14% chance of a rollover. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety awarded the 2011 Acura MDX its highest Good rating for front, side and rear collision tests (a rollover test had not been conducted).
What Owners Think
Power, acceleration, smooth transmission shifting and the SH-AWD—owners love it all. Drivers from severe winter weather areas seem to be entranced by the way the 2011 Acura MDX can plow through snowy conditions. Most admire the technology—both standard and available—but note that buyers should be prepared to put in time to become acquainted with the numerous controls. Although the interior quality and styling are admired as well, some ergonomic glitches were noted, including the fact that only the second-row passenger seat slides forward (the driver’s side only folds flat) and the unsightly location of the center console outlet. Suggested changes to the MDX are few, but include improved fuel economy and an option for remote start and automatic unlocking features (similar to the Keyless Access System found in other Acura models—e.g., the ZDX, RL and TL).
by Jessica McCombe
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