Through the ’90s and well into this decade, the popularity of SUVs boomed; they were the vehicles of choice. Placated by a commanding view of the road and the illusion that heft begets safety, the public accepted the vehicles’ trucky ride and handling. Few if any SUVs actually lived up to the “sport” part of the acronym. Arguably, that began to shift when Acura introduced its revamped MDX for 2007. Equipped with Acura’s Super Handling All-Wheel Drive (SH-AWD), that MDX boasted a N?rburgring-tuned chassis back when such a boast was actually sort of unique.
But now, as many fret over fuel costs or simply want the Next Big Thing, consumers have begun to jump ship to crossovers, and the SUVs-with-mind-warping-handling segment grows more packed every day—witness just the stuff from BMW, the X6 and the X5/X6 M. As for the Acura, it’s been updated for 2010. Are the improvements enough to stay relevant?
Interior, Exterior, and Safety Revisions
When the 2007 MDX came to market, we thought its nose was much too goofy. In hindsight, compared with this gnarly new proboscis for 2010, we’d very much enjoy eating our words. But looking past—or away from—the controversial front end, the MDX’s exterior duds have been crisply refined if not thoroughly overhauled. The bulging fender flares carry over but look less out of place with the new, more aggressive side sills. In the rear, brighter LEDs fill the taillights, and the revised bumper and exhaust finishers tone down a butt that once looked a bit too chunky. Eighteen-inch wheels remain standard but are lighter than before, and our tester’s optional seven-spoke, 19-inch aluminum wheels add some modern style.
The interior changes are equally restrained. From the captain’s chair, forward visibility remains stellar. Spec the Technology package, and the sporty, supremely comfy front seats are covered in soft Milano leather; they can now be outfitted with cooling functionality as part of the top-level Advance package. Our tester came fully loaded, including both aforementioned packs as well as the Entertainment package, for a total of $55,375. The Tech package’s upgraded audio-and-infotainment system adds real-time weather to the traffic rerouting function and a multiview rear camera that shows through a new eight-inch display. Standard MDXs get a rear camera with the display located in the rearview mirror. Peeking through the fattened steering wheel are refaced gauges. Finally, Acura says the arrangement of the center stack was improved. We didn’t notice—it still is polluted with too many buttons.
There are three new safety-minded components included in the Advance package. The new blind-spot detection system is intuitive, shining a highly visible yellow icon at the base of the A-pillar when a car is in your blind spot. The second new item, the Collision Mitigation Braking System (CMBS), alerts the driver of a potential accident and activates the brakes if it determines a crash is unavoidable. In our time with the MDX, the system didn’t so much like our spirited lane changing and reprimanded us by beeping angrily and flashing a huge yellow “BRAKE” warning across the display embedded between the gauges. (We knew everything was under control, but the system will have passengers believing otherwise.) Finally and unfortunately, an adaptive cruise-control setup has been added to the options list. It aggravates-er, works-as intended, slicing your speed if someone as far as the length of a football field ahead is puttering along in the fast lane.
As part of the mechanical upgrades for this year, Acura has replaced the old five-speed automatic transmission with a six-speed box; steering-wheel-mounted shift paddles come standard. Engineers have reworked the 3.7-liter VTEC V-6, but output is basically the same: Horsepower stands pat at 300, and torque drops by 5 lb-ft to 270. But the retuned V-6 and the new gearbox combine to haul this 4662-pound SUV to 60 in 6.6 seconds, 0.4 second quicker than before. The quarter-mile is conquered more quickly, too, in 15.1 seconds at 93 mph compared with the previous model’s 15.5 at 90 mph. According to the EPA, the 2010 MDX’s fuel mileage increases by 1 mpg in the city and on the highway to 16/21 mpg, but we saw an equal 17 mpg from both old and new models.
The previous MDX handily won its last comparison test, an eight-way affair, but if we had one beef, it was with its available adaptive-damping system. Simply put, the ride in sport mode was too harsh, and it’s the default mode unless one pushes a button labeled “Comfort” on the center console. (As an aside, who wouldn’t hit that button? Who would ever actively choose to be uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it make more sense to make comfort the default and have a sport button instead, as on every other vehicle ever made? But we digress.) The adaptive dampers are included on MDXs equipped with the Advance package, which effectively replaces the previous Sport package.
Thankfully, Acura retuned the setup for 2010, and the ride is much, much better, even on the larger, 19-inch wheels. Of course, now there’s the issue that it’s actually sort of difficult to tell much of a difference between the two settings beyond a slight decrease in road feel and noise while in comfort mode. As for athleticism, that hasn’t changed much. With torque-vectoring SH-AWD in its arsenal, this ute dances with sedan-like reflexes and responds to steering commands immediately, even at high speeds. Skidpad grip is about the same at 0.85 g, impressive for an SUV. The lone strike: Stopping distance from 70 mph took an 11-foot hit compared with the previous model, now at 181 feet, although pedal feel is still great.
Aside from its unseemly face and the annoyance of adaptive cruise control, the 2010 Acura MDX represents a successful update to one of our favorite SUVs, and it remains among the top luxury-sport SUVs on the market.